The Seven Deadly Sins of Prostitution: Perceptions of Prostitutes and Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century London

Title: The Seven Deadly Sins of Prostitution: Perceptions of Prostitutes and Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century London
Authors: Steinberg, Jessica
Date: 2015
Abstract: This thesis examines perceptions of lower-class female prostitutes and prostitution in eighteenth-century London. It reveals that throughout the Hanoverian period perceptions of prostitution were shaped by sensibilities about morality, the social order, and sin. To explore attitudes towards prostitution in eighteenth-century London, this dissertation evaluates how governing elites, ecclesiastical authorities, contributors to the newspaper press, and popular commentators discussed prostitution. This dissertation engages with two main assumptions about prostitution in eighteenth-century London. First, it demonstrates that there is more continuity in perceptions of prostitution than historians have recognized; attitudes towards prostitutes did not shift from hostility to sympathy in a straight-forward manner. Second, this dissertation reveals that prostitution was regarded by Augustan and Hanoverian Londoners as a significant social problem because it embodied and encapsulated the seven deadly sins – lust, avarice, pride, envy, gluttony, sloth, and wrath. This thesis suggests that prostitutes’ excessive lust and avarice were not seen as disparate issues, but were often discussed together. Paradoxically, discussants recognized that financial considerations drove some women into prostitution, but these women were regarded as abnormally greedy and corrupt because they resorted to deceptive tactics. Pride and envy were associated with prostitution because Hanoverians believed some prostitutes bought extravagant clothes and cosmetics to conceal their lowly status and enhance their appearance to emulate elites. Hanoverians regarded these prostitutes with trepidation because they threatened to undermine their hierarchically ordered society. Prostitutes’ proclivities towards drunkenness and idleness were associated with gluttony and sloth. Commentators feared that drunken and idle prostitutes would encourage men to engage in these dissolute activities, leading to greater disorder. Wrath was closely associated with prostitution because of its association with violence. Although prostitutes were both the victims and perpetrators of assault, incidents in which prostitutes were assailants were reported more frequently, suggesting that Britons regarded prostitutes as disorderly, sinful criminals. Each chapter also brings attention to concerns regarding prostitutes’ lack of self-control and their apparent ability to cause men to lose self-control; how double standards of morality influenced discussions of prostitution; the consequences of prostitutes’ criminality and ability to deceive Londoners; and the various institutions, organizations, and suggestions proposed and established to reform prostitutes and eradicate sin from society.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -