Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris

by Nina Kushner
Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris

by Nina Kushner


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Nina Kushner's Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris brings to life a vibrant but relatively unknown part of early modern urban life, the world of the demimonde, the quasi-respectable underworld, with its elite prostitutes, wealthy patrons, and juicy scandals.... Kushner reveals the complexity and influence of this corner of Parisian social and cultural life and its relative separateness from the larger world of prostitution.— Janine M. Lanza ― Journal of Modern History

In Erotic Exchanges, Nina Kushner reveals the complex world of elite prostitution in eighteenth-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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801470684
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 12/13/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 312
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Nina Kushner is Associate Professor of History at Clark University.

Table of Contents

1. The Police and the Demimonde
2. Leaving Home
3. Being Sold into the Demimonde
4. Madams and Their Networks
5. Contracts and Elite Prostitution as Work
6. Male Experiences of Galanterie
7. Sexual Capital and the Private Lives of Mistresses

What People are Saying About This

Katherine Crawford

In Erotic Exchanges, Nina Kushner rekindles discussion of a historical population for which we have a great deal of documentation. Because of police surveillance, the dames entretenues of eighteenth-century France can be followed in all phases of their work lives. The result is a textured and nuanced picture of possibilities and limitations for these women in their historical setting. Erotic Exchanges could reshape discussions of sex work in important ways.

Dena Goodman

Erotic Exchanges is an important and engaging book. Nina Kushner goes beyond anecdote while using anecdote-rich sources to give incredible texture to her study. It is a fascinating and compelling read.

Jeffrey Merrick

Based on extensive archival research, this book provides a thorough and subtle analysis of relations between kept women and their keepers: patrons, madams, and police. Nina Kushner reconstructs the experience of the Parisian demimonde within the context of larger questions about sexual economy, female agency, and public order in eighteenth-century France.

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