Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman

Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman

by Elizabeth Abbott
     
 

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She has been known as the "kept woman," the "fancy woman," and the "other woman." She exists as both a fictional character and a flesh-and-blood human being. But what do Madame de Pompadour, Jane Eyre, and Camilla Parker-Bowles have in common? Why do women become mistresses, and is a mistress merely a wife-in-waiting, or is she the

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Overview

She has been known as the "kept woman," the "fancy woman," and the "other woman." She exists as both a fictional character and a flesh-and-blood human being. But what do Madame de Pompadour, Jane Eyre, and Camilla Parker-Bowles have in common? Why do women become mistresses, and is a mistress merely a wife-in-waiting, or is she the very definition of the emancipated, independent female?

In Mistresses, Elizabeth Abbott intelligently examines the motives and morals of some of the most infamous and fascinating women in history and literature. Drawing intimate portraits of those who have—whether by chance, coercion, or choice– assumed this complex role, from Chinese concubines and European royal mistresses to mobster molls and trophy girlfriends, Mistresses offers a rich blend of history, personal biography, and cultural insight.

Editorial Reviews

Ms. Magazine

"Abbott's tour of sensational love affairs provides juicy details and intelligent commentary on some of history's most marginalized women."

Bookslut
Refreshingly liberated from moral probity or censoriousness. Abbott’s perspective, that of a seasoned, unbiased cultural historian, shines through this informed genealogy.
-Bookslut

"Refreshingly liberated from moral probity or censoriousness. Abbott’s perspective, that of a seasoned, unbiased cultural historian, shines through this informed genealogy."
From the Publisher
"Abbott's tour of sensational love affairs provides juicy details and intelligent commentary on some of history's most marginalized women." — Ms. Magazine

"A fascinating account of the other woman through history." — The Sunday Times (London)

"Ms. Abbott is delightfully indiscreet, with an eye for a good story and a colloquial style. . . She has done the ladies a service by bringing them out of the shadows." — The Economist

"One of the surprises of this engrossing book is how mired in myth and fantasy it reveals our attitude to mistresses as being." — The Sunday Telegraph

"A lively and nuanced look at gender roles as they have been revealed by the lives of concubines and mistresses over the centuries...The book has the irresistible fascination of celebrity gossip...but it reveals far more than the foibles of the rich and famous. Full of fascinating details and illuminating insights." — Kirkus

"Mistresses, [Abbott's] prosopography of other women from Biblical times to the present, is refreshingly liberated from moral probity or censoriousness. Abbott's perspective, that of a seasoned, unbiased cultural historian, shines through this informed genealogy . . . Abbott is at her liveliest when covering history's endearing mistresses . . . Abbott offers a poignant, humanizing corrective to the mistress's marginalization . . . Abbott does justice to the many lexicographical variants of the term "mistress," which according to the Oxford American Dictionary, connotes domination, learnedness, authority, and, of course, being beloved. She probes the antic recklessness and wanton secrecy endemic to love affairs, breathing life into mistresses who evince the agency, autonomy, self-direction, and order of this definition." — Bookslut

"Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman blends a social and political study under one cover and provides a probe into the love lives of famous and infamous mistresses, from royal mistresses in 16th century France to Chinese concubines, mobster molls, and those associated with today's big names. It provides portraits of some 80 women over time who assumed the role of a mistress and pairs history with social analysis in a lively survey recommended for any women's issues or history holding." — Midwest Book Review

Kirkus Reviews

A lively and nuanced look at gender roles as they have been revealed by the lives of concubines and mistresses over the centuries.

Abbott (A History of Marriage, 2011, etc.) a former Dean of Women at the University of Toronto and now a research associate, begins this romp through history with a quip by British multi-billionaire Sir Jimmy Goldsmith, who said, "when a man marries his mistress he creates an automatic job vacancy." The book has the irresistible fascination of celebrity gossip—the author tells the story of Alice Keppel's affair as one of the mistresses of the famous womanizer King Edward VII, and the romance of her great-granddaughter Camilla Parker Bowles, now married to the current Prince of Wales—but it reveals far more than the foibles of the rich and famous. Abbott writes about the vulnerability of women in out-of-wedlock situations, beginning with the biblical story of Hagar, the bondwoman of Sarah, whom she calls "the first concubine to be named in recorded history." The author relates this to the situation of Chinese concubines, who, as recently as the 20th century, were brought into families as lower-status second wives to provide male heirs. Abbott also looks at the abuse faced by female black slaves and Jewish women in Nazi death camps, and how the institution of marriage has often fostered out-of-wedlock relationships in which women were vulnerable even when they were willing partners. This was the case for the celebrated novelist Mary Ann Evans (aka George Eliot), who suffered social opprobrium for living in a common-law arrangement with her married lover George Lewes, whose wife had refused to divorce him. In the chapter "Mistresses as Trophy Dolls," Abbott delves into the tragic death of Marilyn Monroe after she was discarded by JFK, as well as the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Full of fascinating details and illuminating insights.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780715641491
Publisher:
Duckworth Publishers
Publication date:
11/28/2011

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