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The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital Hardcover – 3 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books; First Edition edition (3 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847945376
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847945372
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 4.8 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 383,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Fascinating ... Cruickshank removes the bland façade to expose one of London's biggest and most lively industries - its trade in sex ... a lively and scholarly panorama of Georgian London before the sex trade was chased underground by the Victorians and we all became prudish instead --Daily Mail

This is a colossal melting pot of a book: ambitious, rigorously researched, vigorously narrated and marvellously illustrated. All of life is here, but not as we know it --Sunday Times

Dan Cruickshank enters this world with relish ... the book's capaciousness and breadth is tremendous, providing much to fascinate, provoke and inform --Country Life

Book Description

One of our leading historians describes how Georgian London was shaped by the sex industry

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Neutral VINE VOICE on 4 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover
The period of English history from the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 to the death of George 1V in 1830 can quite properly be called the age of the libertine. Society, particularly the aristocracy, followed a lifestyle of sexual activity which was captured in the poems of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, during the reign of Charles the Second and John Wilkes, the cross-eyed rabble rouser, during the time of George the Third. Thus, when Mervyn Griffith-Jones famously asked jurors in the 1960 trial of D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, whether the novel was something "you would wish your wife or servants to read" he was not only out of touch with his own time, he showed remarkable ignorance of England's soical past. Not only were the four letter words to which Griffith-Jones objected far from new, they formed an integral part of popular expression in the Georgian society which Dan Cruickshank describes brilliantly in this superbly researched book.

The tendency to emphasise the relevance of sex to everyday life is not a modern invention. In the eighteenth century it was the talk of the town (in London at least) and in terms which would be bleeped out on modern television. Although the Georgians censored some words, these were usually the names of people, whose identity was nonetheless obvious from the initials used. What was not censorsed was the open misbehaviour of the aristocracy for whom marriage was a social act which did not serve to restrict their avaricous or sexual demands and dalliances. Many of these were carried out behind closed doors involving a combination of sexual fantasy and role play shortened only by the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. Nor was illicit sex confined to the upper classes.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Chris Chamberlain on 17 May 2011
Format: Hardcover
Vast, rambling and repetitive, I actually found this hard work and I'm a big fan of anything Georgian.

The author's premise is that the Sex Industry shaped London but that idea soon seems to get lost as the author goes off on long digressions that have little to do with the subject. Why, for instance, are there 70 pages on the Foundling, Magdalen and Lock Hospitals when none of the buildings exist anymore? Why is there a chapter on the political shenanigans of John Wilkes? 20 pages on the supposed kidnap of Elizabeth Canning only for the author to admit that she probably made it up!? As for the appendices, apart from Doctor Graham, very little to do with the Sex Industry in London.

Okay, so these things were worth a mention but this book, for me, contained far too much waffle. A bit of editing and a shorter book would have been better though there are better books than this available on this subject. Check out Hallie Rubenhold's Covent Garden Ladies or Julie Peakman's Lascivious Bodies, both better books by far.
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Format: Hardcover
How does one review a book like this?

This book that I liked quite considerably tackled a very difficult topic, namely the seediness of Georgian London. It is true that the Georgian fronts to their house were magnificent, but it was what went on below stairs and out the back that was just as interesting and intriguing as the magniloquence of the front and the stately Squares, Circles and Crescents.

I do not agree that things like Foundling Hospitals are superfluous to a book such as this. They are a necessary part and parcel of the topic as they were developed as a product of apparent 'sin' if one can define such a term (Prostitution, often Child Prostitution) and one can see the relevance in pointing out both the hypocrisy of the times (including lock stock and barrel the likes of Pox Clinics and Homes for the by products of the Sex Industry of the day), and this is as important as a strict description of the range and nature of the Sex Industry at the time and its growth throughout the later 1700's and early 1800's.

I found this very interesting and easy to read, but did not find it waffled as some have said as a criticism. For example the way favourite prostitutes / courtesans were swapped and this was recorded, and indeed partners and indeed the wife swapping that went on is very interesting.

The chapters I liked were:

2. Ladies of the Town;

3. Mother Clap;

9. The Rakes Repose;

11. The Reception of the Distressed;

12. Vice Takes Centre Stage;

13. Muses, Goddesses and Painted Ladies;

(I mean I will now look a the pictures in the National Gallery in a wholly different light in future);

15.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Susan Smith on 11 Jan. 2010
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this over the holidays. It is a real tour de force of the seamier side of life in Georgian London. It is full of vignettes and side trips into the lives of the famous and infamous as well as the lowly non-persons who populated London. We learn about high flying madams and successful prostitutes (Emma Harte - Lady Hamilton), Fanny Murray, etc, but also about the bullies and low life who helped establish them. I particularly enjoyed the very well researched and presented scenes from London courtrooms as Cruickshank tells of famous murders and examines the development and difficulties of 18th century British justice. We learnt about lots of very strange and weird folk like Dr James Graham of the Celestial Bed and his fascination with electricity learnt from Benjamin Franklin.

Initially I had the impression that the author wanted a tie-in with architecture and the social history of the underbelly of London. In this aspect I don't see that he made much of a strong case although we did learn about various charitable institutions catering for the children of harlots, the care of diseased streetwalkers and so forth. As someone involved in fundraising in my personal life, I found it fascinating to see how the Foundling Hospital and other great Georgian institutions were founded, funded and run. Not a great deal has changed!

I was glad that Cruickshank kept his focus on the lower orders here and did not try for a wider social history. By concetrating on such a tiny number of people, he made their impact seem large and important and caused me to re-think some of my perceptions of life in Georgian London.

I have some criticism, which to others may seem petty, but stopped this being a 5 star effort for me:

1.
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