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Erotic Exchanges (Unabridged)
Author: Nina Kushner
University Press Audiobooks
12 h 24 min
In Erotic Exchanges, Nina Kushner reveals the complex world of elite prostitution in 18th-century Paris by focusing on the professional mistresses who dominated it. In this demimonde, these dames entretenues exchanged sex, company, and sometimes even love for being "kept". Most of these women entered the profession unwillingly, either because they were desperate and could find no other means of support or because they were sold by family members to brothels or to particular men. A small but significant percentage of kept women, however, came from a theater subculture that actively supported elite prostitution. Kushner shows that in its business conventions, its moral codes, and even its sexual practices, the demimonde was an integral part of contemporary Parisian culture. Kushner's primary sources include thousands of folio pages of dossiers and other documents generated by the Paris police as they tracked the lives and careers of professional mistresses, reporting in meticulous, often lascivious, detail what these women and their clients did. Rather than reduce the history of sex work to the history of its regulation, Kushner interprets these materials in a way that unlocks these women's own experiences. Kushner analyzes prostitution as a form of work, examines the contracts that governed relationships among patrons, mistresses, and madams, and explores the roles played by money, gifts, and, on occasion, love in making and breaking the bonds between women and men. This vivid and engaging book explores elite prostitution not only as a form of labor and as a kind of business but also as a chapter in the history of emotions, marriage, and the family.
This is the 2nd book I have read from this provider, University Audiobooks, and both books have some excellent traits in common. Each book reads like a reprise of an academic research document, possibly a Doctoral thesis, revamped and restructured, slightly, for nonacademic readers interested in the areas under discussion. In the case of this book, the matter under discussion is the history of the Demimonde, especially with regard to the functions, economically, socially and culturally, of the professional mistresses. While the general topic is certainly erotic, the material contained in the book is not especially so, save by inference.
However, this in no way detracts from the interest of the material. Anyone interested in the history of the 18th Century, or of France just before the Revolution, will find this a fascinating read, because it provides insight into a sub-culture that, while it has been treated in fiction in various ways, is still a bit of an enigma to the modern world. It was a culture with its own customs, rules, and social hierarchies, and the women who inhabited it had, and used, a broad range of independence at a time when most women had very little, indeed. Many of them had access to, and control of, their own money and property, and they were able to both enter into, and dissolve binding contracts. True, they were, at least technically, on the fringes of society, but this position also provided them the freedom to conduct their lives, mostly under their own control.
The book is very well written, and the narrator was excellent, obviously completely comfortable with the many foreign (and not just French) names involved. Her phrasing was good, too, and her reading was objective and impersonal, as one would expect from a narrator of nonfiction, without being in the least boring.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in the era depicted, or in understanding the Paris Demimonde itself, which has had a subtle but profound impact, even to modern times.
I give both book and narrator a full 5 stars, and will be watching for more from this provider, with interest.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
And by hot I mean … engagingly written scholarly history grounded in original archival research!
It's true, this is an academic work, not a work of erotica, as the first reviewer points out. I suppose people could be duped by the naughty cover. After listening to the sample clip, I purchased it and am finding it to be really interesting. Nicely written and very pleasantly read.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.
This was a very academic historical work. I had been expecting a popular history type of book, but was pleasantly surprised with the style it was written in (and the regular references to Darnton). It details the different types of prostitutes (shocked for the majority of people who believe that a prostitute is a prostitute is a prostitute) which was pretty spectacular. Previously, my only encounter with prostitutes was The Secret Diary of a Call Girl and to see the actual rivalries and roles within eighteenth century Paris was really good. Also, I really liked the link between actresses and prostitutes. I've always been told that the ancient French word for actress was the same as the word for prostitute so to finally understand the link is pretty awesome.
That being said, this book was really dry. I had to keep rewinding to listen to sections again in order to understand what was being said.