J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Gentleman’s Guide to Covent Garden?

On the New Yorker website, Nicola Twilley recently wrote about Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, a guide to the prostitutes of London published annually between 1757 and 1795.

The Wellcome Library in London recently digitized the 1787 and 1788 volumes. Twilley quotes the library’s head of research, Richard Aspin, on the volumes’ rarity.

The article also notes that there are a lot of mysteries about Harris’s List, starting with who started compiling it, who updated it over the decades, and what its real purpose was:
Aspin has no theories as to its authorship, but he brings up another point of scholarly contention: whether “Harris’s List” was actually soft-core erotic fiction, merely served up in the guise of a practical guide. “If you compare the cast of characters in these two editions, there seems to be almost a wholesale replacement of the names from one year to the next,” he points out. The book purports to list “the most celebrated ladies now on the town”—but it seems quite unlikely that the top one hundred or so prostitutes of London would really change so radically from year to year. . . .

Even assuming the descriptions are of real people, or at least based on real people, Aspin points out that eighty-six ladies (the tally in the 1787 edition; the total varies from year to year) is an infinitesimal fraction of the total number of prostitutes in London at the time, which is estimated to have been more than sixty thousand…
The world expert on Harris’s List appears to be London-based author Hallie Rubenhold, who has published a study called The Covent Garden Ladies; Pimp General Jack and the Extraordinary Story of Harris’s List and a compilation of entries from many editions. Those books don’t appear to be in print in the U.S. of A. Like the original publications, however, one ought to be able to obtain copies by asking the right people.

1 comment:

Hallie Rubenhold said...

Thank you for drawing attention to this! Although the two copies at the Wellcome are new discoveries, the questions that are being asked of them are old ones and, for the most part have been given extensive treatment in my books.