"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, March 11, 2024

Bawds, Tarts, And Brothels - Bring Back The Good Old Days

Isaiah Jones hitched his mare to the post, adjusted his jeans, smoothed his hair, and made his way up the staircase to Mrs. Henry's parlor, a marvelously Victorian place with macrame Tiffany lamps, silk embroidered divans, Persian rugs, and an elegant cut glass Baccarat crystal decanter.  The scent of lilac and a faint perfume of oleander greeted him as he walked through the beaded entrance. 

'How lovely to see you', said Mrs. Henry.  'I hope the trip wasn't too arduous', and with that Lily March, the most beautiful girl in the house, a blonde, blue-eyed young woman, fresh as a daisy, coiffed and beautified as a Parisian lady, walked demurely forward and took his hand.  

Isaiah came to Mrs. Henry's exactly because of all the pomp and circumstance, the fantastical do-dads and curlicues, the generous welcome, and above all the inimitable, unforgettable Lily. 

He laid two gold coins on the silver tray Mrs. Henry had placed on the highboy next to an urn of long-stemmed flowers and sage. a touch of class, smiled, and walked off with Lily to the Hitchcock Bedroom, a simple room with Wild Bill memorabilia and a large portrait of Madame LaFourchette, the first matron of the establishment.  The lace curtains on the corner windows luffed in a fragrant breeze floating in from the cottonwoods along the arroyo in the near distance. 

Lily helped Isaiah off with his boots and spurs, sponged him with warm, scented water, and took her place beside him.  They lay there like young lovers. 

Mrs. Henry made thousands from the carriage trade as she called it - the better off, more refined cowboy, the men who appreciated women and fine things, took their time, sipped her sherry and paid well.  She had invested wisely in grain, railroad stock, and cattle and planned to return to Baltimore in two or three more years. 

She gave prostitution a good name, for she had made it into profession - the sale of sexual favors was no different than bodices and hoop skirts or saddles and long rifles. It was a matter of supply and demand, and nothing to do with propriety or rectitude.  In fact the Sisters Of The Cross, suffragettes and temperance ladies had never picketed her establishment - it was too high-toned and respectable even though the same wares were traded as in the seedy, spit-and-scratch places by the saloon. 

'Respect for women!' the ladies shouted.  'Prostitution is a sin and damnation awaits!'  The thought of lying there, opening their legs to a horse-smelling, rancid, randy man, and then doing it again and again was unfathomable, despicable, and wrong; and yet there was something gracious and very acceptable about Mrs. Henry's establishment that they couldn't help admiring. 

All this is history of course.  The days of saloons, cheap whores, rotgut whiskey and cowboys have long passed.  Women and men have evolved and society is now based on sexual commonality and respect. Prostitutes represent the worst sort of female abuse - a degrading, soulless, abject submission to to base, uninhibited desire.  Women should never again be subjected to such indignity; and so modern, feminists haven taken up their place in latter-day solidarity with the Sisters of the Cross, stuffy, mean old men-haters. 

Prostitution was common in Elizabethan times and only occasionally prosecuted.  In the main prostitution was a profession like any other, subject to supply and demand, a living for those living on the margins.

Moral eyebrows might have been raised, but no universal opprobrium.  Prostitution was simply a way of life.  Nell Quickly is not a victim, nor a sexually abused, enslaved woman, but lively, bawdy, and as vital as Falstaff.  Those who criticize Mistress Overdone’s profession were no more than sanctimonious fools - men who in contrast to her and her women are dishonest.  Men whose tenuous authority turns them into moral panderers, righteous bawds.


How different from the current era where moral panderers and righteous bawds are universal.  These guardians of female virtue are far worse than Don Angelo, the Governor pro tempore of Vienna in Measure for Measure who closes all brothels in the city, condemns to death an innocent man for promiscuity, but who attempts to seduce a novitiate, the sister of the condemned man, by offering to free him for a night in bed with her.  

Today’s latter day arbiters of of morality have not simply decried ‘unwanted’ sexual activity, but have raised sexual innuendo to a crime.  Women, despite the militant feminism of their defenders, have become victims; and they, regardless of circumstance, enabling environment, or even willingness will always be so. 

Sad it is that we live in such a censorious, Puritanical age.  Public health advocates once tried to legitimize prostitution by calling prostitutes 'commercial sex workers', women engaged in a trade like any other; but that of course was empty promise.  Prostitutes were not dressmakers, hairdressers, or nurses. Rutting was not trimming and tailoring. Opening the holiest of holies to any and all comers was tantamount to living in Dante's Ninth Circle and performing tricks for Satan.

In Abel Ferrara's movie, Welcome to New York, he fictionalizes the French politician and financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn. For him sexual libertinage, promiscuity, or addiction – whatever the press might call it – was in his eyes morally neutral.  Prostitution has always been tolerated if not legal in France, and women are as much commodities as those he has always traded on world markets.   The fact that his sex drive is more insatiable than others is not the point.

The  penultimate scene – that of the Strauss-Kahn character propositioning the maid – is the moral closure of the film.  He is virile, irrepressible, contemptuous of the bourgeoisie and its myopic values, and subversive of them.  He is reminiscent of Fyodor Karamazov, the father of the brothers of Dostoevsky’s novel, who is as sexually driven, condescending, and irreverent.  Both men are attractive in their will, defiance of the meek, timid, and sexually repressed.

Promiscuity - or rather libertinage, or even better sexual license - has gotten a bad name.  Men who have serial partners - from Casanova to JFK to Martin Luther King - are cast as predators, human wolves who treat women as fleshpots, vessels, things and nothing more.  LBJ and Bill Clinton were no different, whoring and fucking whomever, wherever, chippies or trailer trash, didn't matter to these horny boors. 


Prostitution - according to Eliot Spitzer, former disgraced Governor of New York caught in flagrante delicto in the bridal suite of the Mayflower Hotel with a high-class call girl - is simply a quick and easy way to relieve the tension of one's demanding job; and besides, the call-girl trade gets hookers off the streets. Saloons and Mrs. Henry's establishment acknowledged demand and institutionalized it - everyone made out, and no one left unhappy. 

Two self-evident truths - men have always pursued women, and in dry spells turned to prostitutes; and women have always been willing to turn a trick for money, the perfect storm of human biology and the marketplace.  Why mess with it?  

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