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Prostitution, Space and Urban Life in Eighteenth-Century London and Paris

RAITZ, KIRSTYN,ARIANNA (2020) Prostitution, Space and Urban Life in Eighteenth-Century London and Paris. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Life in eighteenth-century London and Paris was inherently chaotic. At the centre of this chaos stood the prostitute: both a figure and a product of the dynamic urban landscape. This thesis compares the issue of prostitution in both Paris and London and uses spatial analysis as a way to further understand collective urban anxieties during this period. Historians of prostitution in the West have already made a case for the toleration of the sex trade throughout the early modern period. Here, I investigate the fragile nature of tolerance and attempt to understand what made prostitution so problematic not only for urban authorities and reformers, but for everyday inhabitants. In addition, I also explore broader institutional and cultural responses to prostitution in order to understand what the prostitute came to represent within the urban environment.

Both London and Paris had, as I will demonstrate, dramatically different legal systems and thus varying approaches in how they dealt with the sex trade. One commonality is that both systems had ambiguous approaches to the offence of prostitution. This suggests that tolerance was conditional not only within the small-scale example of the neighbourhood but within the overarching context of both cities’ legal systems. Here, I discuss how the condition of tolerance was based on spatial and sensory awareness especially within the contested space of the urban neighbourhood. Through mapping the sex trade, I demonstrate the fluidity of sex work throughout the urban landscapes of both capitals and show that the sex trade was being increasingly dispersed (albeit somewhat localised) throughout both Paris and London over the course of the eighteenth century.

As prostitutes became further dispersed and remained integrated figures of local communities, certain institutions and contemporary commentators sought to separate them out from the rest of honest society. I explore the confinement and imprisonment of former prostitutes throughout which they were expected to adhere to specific spatial practices in order to reform. However, the agency of confined sex workers undermined these practices through their own communal bonds and agency. In addition to being confined to institutions, the prostitute was culturally represented as a series of tropes throughout the course of the period. I compare these tropes in both Paris and London and investigate an overlooked one: prostitution as a disease upon the urban body which contributes to the argument that the anxiety of prostitution was rooted in unsettled feelings about the urban environment itself. Overall, this thesis offers a more complex approach to eighteenth-century sex work and, through the use of spatial and comparative analysis unearths collective sensitivities and anxieties about the chaotic nature of urban life and society.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:social history, prostitution, eighteenth-century, urban history
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Oct 2020 09:48

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