Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Historical Book Review: Whorticulture by Marie-Anne Mancio

I'd like to introduce you to one of our new ebook reviewers at History Undressed, Emma Westport! Thank you Emma for reading and we look forward to all of your reviews...


As a girl waits for the return of her disappeared father, the story of four migrant women unravels. In antebellum America: a daydreamer from the country gets an unexpected education on the Mississippi river; a storekeeper falls in love with a thief amid the chaos of Gold Rush San Francisco; a fugitive quadroon re-invents herself in a New York brothel; and a young bride is trapped on a Louisiana sugar plantation. Though they do not know it, their lives are inextricably linked by the men they encounter.

Peopled by whores, tricksters, gamblers, do-gooders, liars, and fools, and with allusions to the coded language of flowers, Whorticulture is about prostitution in its myriad forms.

Emma Westport's Review of Whorticulture by Marie-Anne Mancio

Whorticulure is a small jewel, less than 100 pages, in which four young women tell their stories.

In 1844, 16-year-old Katherine leaves her parents’ home for Cincinnati, to live with her much older uncle.  He educates her and finds her a job as governess to a family in New Orleans but something goes wrong.  When Katherine arrives in New Orleans, she’s alone and penniless and her only advice on how to get by comes from Kidney-foot Sal, a yellow haired whore with a purse full of coins.

Abigail, still single at the age of 28, refuses an offer of marriage and heads for San Francisco.  She opens a hat shop but business is poor.  It’s 1847 and women—or ‘ladies,’ the sort who would buy Abigail’s fine hats—are few and far between.  Her life changes when a man comes looking for a hat for his sister and, against her better judgment, Abigail lets him into her life.

15 year old Seraphine—who never tells her real name—arrives in New York in 1851.  She and her sister have run away from New Orleans.  They talk their way into a brothel where many of the girls, like them, are black or mulatto.  At 16, Seraphine gladly sells her virginity to a white man in hopes of getting the money she needs to get to Europe.

And, finally, Emily.  She leaves Boston at the age of 16, in love with her new husband, a slave owner from New Orleans.  But away from her family and friends, unable to conceive the child her husband wants, Emily comes to hate the man she married—a man who abuses her as he abuses his slaves.

From the opening pages of this small book, the author eases you into the world each of these characters inhabits, worlds rich in detail and harsh truths.  Each story is unique—each woman is unique—and though they don’t know it, all four women are connected, sharing the men they love, hate or have slept with as whores.

Whorticulture is not easy to put down and, I would say, impossible to forget.  Some part of your soul will stay in the nineteenth century.    

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