Lorettes: Respectable Mistresses

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





"The middle ground between street prostitute and grand dame of commercial sex, the courtesan, lorette became an umbrella term for the kept women set up discreetly in a private apartment by a businessman, professional, or wealthy student... Always elegantly dressed, the lorette peeps out coyly from a theatre box, engages in double entendre with male admirers at a masked ball, displays herself while enjoying the view from her apartment window... the lorette slid imperceptibly across the boundaries of acceptability and social stigma."

-Nicholas Green, The Spectacle of Nature


Between upper class courtesan and lower class streetwalker was the lorette, who blurred the lines between classes and positions. In many ways her domain was the same as that of the courtesan, being set up in private apartments and arranging for secluded meetings with her lover. But her life was not so lavish and luxurious as that of the courtesan.

Rather than being the well provided for mistress of an aristocrat or royal, the lorette's lover was usually an upper class bourgeoisie or lower level aristocrat. Though she was kept in well-appointed apartments and wore fine clothing, her social standing was far from desirable. "No honourable man, of course, would introduce her to his family, and it was a moot point whether he could even indulge in a discreet salute on the street, if accompanied by woman relatives." (Green)

The lorette's life was essentially divided, spending time privately with her lovers, even publicly in some cases, but completely distinct from his family and proper upper class society. She belonged in one sense, yet did not belong in so many others. "Taken up by wealthy or aspiring metropolitans - from speculators and entrepreneurs to state officials and aristocrats - and pulled into the cultural rituals of the modern city, she was simultaneously cut off from her own, usually lower-class, roots and millieu." (Green)

The lorette was bound in many ways by the codes of polite society and yet, was not embraced as a part of that same society. "On the boulevards, she was virtually indistinguishable in costume and appearance from the more fashionable among her lover's female relations. And in a sense, for men she was quintessentially public property - to be discussed, admired, acquired... In other words there was a radical mismatch between the social and moral codes marking out the lorette within 'respectable' society and the way she gained public representation in the spectacle of the metropolis." (Green) The lorette was essentially a decoration for her lovers, something to be admired and used as needed, but not something for everyday inclusion into society.


For more on visual representations of Lorettes, click here.