Review: The Covent Garden Ladies – Hallie Rubenhold

★★★

Having loved The Five last year I really wanted to get around to reading to Hallie’s other work, because I love her writing. After reading A Curious History of Sex I was apparently in the mood to read a book about historical sex workers and the Georgian underworld.

So, Harris’ List was a document created and updated over the course of several years in the 1800s. It was a list of sex workers in the Covent Garden area of London, and outlined the names, their sexual skills and talents, any traits that may be preferable to any prospective client, and of course their price for their service. This book uses these pamphlets as the backbone of the narrative, elaborating on them, using information from the time (albeit, not all of it reliable) to weave a story of these women – and the man who created the list – together.

There are three individuals who are intrinsically linked to this list, and who Rubenhold focuses on – the pimp John Harrison (Harris) who inspired the list, the person who published the list (name of who escapes me), and a woman wo started as a sex worker, became a madam and wanted to retire to the country, Charlotte. And it was Charlotte’s story that ultimately turned this book around for me. Until Charlotte’s story was the one being explored, I was really struggling with this book but I was invested in Charlotte. While exploring the stories of the men who created and inspired the list was interesting, it just didn’t engage me in the same way.

This is not as engaging or easy to read as The Five is and maybe it is because it’s a lesser known topic. I think Rubenhold’s writing is fantastic, I think how she wove the narrative together was creative, and I did go in to this with “high expectations”-itis. Ultimately, it delivered what it said on the tin, was interesting, and taught me something about a topic I didn’t have any clue about. I consider that a win!

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