Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England / Edition 1

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Through a sensitive use of a wide variety of imaginative and didactic texts, Ruth Karras shows that while prostitutes as individuals were marginalized within medieval culture, prostitution as an institution was central to the medieval understanding of what it meant to be a woman. This important work will be of interest to scholars and students of history, women's studies, and the history of sexuality.

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Editorial Reviews

Clarissa W. Atkinson
From the book's title to its conclusion, Karras emphasizes that control of women's independence, much more than sexuality, was at stake in the unending insistence on the shameful nature and image of women who were not "safely under the dominion of any one man -- husband, father, master."...This book makes a significant contribution to our appreciation of the social and cultural history not of prostitutes alone, but of all women in medieval England. -- Clarissa Atkinson, American Historical Review
From the Publisher

"Ruth Karras's new book will become a standard text on medieval prostitution, but it will also be required reading for anyone interested in gender, sexuality, and women in the middle ages. Drawing on literary texts, religious materials, legal documentation, and other sources, Karras places prostitutes--so often seen as marginal and atypical women--at the center of gender relations in medieval England. Her sophisticated and compelling argument is a major contribution to women's history, gender history, and medieval history."--Judith Bennett, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"A study of prostitution should reveal the convergence of many social forces: fear of female sexuality and venality, the fine line between approved and condemned behavior, the regulation of commercial activity, the double standard, and the distinction between the moral economy of the neighborhood and that of the fathers of society. Ruth Karras touches all these points and also turns to the voice of creative and sermon literature, as well as case studies, to put flesh on the tale."--Joel Rosenthal, State University of New York, Stony Brook

"Ruth Karras here again displays her extraordinary ability to unpack the medieval meanings of twentieth-century terms that do not adequately describe medieval phenomena. Her study replaces the modern concept of prostitution with the more accurate and very wide-ranging term "whoredom", bringing to bear and synthesizing a vast array of sources, from the legal and archival to the literary, artistic, and theological."--Edward Peters, University of Pennsylvania

"A worthy addition to Studies in the History of Sexuality. In Common Women Ruth Karras argues that while it is clear enough that commercial prostitutes inhabited [late medieval English] towns, what marked these women was not "money for sex" but their general availability to men. Their behavior, viewed as both socially necessary and individually depraved, is examined in terms of law, society, the life course of a prostitute and prevailing ideas about sin. This thorough-going study yields valuable perspectives on women's position in medieval society."--Susan Mosher Stuard, Haverford College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195124989
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Series: Studies in the History of Sexuality Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 857,173
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Temple University
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Common Women, Prostitutes, and Whores 3
1 Prostitution and the Law 13
2 Brothels, Licit and Illicit 32
3 Becoming a Prostitute 48
4 The Sex Trade in Practice 65
5 Marriage, Sexuality, and Marginality 84
6 Saints and Sinners 102
Conclusion: Sexuality, Money, and the Whore 131
Notes 143
Bibliography 189
Index 215
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