Lower Class Prostitutes

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




Lower Class Prostitutes versus Courtesans

We introduced this site by stating that there were as many classes of prostitutes as there were classes in Parisian society at the time of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. As we previously stated, the difference between courtesans and lower class prostitutes who walked the streets and worked in brothels were staggering.

Streetwalkers/Brothel Workers
Courtesans and Lorettes
  • For these women, like Fantine in Les Mis, this type of lifestyle was not done out of choice, but out of necessity. The majority of women who walked the streets or worked in brothels did so because they were impoverished, or had a family to support. Either that, or they were abandoned and alone.
  • Courtesans often chose their lovers, out of jealousy and rivalry with other women of their social class. These women often held small jobs already, usually in small shops. They took bourgeois lovers who were already married as a form of social climbing. There was no chance that these women would ever have to resort to walking the streets.
  • Lower class prostitutes did not lead a pampered lifestyle. They did not have the benefit of money, clothes and extravagant gifts from their prestigious lover. They did not have one lover who they were attached to, but hundreds of men just interested in using them for their own sexual pleasure.
  • Courtesans and lorettes were very pampered. They received fine clothes, jewelry and gifts from their lovers. These women usually stuck with their lover until a better offer came along, or they were just plain dumped.
  • These women were frequently assaulted by male antagonists. There are reports of men wreaking havoc on brothels, as well as a large number of assaults on unregistered prostitutes. (The vast majority of which going unreported.)
  • While domestic violence against courtesans and lorettes probably occurred during that time, courtesans were sheltered enough that they were not very vulnerable to attacks by random men like the brothel workers were.
  • Streetwalkers especially had to be street-smart and avoid the police at all costs for fear of being arrested. Women who worked in brothels were kept on a list which tallied all the operating brothels in the city.


  • Courtesans and lorettes were immune from the law. Since they were not visible to the majority of Parisian society, police turned a blind eye to their lifestyle choices.

Click here to see a detailed chart of why these lower class women became prostitutes.

Read on to find out more about brothels!