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Editorial Reviews

"This history brings to life les dames entretenues- women who dazzled and scandalized 18th-century Paris as mistresses of powerful men". ( New Yorker)

Publisher's Summary

In Erotic Exchanges, Nina Kushner reveals the complex world of elite prostitution in 18th-century Paris by focusing on the professional mistresses who dominated it. In this demimonde, these dames entretenues exchanged sex, company, and sometimes even love for being "kept". Most of these women entered the profession unwillingly, either because they were desperate and could find no other means of support or because they were sold by family members to brothels or to particular men. A small but significant percentage of kept women, however, came from a theater subculture that actively supported elite prostitution. Kushner shows that in its business conventions, its moral codes, and even its sexual practices, the demimonde was an integral part of contemporary Parisian culture.

Kushner's primary sources include thousands of folio pages of dossiers and other documents generated by the Paris police as they tracked the lives and careers of professional mistresses, reporting in meticulous, often lascivious, detail what these women and their clients did. Rather than reduce the history of sex work to the history of its regulation, Kushner interprets these materials in a way that unlocks these women's own experiences. Kushner analyzes prostitution as a form of work, examines the contracts that governed relationships among patrons, mistresses, and madams, and explores the roles played by money, gifts, and, on occasion, love in making and breaking the bonds between women and men. This vivid and engaging book explores elite prostitution not only as a form of labor and as a kind of business but also as a chapter in the history of emotions, marriage, and the family.

©2013 Cornell University (P)2015 Redwood Audiobooks

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Historical examination of the Demimonde

Erotic Exchanges (Unabridged)
________________________________________

Author: Nina Kushner
Narrator:
Sally Martin
Provider:
University Press Audiobooks
Running Time:
12 h 24 min

In Erotic Exchanges, Nina Kushner reveals the complex world of elite prostitution in 18th-century Paris by focusing on the professional mistresses who dominated it. In this demimonde, these dames entretenues exchanged sex, company, and sometimes even love for being "kept". Most of these women entered the profession unwillingly, either because they were desperate and could find no other means of support or because they were sold by family members to brothels or to particular men. A small but significant percentage of kept women, however, came from a theater subculture that actively supported elite prostitution. Kushner shows that in its business conventions, its moral codes, and even its sexual practices, the demimonde was an integral part of contemporary Parisian culture. Kushner's primary sources include thousands of folio pages of dossiers and other documents generated by the Paris police as they tracked the lives and careers of professional mistresses, reporting in meticulous, often lascivious, detail what these women and their clients did. Rather than reduce the history of sex work to the history of its regulation, Kushner interprets these materials in a way that unlocks these women's own experiences. Kushner analyzes prostitution as a form of work, examines the contracts that governed relationships among patrons, mistresses, and madams, and explores the roles played by money, gifts, and, on occasion, love in making and breaking the bonds between women and men. This vivid and engaging book explores elite prostitution not only as a form of labor and as a kind of business but also as a chapter in the history of emotions, marriage, and the family.
This is the 2nd book I have read from this provider, University Audiobooks, and both books have some excellent traits in common. Each book reads like a reprise of an academic research document, possibly a Doctoral thesis, revamped and restructured, slightly, for nonacademic readers interested in the areas under discussion. In the case of this book, the matter under discussion is the history of the Demimonde, especially with regard to the functions, economically, socially and culturally, of the professional mistresses. While the general topic is certainly erotic, the material contained in the book is not especially so, save by inference.

However, this in no way detracts from the interest of the material. Anyone interested in the history of the 18th Century, or of France just before the Revolution, will find this a fascinating read, because it provides insight into a sub-culture that, while it has been treated in fiction in various ways, is still a bit of an enigma to the modern world. It was a culture with its own customs, rules, and social hierarchies, and the women who inhabited it had, and used, a broad range of independence at a time when most women had very little, indeed. Many of them had access to, and control of, their own money and property, and they were able to both enter into, and dissolve binding contracts. True, they were, at least technically, on the fringes of society, but this position also provided them the freedom to conduct their lives, mostly under their own control.

The book is very well written, and the narrator was excellent, obviously completely comfortable with the many foreign (and not just French) names involved. Her phrasing was good, too, and her reading was objective and impersonal, as one would expect from a narrator of nonfiction, without being in the least boring.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in the era depicted, or in understanding the Paris Demimonde itself, which has had a subtle but profound impact, even to modern times.

I give both book and narrator a full 5 stars, and will be watching for more from this provider, with interest.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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This is HOT!

And by hot I mean … engagingly written scholarly history grounded in original archival research!

It's true, this is an academic work, not a work of erotica, as the first reviewer points out. I suppose people could be duped by the naughty cover. After listening to the sample clip, I purchased it and am finding it to be really interesting. Nicely written and very pleasantly read.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Genuinely thought provoking

Who woulda thunk. The actual lives of real people are honestly dealt with in a history that could have been 'scandalous ' and 'titillating' like a tabloid, but was treated more like the 'New Yorker' article. Very good

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Really fascinating insights into women's roles

Fascinating to learn how the authorities of the day used women for intelligence gathering, a kind of magistrate's court, and institutionalized system of corruption. I wasn't sure how this sort of academic research would work as an audio book, but I actually enjoyed it. (Caveat: I'm a history geek.)

The demi monde is so often used as a device in historical romance novels, but learning the reality behind it and how the power of bureaucracy was used to institutionalize the role into acceptable and unacceptable varieties was very satisfying. Historical authors will love this for research as the many vignettes of daily life suggest many plot possibilities.

The narrator kept the audio from degenerating into a dry lecture. It felt more like an extended TED talk and I stayed highly engaged. Kudos, as keeping nonfiction engaging and enjoyable is difficult.

“I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook by the author, narrator, or publisher.”

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Very Interesting

I agreed to review this book because it sounded uniquely interesting, and I'm glad that I did. I ended up learning a lot about a topic I never would have even considered could be covered in such detail. The book was obviously VERY well researched by the author and she did a good job of presenting all of the information in an easy-to-understand format.

If you like history books, you're probably going to enjoy this book.

The narrator also did a great job with pronouncing things I'm not even going to attempt to say and wouldn't dare try to spell.

A solid 4 stars with a 5 for narration.

I requested and received a free copy of this audiobook from the author, publisher, or narrator in exchange for an unbiased review. I was NOT required to write a positive review and this reflects my honest opinion of the work.

9 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Sexual status was a form of power!!!

Nina Kushner does an excellent job painting a realistic picture of the elite sex trade in 18th century France. Taking what would otherwise be a somewhat dry exposition of 18th century police reporting on Demimonde culture and transforming it into a very sumptuous narrative, Kushner shows how this erotic exchange of sexual companionship for money afforded many of these women financial independence.

The term she coined "Sexual Capital", to describe the tentative power some of these elite sex workers possessed, translated well into economic and financial capital. For many of these women such an arrangement allowed them to become self sufficient heads of households and controllers of their own destinies at a time when most women were totally beholden to whims of men.

Provocative and sometimes shocking, the detailed behind-the-scenes reporting of this 18th century Demimonde culture sheds new light on many of the diaries and memoirs of such libertine figures like Casanova and Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Though somewhat academically dry at some points overall the book truly is a page turner, so to speak. The narration is excellent, flows well, and was a treat to listen to.

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Intriguing and Fascinating

Would you consider the audio edition of Erotic Exchanges to be better than the print version?

The narration was good. The book was well researched and informative.

Any additional comments?

This review copy audiobook was provided by the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost."

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HER-story in the making..

First off, I love how they say the French words and then explains what it means. After that I love the history of such a, then scandulous now less so, occupation. Just hearing of all the hardships and torments that girls suffered way back when, made me realize they have come along way to get there equality, but are still struggling to not slip back into those old days.
The story flows well between love, hate, history, and of course, sex. If you want a historical story that draws you in, wanting more, and a story that is just a tad naughty to spice it up, Then this is for you...

I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook by the author, narrator, or publisher.

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Great read for gender studies

Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth Century Paris is a highly interesting academic look at the lives of prostitutes as well as, among other topics, the rise of the police state in Paris.

There were many instances where I was amazed at the autonomy some of these women enjoyed. There were times however that I wasn't surprised at all with the hardships experienced by them and others who sold sex to make a living.

What made this especially interesting for me is how the author tells about the rise of the police state and the relationship between the prostitutes and the police as well as the impact the changing police actions/viewpoints had on society.

Nina Kushner has written a very well researched work that was easily followed and understood. However, some of the French terminology would have been easier to follow in a hard copy of the work as opposed to the audio version.


I would like to listen to more from Ms. Kushner, especially if the research was a continuation of what she presented here.

I received this book for free In exchange for a review.

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Kept women and their place in society

If you are looking for titillation and "romance", move on. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a serious scholarly work in readable and enjoyable prose, this book is for you.

Nina Kushner takes a good look at the life of elite prostitution and kept women in 18th century France, as well as their place in the hierarchical society of the time. Her main source are the remains of the archives of the department of the Paris police in charge of keeping track of kept women. Yes, such a department did exist and played an important role in regulating the elite sex market. Why did it exist and how did it operate? Listen or read the book to learn!

These archives allows us to understand the different way young women entered the sex trade, how a career could develop, the ties between the different players in the market and, eventually, how they dropped out of sex work. Much remains unknown, of course, but this information allows a real world view that often contradicts the portrayals in the arts and gives a context to diarists and memoirs by "libertines."

Most importantly, Kushner develops the idea of "sexual virtue" versus "sexual capital", as regarding the traditional path to marriage or the alternative of developing a career in sex work.

Very enjoyable and eye opening.

I received a free copy from the author in return for a fair and unbiased review.

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  • Emily
  • 06-04-17

Academic

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

This was a very academic historical work. I had been expecting a popular history type of book, but was pleasantly surprised with the style it was written in (and the regular references to Darnton). It details the different types of prostitutes (shocked for the majority of people who believe that a prostitute is a prostitute is a prostitute) which was pretty spectacular. Previously, my only encounter with prostitutes was The Secret Diary of a Call Girl and to see the actual rivalries and roles within eighteenth century Paris was really good. Also, I really liked the link between actresses and prostitutes. I've always been told that the ancient French word for actress was the same as the word for prostitute so to finally understand the link is pretty awesome.

That being said, this book was really dry. I had to keep rewinding to listen to sections again in order to understand what was being said.