Erotic Exchanges


Product Details

Cornell University Press
Publish Date
6.47 X 9.52 X 0.96 inches | 1.28 pounds

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About the Author

Nina Kushner is Associate Professor of History at Clark University.


"Each chapter of Erotic Exchanges begins with a different woman's story and the questions raised by it... Making for an engaging readthis technique fosters acknowledgement that the woman who works in the demimonde were individual economic actors with complex and intimate social ties. Their eighteenth century was one in which coerced choice was part of the 'fabric of everyday life' (p. 220)."

--Pamela Cheek "Eighteenth-Century Life "

"In Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century Paris, Nina Kushner paints a vivid picture of elite prostitutes, or dames entretenues, and the men who supported them.... Through an impressive archival analysis of thousands of pages of police reports, Kushner describes where these women came from, for whom they worked, the terms of their employment, how much they made, and if they had private lives of their own.... In a veritable tour de force, Kushner draws compelling portraits of these women's lives.... Kushner's study is richly textured, smart, and it is a lively read. She navigates extremely well between individual lives, as recorded by the police, and the larger population of kept women. Moreover, in framing sex as work, her research sheds important light on the realities faced by many French women of the mid-century, namely, significant economic fragility. It also offers opportunities to rethink libertine literature and Rococo painting that never tired of depicting the dames entretenues. Erotic Exchanges thus represents an excellent example of sociocultural history that compellingly recreates the demimonde, the women who worked there, and the culture that made it all possible."

--Lesley H. Walker "American Historical Review "

"Nina Kushner's Erotic Exchanges: The World of Elite Prostitution in Eighteenth-CenturyParis brings to life a vibrant but relatively unknown part of early modern urban life, the world of the demimonde, the quasi-respectable underworld, with its elite prostitutes, wealthy patrons, and juicy scandals.... [W]hile several histories of prostitution have illuminated the world of sex work inthe early modern world, none has looked with extended attention at the women at the veryeconomic pinnacle of this domain, the elite prostitutes and mistresses in the demimonde. Kushner reveals the complexity and influence of this corner of Parisian social and cultural life and its relative separateness from the larger world of prostitution."

--Janine M. Lanza "Journal of Modern History "

"One of the most compelling features of the book is the fact that Kushner raises fascinating questions and draws attention to a number of paradoxes underlying the web of relations between police, prostitutes, clients and procurers.... Erotic Exchanges is not addressed to specialists in Enlightenment France (although those interested in the specific topic of eighteenth-century courtesans will appreciate having a social historian's expert perspective on the subject), but it offers a valuable contribution to the fields of women's history or history of prostitution. Kushner's combination of careful archives research and sharp sociological analyses makes her book an intriguing look into the universe of eighteenth-century France's elite prostitution."

--Marine Ganofsky "French History "

"Nina Kushner examines the role of girls' and women's agency along the spectrum of sex work that catered to an upper-class clientele, and in doing so, evokes both sympathy and admiration for her subjects."


"This history brings to life les dames entretenues--women who dazzled and scandalized eighteenth-century Paris as mistresses of powerful men. Kushner traces the pathways to élite prostitution: many mistresses began as actresses and singers; others were sold into the demimonde by their parents. She finds that mistresses were held to have a stabilizing influence on men's romantic whims, and they enjoyed some of the benefits of married women. Contracts guaranteed their pay, and they were often the primary breadwinners for their own families. Some mistresses found lifetime partners in their patrons, and some achieved financial independence, but many were discarded by their late twenties and began a life of streetwalking. Kushner avoids over-contemporizing her subject, affording her women agency but not more than they actually had."

--New Yorker

"Based on extensive archival research, this book provides a thorough and subtle analysis of relations between kept women and their keepers: patrons, madams, and police. Nina Kushner reconstructs the experience of the Parisian demimonde within the context of larger questions about sexual economy, female agency, and public order in eighteenth-century France."

--Jeffrey Merrick, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, author of Order and Disorder under the Ancien Régime

"In Erotic Exchanges, Nina Kushner rekindles discussion of a historical population for which we have a great deal of documentation. Because of police surveillance, the dames entretenues of eighteenth-century France can be followed in all phases of their work lives. The result is a textured and nuanced picture of possibilities and limitations for these women in their historical setting. Erotic Exchanges could reshape discussions of sex work in important ways."

--Katherine Crawford, Vanderbilt University, author of The Sexual Culture of the French Renaissance

"If a historian is like a detective, this book is like a thrilling page-turner that immerses the reader in the underworld of the demimonde in eighteenth-century Paris.... Kushner's book fulfils its main ambition of 'reconstructing the demimonde' (p. 4) and it constitutes a great addition to the existing literature on eighteenth-century prostitution, police and the sexual underworld. Notwithstanding the theoretical contentions surrounding the concept of 'sexual capital' this book is a must-read not only for students of the eighteenth century, women's history, gender or the history of sexuality, but for anyone interested in a broader historical perspective on the sex trade."

--Frank Ejby-Poulsen "European Review of History "

"In spring 1758 Dame Boujard entrusted her thirteen-year-old daughter Marie to the elite brothel owner Madame Varenne, who promptly set about hawking the girl's virginity. The marquis de Bandol negotiated a price of ninety-six livres (about half the annual salary of a shopgirl), but the deal collapsed when the client claimed that the girl was not a virgin. Marie then spent six months at Varenne's brothel before contracting a venereal disease (probably syphilis); at the age of fifteen she became the mistress of the marquis de Persenat who paid off her mother's considerable debts and offered Marie herself a contract of three hundred a month. Forgotten figures like Marie, her mother, Varenne, and the marquis populate Nina Kushner's richly detailed and persuasive sociocultural history of eighteenth-century Parisian prostitution.... [T]his generous but unsentimental study will be of enduring value to those interested in women's history, libertinage, and urban culture."

--Thomas Wynn "French Studies "

"Erotic Exchanges is an important and engaging book. Nina Kushner goes beyond anecdote while using anecdote-rich sources to give incredible texture to her study. It is a fascinating and compelling read."

--Dena Goodman, Lila Miller Collegiate Professor of History and Women's Studies, University of Michigan, author of Becoming a Woman in the Age of Letters