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The Covent Garden Ladies: Pimp General Jack the Extraordinary Story of Harris's List [Paperback]

Hallie Rubenhold
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 May 2006
In 1757, a down-and-out Irish poet, the head-waiter of Covent Garden's Shakespeare's Head Tavern, and a celebrated London courtesan became bound together by the publication of a little book: Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies. This salacious publication detailing the names and 'specialities' of the capital's prostitutes eventually became one of the eighteenth century's most successful and scandalous literary works, selling over a quarter of a million copies. During its heyday (1757-95) Harris's List was the essential accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure. Yet beyond its titillating passages lay a glimpse into the lives of those who lived and died by the List's profits during the Georgian era. "The Covent Garden Ladies" tells the story of three unusual characters: Samuel Derrick, John Harrison (aka Jack Harris), and Charlotte Hayes, whose complicated and colourful lives were brought together by this publication. The true history of the book is tragicomic opera motivated by poverty, passionate love, aspiration and shame. Its telling plunges the reader down the dark alleys of eighteenth-century London's underworld, a realm populated by tavern owners, pimps, punters, card sharks and of course, a colourful range of prostitutes and brothel-keepers.

Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: NPI Media Group (1 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752437399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752437392
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 375,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"'A compelling and ingenious book... Rubenhold proves herself both a keen researcher and a writer who understands narrative tension' THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY; 'Scrupulously researched and cleverly structured... as lewd as goats and monkeys' THE DAILY TELEGRAPH; 'Sex toys, porn... forget Ann Summers, Miss Love was at it 250 years ago' THE TIMES. 'Has all the atmosphere and edge of a good novel... With this magnificent debut, Hallie Rubenhold deserves to storm the literary world' FRANCES WILSON, author of The Courtesan's Revenge."

About the Author

Hallie Rubenhold was born in Los Angeles to English parents, studied history and the history of art the University of Leeds where she received her MA and MPhil in eighteenth-century British social history. She has edited a facsimile of an edition of Harris's List (also published by Tempus) and is currently writing Lady Worsley's Whim: The Divorce that Scandalised Georgian England. She worked as the Assistant Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, London before deciding to teach history and write full-time. She lives in Muswell Hill, London.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great social history that reads like a novel 19 Nov 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Harris's List was an annual publication that listed all the prostitutes in and around the Covent Garden area and their 'specialities'! In The Covent Garden Ladies, Rubenhold explores the story of how the list came into being and the three main personalities behind the famous book; Samuel Derrick (a down and out Irish poet), Charlotte Hayes ( a prostitute and then procuress) and John Harrison, also known as Jack Harris, who lent his name to the project.

This is facinating social history. Not only do we learn about the lives of our three main protagonists, but also what it was like to be in the Fleet prison, what is was like to be a struggling writer at the time and also about the theatres, pubs and brothels of Covent Garden.

The book also includes many of the entries from Harris's List, some of which are hilarious. I would have loved to have met a woman with 'breath like a Welsh bagpipe' or the prostitute who 'if you can forget she's hunchbacked, she's a little Venus'!

I would have liked to know more about the lives of the prostitutes at the time. All this was confined to the last chapter of the book, which was unfortunate as it was one of the more interesting parts of the book as a whole.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars serious history,grippingly narrated 18 Nov 2009
Meticuously researched and beautifully written this book tells the stories of the three people behind the infamous 18th century Harris's List- Jack Harris, the pimp/waiter who lent his name to the List, the impecunious Irish poet Samuel Derrick who composed it and Charlotte Hayes, the love of his life and the most successful purveyor of sex to the aristocracy and gentry of the period.

With a novelist's flair Hallie Rubenhold narrates the background of her three subjects and their inter-weaving. Her style is so gripping that I quickly became involved in the progress of their lives and their eventual fates.The rich seamy tapestry of the profligacy and degredation of 18th century London, in particular Covent Garden the main centre of it's vice trade, is carefully presented with fascinating insights into such subjects as imprisonment in the Fleet for debt, life as a hack writer and the lawlessness of the taverns and coffee houses.

The lives and fates of the women of the List is a sober reminder that in the 18th century prostitution was often the only alternative to starvation and destitution. I was glad to find that Hallie Rubenhold has treated the subject with circumspection and while not lessening the horrors of the sex trade of the 18the century has avoided any gratuitous attempt to titillate. The only criticism of the book I have is the too lengthy chapter devoted to samples of the List which quickly became repetitive and which I skipped over without missing any of the interest of the narrative drive.

The book throws a fascinating light on a dark corner of history and reveals a society as obscessed with celebrities, self-gratification and sex as our own.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Average read. 8 Feb 2012
By xaiko
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this a few months back and it can only interest me half way. I am more interested in the original list of Pimp General Jack but unfortunately there is only a small section in this book. I much rather read about the list myself and form my own opinion than having someone tell me their opinion.
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