cover of book

Sex Work, Text Work: Mapping Prostitution in the Nineteenth-Century French Novel
by Jessica Tanner
Northwestern University Press, 2023
Cloth: 978-0-8101-4584-9 | eISBN: 978-0-8101-4585-6
Library of Congress Classification PQ653.T36 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 843.7093538

Though male French authors plotted prostitution to make their names—mimicking the surveillance of municipal authorities—the sex workers in their books manage to evade efforts to contain them

While prostitutes in nineteenth-century Paris were subject to municipal laws that policed their bodies and movements, writers of the era enlisted them to stake their own claims on both the city and the novel as literary territory. Sex Work, Text Work: Mapping Prostitution in the Nineteenth-Century French Novel explores how prostitutes depicted by Émile Zola, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Edmond de Goncourt, Adolphe Tabarant, and Charles-Louis Philippe “write back,” confounding civil and literary efforts to contain them in space and in narrative.

In city-regulated brothels, brasseries à femmes, Haussmannian boulevards, and the novel itself, working-class prostitutes served to reinforce the boundaries of social inclusion and exclusion. And yet, Jessica Tanner contends, even the novels that most explicitly aligned with the disciplinary logic of regulated prostitution make space for a distinctly literary form of resistance: these women elude or disrupt the mapping that would claim them as literary territory, revealing their authors’ failure to secure their narratives as property. Tanner pushes back against the critical tendency to attribute agency only to courtesans who became published authors and forwards a new framework for understanding the political work novels engage in as they circulate. Observing that debates about the regulation of prostitution surfaced in tandem with racialized anxieties about the boundaries of the French nation, Tanner ultimately expands that framework to the history of French colonialism and the politics of immigration in the current day. This book shows that while sex workers have been recruited to mark the borders of civic and moral life, prostitution can also make space for more inclusive forms of community, both in the novel and in the world beyond its bounds.

See other books on: French | French fiction | Prostitutes in literature | Sex Work | Text
See other titles from Northwestern University Press
Nearby on shelf for French literature / History and criticism / Prose and prose fiction: