The Great Social Evil, as prostitution became known in the mid-19th Century, was brought about by the shift from a moral/religious cause to a socio-economic one. The 1851 consensus revealed the population was approximately 18 million, which amounted to 750,000 women who would remain unmarried because there were too few men. These women were labelled 'redundant and superfluous' and many ended up in prostitution.
While the Magdalene Asylums had been "reforming" prostitutes since the mid-18th century, the years between 1848 and 1870 saw a veritable explosion in the number of institutions working to "reclaim" these "fallen women" from the streets and retrain them for entry into respectable society — usually for work as domestic servants. Many girls were orphans and many came from the country, often tricked into "the life" and unable to return home. Some were as young as eight years old!
Prostitutes were often presented as victims in literature such as Thomas Hood's poem The Bridge of Sighs, Elizabeth Gaskell's novel Mary Barton, and Dicken's novel Oliver Twist. The emphasis on the purity of women found in such works as Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House led to the portrayal of the prostitute and fallen woman as soiled, corrupted, and in need of cleansing.
This emphasis on female purity was allied to the stress on the homemaking role of women.
Two men desire the beautiful artist’s model, Giovanna Russo. One intends to make her his mistress and the other wants her dead.
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Gina Russo looked up at the attic window where driving rain had caused a leak to form. It dripped down onto the floorboards, forming a pool at her stepfather's feet. He seemed completely unaware of it, but then, when he was painting, the building could burn down around him.
"You must move your easel, Milo," she ordered him, placing her hands on her hips. "Your trousers will get wet and in this miserable, moldy climate, you'll catch your death."
He looked up blankly, paintbrush poised above the canvas where he painted a still life. "But, the light, Gina!"
"I do not intend to be orphaned in this cold-hearted city. What would I do without you?"
He laughed and wiped his brush on a cloth, then threw it down onto a table piled with brushes and half-squeezed tubes of paint. "You have made a good point. You're not just pretty, my girl, you've got something up here," he tapped his forehead.
She helped him move his things away then ran to place a bowl under the drip.
"When will you pose for me again, Gina? I have great hopes for the last painting I did."
"When you have sold another painting and we can afford some coal," she said firmly. "I am not stripping off in this cold. And we need decent food."
"Aah. I can taste a tender turkey breast stuffed with sweet Italian sausage and chestnuts. That would be most welcome."
"We shall be eating your Still Life with Apples, Milo, long before that." Gina watched as he settled at his easel once more, and pick up his brush. There would be no more conversation for the afternoon.
She grabbed the broom and began to sweep the floor at the far end of the room. She worked to warm herself. She'd swept the floor that morning, but no matter how many times she cleaned it, it always looked dirty. Work also helped to clear her head. She was constantly thinking up schemes to leave horrid, foggy London. She had been thirteen years old when her mother brought her to England, old enough to remember the sunny days and green hills of Tuscany.
She turned to study the bowl of wizened fruit and vase of wilting flowers she had purchased from the market that morning for Milo to paint. Surely, the sun-ripened fruit of her homeland was sweeter. Her mother had been like a delicate flower, she had not thrived in an English winter. She hated the cold and fog. She was fond of saying that Italians knew how to live and the men knew how to love.
It was certainly true that the Englishmen who pursued Gina had money where their hearts should be. They knew nothing of a love that took hold of you, mind, body, and soul. To them she would be an acquisition, someone they could flaunt in front of their friends and boast about in their clubs. She would have none of it. She had promised her mother.
When her mother had married Milo and came to England, she had become a much sought after artist's model. Even after her death, Gina and Milo remained loyal to their friends of the demi-world, the shadow world of fellow artists, models, writers, thespians, courtesans and musicians, through which the upper classes wandered, paying for anything they desired. It could be an exciting world, but had a dark side of despair, poverty, ruin and untimely death.
Her mother had died of inflammation of the lungs at thirty-six. She was already ailing when she married Milo, fifteen years her elder. She knew he would take care of Gina after she was gone. Even when her health was failing, she would drag Gina to church every Sunday. Her final words still echoed in Gina's ears. "We have a saying in Italy, sweet child. You never forget your first love. I loved your father and if only he'd lived.... No matter how hard life gets, don't ever be tempted to sell your body, for that will destroy your soul. Remember you are a good Christian girl. Promise me!"
Gina touched the hair-bracelet on her wrist, made with her mother's lovely golden hair. When she had asked her mother about her father, she would always turn away. "Better that you don't know." Her standard reply left Gina wondering what made her so sad and reluctant to reveal the past. Had her mother and father been married?
"Bah," Gina said, swatting at some imaginary speck of dirt. She was sick of being grindingly poor. The struggle to live tore the heart out of you and dragged you down. She hated London, its miles of rat infested, filthy cobblestone alleys and shabby brick and stucco houses, the noise and the smells and the dirt. She hated feeling desperately sad for the tatty, barefoot children. She hated her cheap dresses, and longed to have something store-bought and pretty. She hated their ugly, leaky attic rooms that no amount of cleaning could turn into a home, most of all.
A block away, the street prostitutes trolled between the gin shop and the pawnshop, younger than she, some of them. Green from the country, they quickly become addicted to the drink and their gentle eyes turned hard. Lying in bed at night, she'd listen to them out there under the gaslights. Dancing, drinking, and singing into the small hours. The sounds of their hollow laughter made her want to weep and pull a pillow over her head.
As she put away the broom, Gina's thoughts turned to Milo. How did he produce such beauty in his paintings, in a place like this? She put her hand to her mouth. How could she be so ungrateful?
"Did you say something, mio caro?" Milo asked, adding a highlight to a painted apple. The apple had become his signature and appeared in most of his paintings. His painted apple was so much fresher and redder than the one in the bowl. Perhaps that was his secret, he saw life through rose-colored glasses.
"No, Milo," she said, going to stir the minestrone soup that with bread and cheese, would have to do them until the end of the week.
"You're a good daughter, Gina," he said absently.
A Dictionary of Victorian London Lee Jackson
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Prostitution during the Victorian era. ~ New Release SURRENDER TO DESTINY
I write sensual historical romance where heroes meet their match in feisty heroines. Add a dash of adventure, a murder or two, a mystery or intrigue. What better time to set them than the Georgian, Regency and the late Victorian period on the brink of the 20th Century. The Regency was a time of both opulence and abject poverty. Of economic and social change: the Napoleonic wars, the power struggle for the Americas, and the Industrial revolution when people began to desert the country for the cities. Celebrity Lord Byron wrote dark romantic poetry, and Beau Brummell defined and shaped fashion into a period of simplistic elegance. Men abandoned brocades and lace for linen trousers, overcoats with breeches and boots, and women abandoned corsets for high wasted, thin gauzy dresses. A spend-thrift aesthete known for his scandalous affairs, George IV, the Prince of Wales was made Regent in 1811 after his father was declared too mad to rein. Prinny presided over the elegant society of the ton, the so called Upper Ten Thousand, who defined themselves by an incredibly formal etiquette code which set them apart from the rising middle class.