Women Whose Loves have Ruled the World

23 June 2016

The sex scandal, commonly touted by tabloids today, while enormously popular is by no means a modern phenomenon, but has gripped public imagination for centuries. In the Victorian era, scandals of all sorts permeated the popular press and stories of moral degeneration were met in equal measure with anxiety, outrage and shameless fascination.

The production of newspapers in Victorian Britain took off exponentially as a result of a multitude of factors, including the repeal of the Stamp Tax in 1855, the development of the rotary printing press and the rise in the literate middle and working classes. This growing medium generated stories for popular entertainment and consumption on an unprecedented scale, which made scandalous and salacious news accessible in new ways. That is not to say, however, that public scandals were unique to the Victorian era. 

Image © The Lilly Library, Indiana University further reproduction prohibited without permission

This particular story tells of two Parisian courtesans, Amadine and Francoise, who after being arrested for drugging and robbing an unsuspecting client, ended up taking two very different paths in life. Amadine, having seen the error of her ways ‘saw a glimpse of a better life, and was filled with horror at her past’. She was taught English and German by her English cell-mate, and upon her release obtained employment in London as a nurse in the household of a rich merchant. Within a year she had become engaged to her employer’s son, much to the displeasure of her employer. Amadine’s husband died five years later, but she remarried the morally questionable Marquis de Varbaray, who had been sent from Paris in order to ‘mend his broken morals’. 

Image © The Lilly Library, Indiana University further reproduction prohibited without permission

As can be seen from the above text, Amadine rose to eminence as a refined and wealthy woman, her new husband, however unsurprisingly returned to his debauched ways. This story comes full circle when Amadine discovers the Marquis in the arms of another woman, and that woman was (no prizes for guessing) none other than Francoise. Amadine is blackmailed, financially drained and ultimately exposed as a former courtesan by Francoise, and finds herself shunned from respectable society. Amadine is understandably a bit ticked-off and goes on a bit of a rampage with a Moorish dagger.  

Image © The Lilly Library, Indiana University further reproduction prohibited without permission

Image © The Lilly Library, Indiana University further reproduction prohibited without permission

Sex was, in the 19th century an increasingly political subject, and its heightened politicisation only served to exacerbate the conflict between personal autonomy and conventional sexual norms. Public scandals of a sexual nature eroded the already porous boundary between the public and private spheres. The ideological importance of sex as a topic for public discussion and the hierarchy of sexual power, often came to represent structures of domination and subordination in the larger social world. 

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About the Author

Becca Richards

Becca Richards

I joined Adam Matthew in September 2014, and I now work as an Assistant Development Editor. I have been able to put my degree in History to good use while working on a variety of different projects. My academic interests lie in Russian history from the late-imperial to mid-Soviet period, with a particular focus on the history of violence.

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