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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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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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Well researched but not Erotic

The performance of this book is delightful with a narrator whose French annunciation is pleasing. The research is well organized and highly factual. There is nothing sexual or erotic about this book. It is brilliant research on a business. The author articulates the particular commerce of sex in a historically accurate ( although bland) manner.

3 of 5 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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  • Zarah
  • St. louis, Mo
  • 06-10-17

3 stars book, 5 stars narration, 4 star average

I think Kushner did a good job of taking what seems like an exciting subject and making it really academic, but also of taking information from a really dry source and making it readable. See, the vast majority of the data for this book about elite prostitutes in eighteenth-century Paris came from police records. So, as you can imagine, the source is informative about some things, but silent on others and there isn't a lot Kushner could be expected to do about that. I'm very glad I got the audio-version, I could listen to this a lot more easily than read it.

If you had asked me if a modern American could judge people, decisions and actions of people from eighteenth-century France, I would have said, "Of course not, it's a whole other culture." But one of the things Kushner did really well here was create for the reader (listener) a true understanding of just HOW different life in eighteenth-century France was. The understanding of family units was different. The ideas and ideals of love were different. The place and importance of sex was different. Gender expectations were different. Age of majority and adulthood were different. The social hierarchies were different, and on and on and on. There is no way to center and understand the demi monde or dames entretenues (kept women) using modern standards. I learned a lot about the world these women lived in and, in a way, I found this the most interesting part of the book.

I did feel like some important aspects were left out. What of children? Several times having children was mentioned. But how can we understand the life of women, especially women who have sex for a living with questionable preventative measures, without touching on children? What happened when they were pregnant? Who raised the children? Who claimed them?

Similarly, I felt it an oversight that Kushner didn't address, even briefly, that as the vast majority of her data came from police reports, most of the information was therefore first interpreted and filtered by men. She addresses them being police, but not the gender aspect. If history has told us anything, it's that men often misinterpret or misrepresent the motivations of women. At one point in this very book Kushner mentions that a police report calls one woman lazy because she hasn't gotten another job and has instead returned to prostitution, while the circumstances were almost certainly that she couldn't find another job and therefore did what she needed to do to survive. And even those reports written by madams themselves, were written to be given to a male audience they needed to keep pleased with them. How did this male gatekeeping effect what is and isn't known today? Perhaps we couldn't ever really know, but I would have liked a discussion.

All in all, I thought it was a thorough academic handling of an interesting subject and Sally Martin did a fine job narrating it, even with all the French, as far as I could tell.

3 stars for book
5 stars for narration
4 star average

Note: I received a copy for review. However, it was my choice to read and review it.

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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.”

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Profile Image for Emily
  • 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.