Prostitution

Prostitution is the second most common vice after drink. Every taste can be catered for in the citadels of Europe: women for the poor and anything for the rich. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the Victorian flesh trade is its frequency and blatancy in the heart of a society that has become a byword for repression.

Commercial sex is incredibly common; a good example of how common comes from Mayhew, a social reformer from London. Mayhew interviewed a series of London seamstresses, and from his interviews he discovered that a third of the women interviewed were also prostitutes. His conclusion was that women have to turn to prostitution to live, as their primary job wages were simply too low. Other social reformers of the era also supported Mayhew's conclusion of 'prostitution by necessity'. The term 'working girl' comes from this time, as there was a presumption that any single woman in employment (especially in independent professions such as acting) was clearly also "on the game". Perhaps the most damning fact is that the flourishing nature of prostitution could not be possible without demand for the service - yet another reminder of the dual values of the Victorian "gentleman".

There are several methods of prostitution, and correspondingly several forms of sex-selling establishment.

Independent women of the proletariat who take to prostitution often take lodgings together in the same house; this provides safety in numbers in potentially savage areas. It is not uncommon for entire lodging houses to be occupied by prostitutes. Those who became visually scarred by assault, disease (such as pox), or age can often be found crawling through the back streets of the slums selling their favors for whatever they can get. Judging by perverts' memoirs and social reformers' reports, the selling price for a proletarian's flesh ranges from as little as tuppence up to two shillings.

Attractive women with some education and confidence can find a much higher niche in the world of vice. The Haymarket and St James Court of London are centers of 'high-class' vice. A beautiful woman able to hold intelligent, or at least fashionable, conversation for several hours is a highly sought escort, and could expect to gain twenty shillings for company, and up to five pounds for a full evening's entertainment.

Male prostitutes are found, but are discreet and uncommon. It is rare to find one outside an established brothel. He certainly has to live carefully: he can get whole pounds for his favors, but his discovery could mean his death at the hands of a homophobic mob.

Brothels are common in European cities. In London, the Haymarket and St James Court areas are covered with them. In such areas, even bars keep bedrooms for the clientele to use, usually charged for by the hour. The largest and most affluent brothels also stand as casinos and bars. Kate Hamilton’s, the largest and most expensive brothel in London, has several bars, a casino, a dance floor, and discreet rooms for dining and 'sleeping'. Incidentally, Kate’s bouncers are the official police force, who keep at least one officer in the lobby at all times to discourage 'undesirables' such as the poor.

One notable aspect of prostitution is the social mobility offered by the business. A wealthy gentleman might notice and find pleasing an attractive or well-educated prostitute. He might then offer to 'buy' her (if she has a pimp) or merely offer her the chance of a better life. This might mean he sets her up as his own mistress or even, in certain circumstances, marries her (the latter was less common in Victorian times, but frequent in the Regency and Wilhelmine periods prior to Victoria’s ascension). It was rumored that Albert, Duke of Clarence (in the 1880s) had married a Whitechapel prostitute (coincidentally, at the time of the ripper murders – this led to him being considered a suspect). However, it should be noted that such an 'elevated woman' is only enjoying the lifestyle rather than the social position of her new class. Most of society will be aware of who she is and will most likely shun her utterly, unless she is extremely clever and socially adept.