Literary Representations
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




A comparison of nineteenth century courtesans and the upper class women of the time illustrate the freedom that could be gained by giving up a husband and selling ones body.

The bourgeoisie women of the eighteen hundreds were captives. From a young age they were not given the same rights as any male counterparts and were, simply because of their sex, given a lesser value. A young woman was not expected to be highly educated but was to be well versed in all the social etiquette of the time. She was to know how to perform the duties of a woman but in general was more of a window dressing. The thoughts and ideas of women were not taken seriously if they were even listened to by men and even if they made sense, the fact that it came from a woman discounted any substance it might have had.

Women were like children, meant to be seen and not heard. They were useful for starting a family, for running a household and for spending their husbands money on fripperies and fineries but that was about it.

With the birth of the enlightenment and the birth of salons women did gain a certain foothold into the world of politics and thought but were still not equal and were certainly not more powerful or prestigious then any man.

Courtesans were unlike the upper class women in many ways. They were not tied down to a husband and could enjoy the attentions of many men whenever they liked. They were also able to speak their minds on any subject. Although the women of the time were slowly gaining this right as well it did not compare to the way in which courtesans were able to speak and think freely along any route they chose.

Sex was also used as a way of gaining power and prestige. Courtesans were usually highly educated and well versed in the etiquette of the time but they were also independent and able to express themselves as no other women could.

A courtesan or lorette was in control of her own life. She decided what lovers to take and she decided what was acceptable for her to do or say. The more genteel women of the time did not have this luxury.

It seems as though selling one's body is a small price to pay for the amount of freedom that was allowed to courtesans. Even though the bourgeoisie women had prestige based solely upon class distinctions they did not have any amount of freedom to live as they wished. Even women with more open-minded husbands or fathers were not able to act as they wished simply because society demanded certain things of women. This was not so for the courtesan who, in choosing her profession had already rejected society's constraints and was thus able to live in an open and free manner.

detail of Edouard Manet, Le Dejeuner sur l'herb, 1863 (16. for source click here) . For more discussion on this image click here.

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