Courtesans

Lower Class Prostitutes

Literary Representations
Hugo
Balzac
Lorettes and society

Lower Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers


The Privileged Class: Courtesans

Defining the courtesan
Visual representations
Courtesans in reality

 

Bibliogrpahy

 

Life in the Brothel

"The establishment of these houses of prostitution deplores every man who is concerned with public morals. It doesn't surprise me that the police oppose the establishment of these houses with all their power. They do not authorize prostitution, but do everything in their power to squash it."

Here we see prostitutes inside a brothel, perhaps waiting for clients. This picture was painted in 1894 by Toulouse-Lautrec.

 

In the early 19th Century, you could find a brothel anywhere in Paris. Whorehouses were in the midst of prominent establishments like the Palais Royal and the Chateau Gonier, as well as the seedier, poorer districts of the city. Although they were definitely not shown on a map of Paris, it is certain that their locations were known. They were not the unruly, hedonist places so often stereotyped, but rather a very controlled, efficient environment for both client and employee.

There were several different kinds of brothels in Paris during the time of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and like the varying levels prostitutes which corresponded to each social class, there were also several different levels of brothels. On one side of the spectrum were luxury brothels, which catered to wealthier, bourgeois clients. These offered more elaborate setting as well as more elaborate sexual spectacles and practices. They cost approximately 100 francs a night. The most common whorehouse was geared towards the working class, and offered more traditional settings and practices. (These types usually cost 5-10 francs for a "brief encounter" and 10-20 to spend the night.) Meanwhile, lower class whorehouses which cost only one franc, were even more stripped down. With each step down in quality and price, the brothel became less refined, as did the clients who frequented them.

Brothels were run like any ordinary business to be found in Paris at the time. Each house was run by a mistress. These mistresses were not prostitutes but rather oversaw the clients coming in and out of the building, as well as which prostitutes went with which client. Often these mistresses considered themselves above the prostitutes themselves. Beneath the mistress was a sous-mistress, and the prostitutes themselves. Having a mistress of the house gave the prostitutes a distinct advantage over their unregistered counterparts, the streetwalkers.

Police and the Brothel

All houses of prostitution had to be registered with the Gendarmerie Royale and the prefecture of police, and every woman who worked in a brothel had to be registered with the prefecture as well. If for some reason the prostitute was married, it was required that she have the written consent of her spouse to work there.

There were also regulations passed against brothels. In 1823, around the same time as the regulations regarding streetwalking were passed, public opinion began to shift, turned against the brothel as a house of ill repute, and a moral pock mark on society. Therefore, brothels were required to be inconspicuous. They were required to have their shades drawn at all times during the day.

It is safe to say that while many people expressed distaste for the brothels, many people of all ages and classes frequented them. Many young men went there for their fist sexual experience, as well as husbands whose marriages were not consummated. Many people found their curiosity piqued by the types of shows put on in the luxury brothels, and some went there to explore the taboo that was the brothel.

The only certifiable record we have of who came in and out of these whorehouses is once again courtesy of the Prefecture of Police, who received their information from the Gendarmerie Royale. To see a chart of who was arrested in brothels, click here!

To find out how prostitutes become registered, click here!