Gillard, Shannon Elayne (2004-08). "The shame of our community": authors' views of prostitutes in late eighteenth century England. Master's Thesis. Thesis uri icon


  • This thesis attempts to identify authors' attitudes toward late eighteenth century London prostitutes. Through the examination of several selected sources, one can isolate feelings that eighteenth century writers had about prostitution and those who practiced it. In these works, prostitutes were always rendered as of the lower orders, which the authors acknowledged and emphasized in their writings. What is striking is that none of these authors acknowledged the culpability of the male in the client-prostitute relationship. Therefore, in a close examination of eighteenth century authors' views of prostitutes, one can find both classist and sexist attitudes. The incorrect formulation of the situation is ironic, given that most of the writers of such works were attempting to reform English society and devalue the debauchery and lust that prostitution represented to them. The thesis begins by providing historical background of the lives of prostitutes in late eighteenth century England, showing that the prostitutes provided services to men of higher social and economic classes than they were, and were often young and economically disadvantaged. The main textual chapters are divided into three sections: the first examines works directly related to the Magdalen Charity for repentant prostitutes, namely sermons and titles written to govern or establish the charity, and finds that the authors of these works viewed the prostitute as someone who needed to be instructed in the correct ways to live her life. The second analyzes short works written to address what their writers saw as the problem of prostitution, and discovers that although these writers found different reasons for the causes of prostitution, they all agreed that prostitutes debased society and needed to reform so that the nation would not be ruined. The third researches works of fiction and advice literature, and determines that although women in these works were presented as wealthier than actual prostitutes were, they nonetheless were of the lower orders and should protect themselves from clever and seductive men. The conclusion emphasizes the ways that this study provides new insight into the problem of prostitution and how that relates to race and class in modern society.

publication date

  • August 2004