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Harlots, Whores & Hackabouts

A History of Sex for Sale

Kate Lister


A provocative and compelling illustrated cultural history of the world’s oldest profession that recovers the stories of those who sold sex for a living

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Talked over, talked down or talked for, the history of sex work is one of control, stigma and stereotype in which the lived experience of people selling sex is largely obscured. In this provocative, compelling and witty cultural history, Kate Lister (creator of ‘Whores of Yore’) recovers the stories of those who sold sex for a living. From medieval London back streets to Storyville brothels, and from Chinese flower boats to royal bed chambers, this authoritative and global history of sex work is enhanced by evocative paintings, archival photographs and intriguing curios.


'Lavishly illustrated … full of interesting nuggets'
Sunday Times

'The range of Lister’s scholarship is impressive ... a fascinating book about a subject too often swept under the rug. It’s also very beautiful, magnificently designed and packed with hundreds of superb photos ... packs a powerful bite'
The Times

'An engrossing exploration of individual lives and societies’ approaches to sex work across the centuries … [Lister] showcases incredible stories of agency and freedom while also recognising social stigmatisation and hardship'
Dr Fern Riddell, BBC History Magazine

'Engaging, readable and written with humour, compassion and sensitivity'
Catherine Curzon, All About History

Daily Mail

'A beautiful volume, magnificently designed and packed with superb photos – a coffee-table book that packs a powerful punch'
The Times, History Books of the Year 2021

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: PLC

Size: 24.0 x 17.0 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Illustrations: 450

Publication date: 7 October 2021

ISBN: 9780500252444

Contents List

Introduction, Tales from Gropecunt Lane
Chapter 1: In Service of the Gods, Sex in the Ancient World
Chapter 2: Toads and She-Wolves, Selling Sex in the Classical World
Chapter 3: The Geese that Laid the Golden Egg, Sex Work in Medieval London
Chapter 4: The Honest Courtesans, Selling Sex in Renaissance Europe
Chapter 5: The Pleasures of the Moon, The Floating World of Edo Japan
Chapter 6: Molly Houses and Mary-Anns, Men Selling Sex in Regency Britain
Chapter 7: Master of the Plum Blossoms, Sex in the Qing Dynasty
Chapter 8: The Great Social Evil, Prostitution in the 19th Century
Chapter 9: Soiled Doves and Jailbirds, Sex for Sale in the Land of the Free
Chapter 10: Maisons de Tolérance, Sex and the Belle Époque
Chapter 11: The Prophylactic Dictatorships, Sex in Wartime
Conclusion, The Fight Back

About the Author

Kate Lister is the creator of the award-winning online research project ‘Whores of Yore’, which seeks to build public engagement and disseminate research on the history of sex and sexuality through social media. The Twitter feed has 464,000 followers and the website receives an average of 60,000 independent visits a month. She also lectures at Leeds Trinity University, is widely published on the sex trade and collaborates with several sex-worker charities and campaign groups.

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