I’m finding it a little tough to write about this one, because I’m not sure exactly what didn’t work for me. I can draw a rough circle around it, but pinpointing seems to be beyond me at the moment. Maybe because I’m not a historian. (Worth noting, I can clearly identify the parts I did enjoy.)
This is a book entirely about sex! Sex throughout history in a specific geographical location! I have always liked reading about sex, and the history of sex, and here’s a whole book about it. The book, despite certain language used, also doesn’t disparage sex work or sex workers, and does a pretty good job portraying sex workers who were cunning and successful and parlayed their work into eventual retirement or wealth. It is a very comprehensive overview of sex work in London from the Roman Empire to the early 2000’s (it was published in 2009).
There’s where it loses me a bit. This book isn’t so much a history of sex as it is a history of sex work and the sex trade, from brothels through the ages, who controlled it during various times, famous sex workers (she uses the word prostitute throughout and also the vernacular of the time she’s talking about, which often includes words like “whore”). Peppered throughout is a little bit of sex as vice or crime, with some history of pornography and homosexuality, always only where it intersects with the law (illegal molly houses, the trial of Oscar Wilde).
I left this book feeling unsure just how sex positive the author was, for a sex historian, and also, wishing she had found a way to write about sexuality in general among the populace, and not in relation to the sex trade, or sex as a commodity. Or at least acknowledge why she wasn’t doing that, i.e. a lack of sources.
This wasn’t a waste of time, but I do think it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping it would be.
Read Harder Challenge 2022: Read a history about a period you know little about.