Venus in Boston (1849)

Sow Nance: (Profile: thief, ‘apple girl’, prostitute, enabler for libertines to take a woman’s virtue by force)

Sow Nance is described by the narrator in Venus in Boston as “a thief and prostitute of the most desperate and abandoned character, hideously ugly in person, and of a disposition the most ferocious and deceitful” (Thompson 10).

Sow Nance is part of the group of crime-ridden females known as the “apple girls” and is portrayed as a fully villainous character with no redeeming qualities. By the end of the novel, she is said to have become the most abandoned prostitute on Anne Street.

The apple girls are said to be between the ages of ten and fifteen, are known as thieves, often engage in prostitution, use profane language, and show their dishonesty by their use of a false cover of presenting themselves as fruit vendors.

It is Sow Nance that initially acts as the bringer of misfortune to the poor but beautiful and virtuous fruit girl, Fanny Aubrey. Upon seeing the beautiful Fanny Aubrey, Sow Nance and the other apple girls are said to be jealous of Fanny for looking more dignified than the rest of the fruit vendors. Sow Nance dupes Fanny into following her by pretending to be a kind hearted person willing to help Fanny recover her stolen money, but instead brings her to Mr. Tickels who is called a “libertine.” Sow Nance is in the habit of bringing Mr. Tickels young virtuous looking girls for him to defile sexually. Sow Nance begins Mr. Tickels’ pursuit of the elusive Fanny for the rest of the novel. (Information found in Thompson’s Venus in Boston and Other Tales).

Lady Hawley (Profile: adulteress, instigated a murder, prostitute, insatiable sexual appetite, pride)

Lady Hawley is described by Jew Mike in Venus in Boston as the wealthy wife of noble descent of Lord Hawley. She is also portrayed as a very beautiful and voluptuous woman: “how superbly beautiful! Her glossy hair, all disordered, hung in rich masses upon her uncovered shoulders; her seductive night-dress but imperfectly concealed the glories of her divine form,–her heaving bosom, so voluptuous and fair …Never shall I forget the majestic rage and scorn of her look, as she started to her feet, and stood before me in all the pride of her imperial beauty” (Thompson 26).

However, one of Lady Hawley’s most prominent characteristics is her pride. Lady Hawley continually makes references to herself as a woman of noble descent and often risks her own person in order to maintain what she views as her dignity. The best example of this is shown by Lady Hawley’s actions once she becomes destitute. Once she joins the ranks of the poor, Lady Hawley becomes a courtesan for the rich and wealthy men of the city. However, once they tire of her, Lady Hawley refuses to entertain men of the lower class to the point where she almost dies from starvation. Similarly, once she is rescued by Jew Mike and puts herself unknowingly into his power, she commits suicide rather than be his sexual partner: her suicide note reads, “‘Death is preferable to the dishonor of your vile embraces. Were you a man of birth, gladly would I accept the protection of your arms; but Lady Adelaide Hawley can never become the mistress of a menial. I welcome death, as it will preserve me from staining the purity of my noble blood by cohabitation with such as thou art. May heaven pity and forgive me!’” (Thompson 46).

Another singular characteristic of Lady Hawley’s is her insatiable sexual passion. This characteristic drives her to be the instigator of her husband’s servant’s murder. Lady Hawley constantly commits adultery with an officer in the armed forces named Captain St. Clair. Once her husband’s servant, Lagrange, threatens to tell her husband about her affair, she has Jew Mike dispose of him in return for her sexual favors. After Lagrange is dead, Lady Hawley refuses Jew Mike and has wild sexual adventures with her Captain. These adventures included drinking to excess, both parties cross dressing, and playfully rolling across the floor with passion. Lady Hawley then continues to justify her criminal, adulterous, and hypersexual behavior by blaming her husband’s lack of sexual appetite. Lady Hawley’s insatiable passion, her justification for her actions, and her distaste for her elderly and unappealing husband is shown best by her declaration of love to St. Clair:

“‘Ah, St. Clair,’ answered the lady, with a glance of passion–’would that the old man were dead! Since I have tasted the sweets of your society–since I first listened to the music of your voice, and since first this heart beat tumultuously against yours, my whole nature is changed–my blood is turned to fire; my religion is my love for you; my deity is your image, and my heaven–is in your arms. Oh,’ she suddenly exclaimed, as the rich blood mantled on her face and neck–’how terrible it is for a young and passionate woman to be linked in marriage to an old, impotent, cold, passionless being, who claims the name of _man_, but is not entitled to it! And then if she solaces herself with a lover–as she must, or die–she is continually agitated with fears of her husband’s jealousy, and the dread of discovery. Like the thirsty traveller in a barren waste, her soul yearns for an ocean of delights–and pants and longs in vain. Husband–would that there was no such word, no such relation as it implies–’tis slavery, ’tis madness, to be chained for life to but one source of love, when a thousand streams would not satiate or overflow. Yet the world–the world–disgraces and condemns such as I am, if discovered; it points to my withered husband, and says–’there is your only _lawful_ love.’ Heavens! the very thought of him sickens and disgusts me; _he_ a lover! He is no more to be compared to thee, my St. Clair, than is the withered leaf of autumn to the ripe peach or juicy pomegranate!’” (Thompson 37).

By the end of the novel the beautiful and seductive noble Lady Hawley has committed adultery, engaged in prostitution, wished death upon her husband, and sought the death of her husband’s servant. Lady Hawley is the perfect example of a seductive woman’s dangerous activities driven by sexual desire. (Information found in Venus in Boston and Other Tales 24-46).

The Duchess (Profile: Con Artist/ deceiver of men, hyper sexuality, sexual relations with Chevalier while unmarried)

The Duchess, Frontispiece to Venus in Boston (1850)
The Duchess, Frontispiece to Venus in Boston (1850)

The Duchess is one of the most memorable women in Venus in Boston and she is even featured in the 1850 cover of the novel. Although she is not a young woman, she still represents and insatiable sexual avarice, unparalleled beauty, and typifies seductive womanhood:

“She was not what the world calls a _young_ woman; yet thirty years–thirty summers–had not dim’d the lustre of her beauty. Truly, she was the VENUS OF BOSTON! A brow, expansive and intellectual–hair of silken texture, that fell in massive luxuriance from beneath a jeweled head-dress which resembled the coronet of a duchess–cheeks that glowed with the rosy hue of health and a thousand fiery passions–eyes that sparkled with that peculiar expression so often seen in women of an ardent, impetuous nature, now languishing, melting with tender desires, now darting forth arrows of hate and rage–these were the characteristics of the Duchess! There she lay, the very personification of voluptuousness–large in stature, full in form, and exquisitely beautiful in feature! Her limbs (once the model of a renowned sculptor at Athens,) would have crazed Canova, and made Powers break his “Greek Slave” into a thousand fragments; and those limbs–how visible they were beneath the light, transparent gauze which but partially covered them! Her leg, with its exquisite ankle and swelling calf,–faultless in symmetry,–was terminated by a tiny foot which coquettishly played with a satin slipper on the carpet,–a slipper that would have driven Cinderella to the commission of suicide. Her ample waist had never been compressed by the wearing of corsets, or any other barbarous tyranny of fashion; yet it was graceful, and did not in the least degree approach an unseemly obesity; and how magnificently did it expand into a glorious bust, whereon two “hillocks of snow” projected their rose-tinted peaks, in sportive rivalry–revealed, with bewildering distinctness, by the absence of any concealing drapery! When she smiled, her lips, like “wet coral,” parted, and displayed teeth of dazzling whiteness, and when she laughed, she did so _musically_. Her hand would have put Lord Byron in extacies, and her taper fingers glittered with costly gems. Such was the glorious creature who entranced the senses of the Honorable Timothy Tickels on entering her luxurious _boudoir_” (Thompson 58)

This quote shows the desirableness of the Duchess. She resembles a goddess and is called such in being a Venus of Boston. She possesses seductive qualities such as luxurious hair, rosy cheeks, tiny feet, dazzling teeth, and beautiful breasts. However, the Duchess’ most important physical feature is her voluptuousness. The Duchess personifies womanhood to the extreme because of her voluptuousness, which signifies her strength and health. If she were characterized meekly and frail such as Fanny Aubrey, the Duchess would lose much of her sexual appeal.  It is plainly clear that a man such as Mr. Tickels, or any other man for that matter, would fall for the Duchess considering she could tempt even Casanova.

The Duchess effectively makes Mr. Tickels desire her through her seductive ways. Mr. Tickels becoes very forward in his advances and steals kisses from her. The Duchess openly receives these kisses at first, but then in a “hard-to-get” sort of way she takes them away and acts a little indignant, which only entices Mr. Tickels all the more. On the same note, she relates a story to Mr. Tickels of her birth and how she came to her lower circumastances although of noble birth. Similarly, she claims that she has been chaste for her honor is the only thing she truly possesses, but admits to Mr. Tickels that her fiery lust sometimes gets the better of her. It seems to Mr. Tickels that her passion has taken hold when he begins to kiss her with fervor, only to be found by her brother the Chevalier. After this encounter, Mr. Tickels gives the Duchess and her brother a sum of money in order to remain alive after acting dishonorably to the Duchess.

However, after this scene the reader realizes that all is not as it seems. The Duchess and her “brother” are actually con artists who are from the lower class originally. They have played the same trick that they played on Mr. Tickels on many other victims, relying on the Duchess’ allure to make the plans successful. The Duchess turns out to be very far from the chaste noble woman she claims to be—the Chevalier and she have been sexual partners since she was fourteen.

Although the Duchess is a villain, she is still a sympathetic and likable character. The reader can forgive her for being sexually promiscuous and a con artist because she preys on even worse villains such as Mr. Tickels. Not only that, the Duchess possesses a certain charm and intelligence that renders her very appealing to the reader. Thus, the audience of Venus in Boston is just as effectively “seduced” by the Duchess as is Mr. Tickels. (Information found in venus in Boston and Other Tales 58-75).

Julia (Profile: prostitute, insatiable sexual avarice)

The reader is introduced to Julia close to the end of the novel. She is one of the many prostitutes that Fanny Aubrey meets in the Chambers of Love after being abducted by Jew Mike on the behalf of Mr. Tickels. Julia is introduced as a rare beauty and is immediately called seductive after the narrator describes her revealing outfit.

Julia’s insatiable avarice for sex surpasses that of all of the other deviant women in Venus in Boston. Although she was also abducted in a similar fashion as Fanny Aubrey, Julia has fully embraced her role as a prostitute. She complains to her mistress about being just a novice entertainer and wishes to be a full courtesan because she longs for the embraces of fifty men and is not satisfied with entertaining just one. Much like Lady Hawley, she complains about her customer’s lack of sexual fervor and refers to him as resembling ice. Her unrestrained passions are best seen when she erotically joins the other prostitutes in kissing Fanny Aubrey.

However, Julia’s most distinct characteristic is that she revels in her seductive power and fully enjoys her subjugation of men:

“‘I will show her how to turn the brains of men crazy with passion, and bring the proudest of them grovelling at her feet. Oh,’tis delightful to humble the lords of creation, as they call themselves, and make them whine for our favors like so many sick spaniels!”’ (Thompson 99)

Although Julia seems to lack control and is almost animalistic because of her unrestrained sexuality, Julia is actually a very strong female character. She is fully aware of her own sexuality and embraces it. She is able to flip idealized gender roles and controls men through her seductiveness and sexuality.

For an online version of Venus in Boston, click here. (Note: the pages quoted will not correlate to the pages in the book form)

City Crimes (1849)

Mrs. Lucretia Franklin (Profile: insatiable sexual avarice, murderess, manipulator of men)

Mrs. Franklin is a matured woman with two young adult children and is first introduced to the reader as coming out of her bath, and thus naked. Although Mrs. Franklin is an older woman, the fact that upon first meeting her she is disrobed indicated from an early point in the novel that Mrs. Franklin is a very sexual creature, regardless of her ripened age.

Mrs. Franklin is in the habit of discussing her lovers with her daughter Josephine, who shares her insatiable passions. When Mrs. Franklin first discusses a lover to Josephine, the reader is made aware of the fact that Mrs. Franklin is not only a very sexual woman, she actually is in the habit of finding much younger gentlemen to have affairs with: “‘Well then, you must know that my lover is a very pretty youth of about fifteen, who reciprocates my passion with boyish ardor. You will acknowledge that to a woman of my age, such an amour must be delicious and unique’” (Thompson 160)

Mrs. Franklin’s seductive nature is so powerful, that she is able to bring a man to commit suicide based upon a fleeting whim of hers:

“‘Apropos of Italian lovers,’ said her mother. ‘I once had one; I was then in my sixteenth year, and superbly beautiful. My Angelo was a divine youth, and he loved me to distraction. Once, in a moment of intoxicating bliss, he swore to do whatever I commanded him, to test the sincerity of his life; and I playfully and thoughtlessly bade him go and kill himself for my sake. The words were forgotten by me, almost as soon as uttered. Angelo supped with me that night, and when he took his leave, he had never seemed gayer or happier. The next day, at noon, I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and a perfumed billet-doux; they were from Angelo. On opening the missive, I found that it contained the most eloquent assurance of his sincere love–but, to my horror, in a postscript of two lines he expressed his intention of destroying himself ere his note could reach me, in obedience to my command. Almost distracted, I flew to his hotel; my worst fears were confirmed. Poor Angelo was found with his throat cut, and quite dead, with my miniature pressed to his heart.’” (Thompson Chapter XXI).

This passage fully indicates the control Mrs. Franklin has over men. At this point, the reader has no question that Mrs. Franklin is not a woman to be trifled with and that she yields and incredible amount of power over men.

Like many other women in Thompson’s novels, it is Mrs. Franklin’s sexual appetite that brings her to do criminal deeds. In chapter seventeen, the reader is made fully aware of Mrs. Franklin’s villainous nature. In this chapter, a servant girl confesses to a minister shortly before her death. From this confession, the reader becomes aware to the fact that Mrs. Franklin and her daughter Josephine caused the death of Mr. Franklin. The servant confesses this to the minister because she actually commited the crime in order to keep her honor intact after she had a sexual affair resulting in pregnancy. Mrs. Franklin and Josephine assured the maid that they would not reveal her secrets if she successfully murdered Mr. Franklin. The Franklin women wished Mr. Franklin dead because he began to be stricter with both of them, to the effect of hindering their sexual natures. (Information found in Venus in Boston and Other Tales in the section of City Crimes).

Josephine Franklin (Profile: insatiable sexual avarice, murderess, manipulator of men)

Josephine is the favorite daughter of Mrs. Franklin and mirror’s her mother’s sexual nature to a great extent. Like her mother, Josephine is characterized by her insatiable sexual appetite. Throughout the novel, Josephine receives the attention of many lovers and has various sexual encounters. However, Josephine’s free sexual spirit does not allow her to remain with one man very long and she often grows tired of a faithful lover: ‘“I permitted him to call frequently, but of course I soon grew tired of him—the affair lacked zeal, romance, piquancy; so, this morning when he visited me, I suffered him to take a last kiss, and dismissed him forever, with a twenty-dollar bill and an intimation that we were in future entire strangers. Poor fellow! he shed tears–but I only laughed, and rang the bell for the servant to show him out”’ (Thompson 160). This passage is not only indicative of her sexual avarice, it is also a testimony to her cruel nature in that she laughs at the sufferings of others. Not only does she have incredible power over men, in that she can reduce them to tears, she is sadistic in this power and revels in her brutal conquests.

Josephine best acts as somewhat of a femme fatale figure in that she brings the demise of Dr. Sinclair, the minister. During a masquerade party, Josephine is able to induce the young rector into a life of sin through her powerful seduction: “The superb but profligate Josephine needed no urgent persuasion to induce her to become a guilty participator in a criminal _liaison_ with the handsome young rector whom she had so long regarded with the eyes of desire;–_hers_ was the conquest, that unprincipled lady of fashion; and _he_ was the victim, that recreant fallen minister of the gospel” (Thompson City Crimes Chapter X). This image, that of Josephine as predator and Sinclair as victim is later repeated in chapter sixteen: “Alas, for Dr. Sinclair! the masquerade ball, and the triumph of Josephine Franklin, were but the commencement of a career of folly and crime on his part. From that fatal night in after years of remorse and misery, he dated his downfall” (Thompson XVI). From this moment on, the rector has lost his morality. After this episode, Dr. Sinclair is the source of suspicion for his parish in that he looks ill kempt and disheveled. Similarly, he is picked up by the police for public intoxication on one occasion and has developed somewhat of a drinking habit. Dr. Sinclair loses his identity and sense of virtue, all because of the passionate embraces of Josephine.

Dr. Sinclair’s folly is best alluded to through Dr. Sinclair himself. Dr. Sinclair is the minister that confesses the servant at the Franklin house that killed Mr. Franklin based on the wishes of Josephine and her mother. Once Dr. Sinclair realizes the full extent of Josephine’s criminal nature, he fully comes to terms with his disillusionment: “he had loved her with passionate fervor, while he had only regarded her as a frail, beautiful woman, who, having become enamored of him, had enticed him to her arms. But now she stood before him as a wretch capable of any crime–as the murderess of her own father; and all his love and admiration for her were turned into a loathing hate…‘I have been infatuated and enslaved by her seductive beauty and her fascinating favors; but thank God, I am myself again, and resolved to atone for the past, by leading a life of purity and virtue for the future’” (Thompson XVII). It is obvious from this quote that Josephine is a criminal at heart, at that her lovers realize this on a superficial level, but choose to ignore this because of their total and complete infatuation with the beautiful and seductive Josephine.

Julia Sydney/ Mrs. Belmont (Profile: liar, manipulator of men, vengeful, adulteress, insatiable sexual passion, murderess)

Julia represents the most deviant form of femininity and the worst and most potent sexual avarice of all the women in City Crimes. Julia is the wife of Frank Sydney, the hero of the novel. Although Frank believes his wife to be a moral creature and is fooled by her external beauty, Julia is actually the worst villainess in the novel. The reader is first made aware of Julia’s devilish behavior when she commits adultery and has an affair with her black servant. Yet again in a Thompson novel, it is a beautiful woman’s insatiable sexual appetite that is the source for all of her criminality. When Julia is caught by her husband, she gives a long and angry speech about how her husband fails to satisfy her sexual needs and that she feels no remorse for her liaison with the African:

“‘Fool!’ returned the frail lady–’you cannot understand the fiery and insatiate cravings of my passions. I tell you that I consume with desire–but not for enjoyment with such as _you_, but for delicious amours which are _recherché_ and unique! Ah, I would give more for one hour with my superb African, than for a year’s dalliance with one like you, so ordinary, so excessively common-place! Now that the mask is torn from my face, reserve is needless. Know then that I have been a wanton since early girlhood. What strange star I was born under, I know not; but my nature is impregnated with desires and longings which you would pronounce absurd, unnatural, and criminal. Be it so: I care not what you or the world may say or think–my cravings must be satisfied at all hazards. As for relinquishing the name of Sydney, I do so with pleasure–that name has no pleasure for me; I never loved you, and at this moment I hate and despise you. Do you ask me wherefore?—Because you had wit enough to detect me in my intrigues. I shall leave your house tonight, and we meet no more. My future career is plainly marked out: I shall become an abandoned and licentious woman, yielding myself up unreservedly to the voluptuous promptings of my ardent soul. I part from you without regret, and without sorrow do I now bid you farewell forever.’ (Thompson 152)

Not only does she have no remorse for her bad behavior, she actually has contempt for her husband for not realizing what she was doing under his nose! Clearly Julia will stop at nothing to have her sexual desires fulfilled and does not refrain from hurting those that wish to impose on her free sexuality. Likewise, Julia fully embraces what she believes to be her future life of notoriety in the field of prostitution as a result of her licentious actions. This is obviously a beautiful woman that knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it.

Julia also shows her cruelty in her reaction to her husband’s incarceration for a murder he did not commit after he abandons Julia for her adultery. Julia fist laughs with a “hellish glee” at Frank’s misfortune, showing how she truly enjoys the suffering of those who wish to impede on her sexual wishes. She then continues on to fully humiliate Sydney:

“‘Yes, I have come to gloat upon your misery,’ replied the vile, unfeeling woman. ‘To-morrow you will die upon the gallows, and your memory will be hated and condemned by those who believe you to be guilty. I am convinced in my own mind that you are innocent of the murder; yet I rejoice none the less in your fate. Your death will free me from all restraint; I can adopt an assumed name, and removing to some distant city, entrap some rich fool into a marriage with me, whose wealth will administer to my extravagance, while I secretly abandon myself to licentious pleasures. Sydney, I never loved you–and when you discovered my intimacy with my dear African, I hated you–oh, how bitterly! When you cast me off, I vowed revenge upon you; but my vengeance will be satisfied to-morrow, when you pay the forfeit of another’s crime. And now in the hour of your disgrace and death, I spit upon and despise you!’” (Thompson XI).

Here Julia shows the baseness of her character. Not only does she enjoy a good man’s suffering, she willingly allows him to be on death row and revels in the prospect of his death. On the same note, we see that Julia’s crimes are not for Frank alone and that she plans to use another gentleman for monetary purposes, while satisfying her sexual needs elsewhere. Later on in the novel, after Frank has been released and not executed, the reader sees how far Julia’s malicious nature will go in that she teams up with the dreaded Dead Man in order to exact revenge on Frank Sydney.

Julia’s worst crime, however, is her dealings with the kind elderly gentleman, Mr. Hedge. In order to get away with her affair with Sydney and be able to marry another man, Julia changes her name to Mrs. Belmont. She pretends to be a virtuous widow and traps Mr. Hedge into a marriage with her. Although this gentleman is very kind to Julia and gives her all that she desires, Julia remains unsatisfied with him considering that he cannot perform sexually for her due to his advanced age. Julia, then, wishes to find a lover. Frank Sydney, her husband who abandoned her, goes under cover in the guise of an Italian gentleman in order to see if his wife has changed. If Frank sees that she hasn’t, he will tell the older gentleman about Julia’s impurities. However, if he sees that Julia has been reformed, he will leave her be with the older man in the bigamous relationship. Julia, of course, falls in love with the supposed Italian gentleman and tries to seduce him. The Italian will have none of it on the grounds that she is a married woman. At this point, Julia commits her worst crime: she kills Mr. Hedge in order to be with the Italian. After she kills Mr. Hedge and tells the Italian of her atrocious deed, he reveals himself as Sydney and tells the police of Julia’s villainy. Julia escapes her fate through committing suicide. (Information from Thompson’s Venus in Boston and Other Tales).

For an online version of City Crimes, click here. (Note: the pages quoted will not correlate to the pages in the book form)

The Gay Girls of New York, or Life on Broadway (1853)

Gay Girl Assuring Her Intended Victim of Her Unalterable Regard
Gay Girl Assuring Her Intended Victim of Her Unalterable Regard

Spanish Jule and Moll Manning (Profile: Prostitution, Fighting)

Throughout this novel, these women act as a sort of comic relief and “thrill factor.” Upon the reader’s first encounter with these courtesans, the action of the novel is heightened. These women are referred to as being felines and are called “hostile cats” and their violence towards one another is lingered upon: “Two dashing courtezans, actuated by jealousy, are ‘milling’ each other in the most approved style of fistic science. Whew!—what a devil of a scratching and clawing! A pair of hostile cats could not perform such wonders…Spanish Jule—one of the combatant—has received a black eye, while her antagonist, Moll Manning, exhibits sundry ugly scratches upon her handsome frontispiece (Thompson 13). Although this episode doesn’t drive the plot in anyway, it is a valuable episode nonetheless in that it provides amusement. It is almost laughable that these cat-women get so impassioned with rage that they attack each other with such force. In the novel, these women end up being life-long enemies and various violent encounters are repeated throughout.

Although these women provide entertainment for the reader, there presence is notable in that it brings light to the possibility that a woman could be the wielder of gratuitous violence and that women don’t always fit into the mold of the “docile” wife.

Emeline (Profile: adulteress, insatiable sexual passion, prostitution)

Emeline is described as “a splendidly voluptuous creature, and her countenance expressed the most unlimited sensuality, for her eyes were large and melting whole her full, ripe lips seemed to provoke every amorous spirit of the air to come and kiss them…brimming full of well-developed life and spirit” (Thompson 64). Yet again there is a figure of a beautiful and seductive woman who is characterized by her uncontrollable passions. It is her passion that drives her to commit adultery. While married, she gave birth to a child that is not her husband’s because it resembles the countenance of her lover. She has her husband completely fooled, however, until he starts questioning her extravagant expenses. Emeline has been maintaining her lover, who is consequently maintaining another lover, for the promise that he will not stray from her and receive the amours of another woman. Her husband follows Emeline and her lover Harry to a the establishment where they have their sexual encounters and finds the two of them in bed. The husband kills the lover and abandons Emeline. She subsequently becomes a prostitute and revels in her passions. Clearly, it is a woman’s passion that brings her to crime yet again in a Thompson novel: “women voluntarily embrace a life a prostitution, because they are unable to resist their own evil and lascivious propensities” (Thompson 72).

Isabella (Profile: murderess, prostitution, fighting)

Isabella is a young working-class girl of Spanish origin who was taken my Mr. Wallingford, a wealthy man who is in the habit of taking virtuous young women of the lower class and using them for his own sexual pleasure. Isabella, the sole provider for her ailing father, was unable to escape the clutches of Mr. Wallingford and has been made his personal courtesan ever since. Mr. Wallingford uses a black servant named Cleopatra in order to keep his victims, such as Isabella, under control.

When Lucy, the next intended victim of Mr. Wallingford and reminiscent of Fanny Aubrey in Venus in Boston, is brought into Mr. Wallingford’s house, Isabella decides she has had enough of Mr. Wallingford’s deviltry and fights back.

Isabella and Cleo have a very intense battle while Mr. Wallingford is away: “‘fool that I was, that I did not before punish this abominable wretch, for her own cruelty as well as for her connection with Wallingford! But now she dies.’ And then, heedless of Lucy Pembroke’s remonstrance’s and efforts to prevent her, the infuriated Spanish girl repeatedly struck the head of the prostrate Cleo with a chain, beating out her brains, and, of course, killing her instantly…’come!’ cried Isabella, with a hysterical laugh, for she was fearfully excited—‘we are now the mistresses of this temple of pleasure.’” (Thompson 52). Although Isabella clearly stands on the side of the righteous, the complete violence of her actions shows that she is not fully in control of herself and has been taken over by her passionate rage. Isabella, like Jule and Moll, shows that women can have a streak of violence and are to be reckoned with when angered.

When Mr. Wallingford returns, Isabella beats him over the head and pushes him into a locked cellar where there is the body of a woman and dead child that Wallingford disposed of. Isabella lights the house on fire and Wallingford burns to death. Later, Isabella commits suicide through drowning when she learns that her father had died of illness a week prior.

Mrs. Bishop (Profile: enabler of libertines to take advantage of virtuous girls, manages a brothel, prostitute, vengeful, pours vitriol on a woman’s face, fighting)

Mrs. Bishop is the proprietor of a brothel and an intimate friend and ex-lover of Mr. Wallingford. She often covers for Wallingford and allows that he get away with trapping young girls and using them for sexual favors. Although Mrs. Bishop is a middle-aged woman, she is still regaled for her beauty.

Mrs. Bishop is clearly a villain in this novel in that she teams up with the worst villain in the novel, Mr. Wallingford, who is very much like Mr. Tickels in Venus in Boston. However, this is not her worst action in the novel. Towards the beginning of the novel, Hannah (one of the prostitutes that works for Mrs. Bishop) fights Mrs. Bishop in order to save Lucy from Wallingford. By the end of the fight, Hannah comes out victorious and insults Mrs. Bishop. Bishop kicks Hannah out of her establishment with her pride clearly hurt. Mrs. Bishop shows her truly malevolent character in her vengeance of Hannah later in the novel. At a bar, Bishop unsuspectingly comes up to Hannah and throws vitriol in her face, leaving the beautiful Hannah utterly disfigured and hideous as well as blind. Bishop has totally taken away Hannah’s agency, in that she is now dependent on whoever wishes to show her kindness since she cannot see. Bishop has also taken Hannah’s livelihood, in that Hannah can no longer be a successful prostitute with such a hideous face.

For this crime, Mrs. Bishop is taken to jail and will be sentenced to over a decade in prison. Instead of facing these charged, Mrs. Bishop hangs herself. The reader cannot help but feel a sense of justice and satisfaction in Bishop’s ending. Mrs. Bishop truly shows a more wicked side of femininity.

Hannah Sherwood (Profile: prostitute, thief, cross dresses, sexual passion, fighting)

Hannah Sherwood
Hannah Sherwood

Hannah is the most likable prostitute in the novel. She literally is the star prostitute in Mrs. Bishop’s establishment and a favorite of all her patrons. Sherwood differs from the other prostitutes in that she is really a “gay girl” in that she seems to be generally in good spirits: she dresses fashionably, reads fiction, drinks, and enjoys her sexual encounters. The reader is meant to sympathize and identify with Hannah considering the narrator says that she has a “good heart.”

Her “good heart” is best shown through her defense of Lucy’s virtue. The reader is placed completely on Hannah’s side in defense of poor and helpless Lucy against the tyrannical Mrs. Bishop. Similarly, the reader feels a great deal of satisfaction when she humbles the cowardly Wallingford and makes him beg on his knees for forgiveness: “she drew from her bosom a dagger, and flourished it in a threatening manner—‘see! You are frightened; your face, usually so florid with wine and lust, grows pale; your knees knock together. Kneel down upon the floor and ask the pardon of this young girl whom you would have ruined, or by the lurid flames of the bottomless pit, I’ll bury this dagger in your false and craven heart. Down, you scoundrel—or die!’” (Thompson 19).

Hannah is also an interesting character in that she often reverses gender roles. At one point in the novel, Hannah’s lighthearted humor and devilish streak makes her switch clothes with a drunken gentleman. Hannah leaves the man dressed in a woman’s dress and she walks off with her lover and pimp, Frank, in men’s clothing. Throughout the novel, she successfully dupes people into thinking she is a man and pulls off masculinity quite well.

By the end of the novel, the reader is quite disheartened by Hannah’s demise. After being blinded and disfigured, she tours with a show of freaks for a while until she dies out of sadness.

For an online version of The Gay Girls of New York, click here.

The Ladies’ Garter by Greenhorn (George Thompson)

Lydia St. Croix (Profile: sexual passion, violence, refuses her husband, attempts adultery)

Lydia is an interesting Thompson construction in that she is a very likable character and manages to maintain her virtue, although she is willing to give it up, and yet is capable of wielding terrible violence on an older gentleman. Like many other Thompson females, she is a very beautiful woman: “The lady’s face was bewilderingly beautiful—arch, captivating, teeming with expression, and lighted up by a pair of eyes in whose black and sparkling depths a million of mischievous devils seemed to be dancing an amorous fandango to the inspiring music of her gay, rollicking and soul-thrilling voice. Conscious that in attempting to depict so fascinating a creature, we are going beyond our depth, we shall try to give no further description of her, merely remarking that she was about eighteen years of age, and that she wore a very stylish and becoming walking dress” (Thompson 6).

Lydia is girl of eighteen who married an older gentleman for his protection and wealth. She escaped from a man who claimed to be her “father,” who was planning on using her for villainous deeds and treated her very poorly. Later on in the novel, we learn that Lydia was actually stolen as a young child by this fiend in order to ransom her later. However, both of her parents died, so no ransom could be collected. By the end of the novel we find out that Lydia has one family member left—her grandfather. This grandfather turns out to be the General she married!

Luckily for Lydia, her marriage to her grandfather was never consummated. This is the most interesting part of Lydia’s story. Lydia was able to seduce the General into a marriage with her in order to have protection and wealth, and was at the same time able to keep her virginity from him! She made a deal with him saying that she would marry him if he would not pursue a sexual relationship with her. The General was so taken with Lydia, that he found that this was better than nothing: Lydia states, ‘“I know that I played the part of a capricious, exacting and tyranical coquette, taking advantage of the poor General’s insane passion to make him subscribe to the most ridiculous terms. But pray, do me the justice to believe that I never could have done so with a man whom I loved. Do you know that a love-struck man is the most humble, abject and obedient creature in the world, when once he falls prostrate before a pretty woman and suffers her to place her tiny foot upon his neck?”’ (Thompson 11-12). However, once married, he often tried to take advantage of the situation and force himself upon her. This is where we see Lydia’s strength. Like many other women in Thompson’s novels, Lydia has a dagger with her at all times to fend off licentious men. At one point, the General is angered with her for not having sex with him, but she answers internally with a woman’s strength: “I saw that the General was getting angry, but I cared not a single straw for his anger. I feared him not; for, when once a woman’s mind is made up, an army of fiends, trooping and yelling from the bottomless pit, and headed by old Beelzebub himself, would not make her swerve a single hair’s breadth from her purpose”’ (Thompson 13).

However, we must not confuse Lydia’s resistance to the General’s advances to mean that she in an impassionate woman with no desire for a sexual relationship. On the contrary, she is actively searching for the right man to begin her sexual encounters with and maintains many of the candidates financially meanwhile. Lydia is in possession of a very seductive nature, as is seen by her manipulation of the General, and has many lovers fooled into thinking she only has affections for them. In one point of the novel, she was going to finally lose her virginity to the candidate she chose, but events impeded this from occurring. However, if it were up to Lydia, she wouldn’t be a virtuous woman at all.

For an online version of The Ladies’ Garter, click here.

The Outlaw, or, The Felon’s Fortunes

Isabella (Profile: Insatiable Passion, sexual relations with criminals, looking for an abortion)

“She seemed the very incarnation of the soft and melting passion” (Thompson 18)

The scene in the novel that includes Isabella is a very short one, but an interesting one nonetheless for various reasons. Yet again Thompson gives an example of a beautiful and seductive woman who has uncontrollable passions. However, a newer addition to the Thompson novel is that this woman is actively searching for the means to receive an abortion! It was very surprising to read that this was Isabella’s ultimate intent, but it is actually intuitive when thinking about the way Thompson has illustrated many of his women. Clearly, Isabella is trying to fix another mistake that has been caused by her unrestrained passions.

On first glance, this woman seems to be beautiful yet very proper: The countenance of the lady, who had probably reached her twenty-fourth year, was regular and handsome, though somewhat grave in its expression…Her dark brown hair was very elegantly yet simply arranged; and her form, which was somewhat tall, was finely proportioned, and exhibited the outlines of a superb bust” (Thompson 14). However, this woman is putting on a show and in a couple of pages, her true insatiable desires comes through: “Beneath an exterior which seemed to indicate the absence of every amorous impulse, and the existence of the most rigid virtue, the bosom of this young lady contained a perfect volcano of raging desires and passionate yearnings” (Thompson 16). Here, she accedes to have sexual relations with a Jewish fortune-teller in order for him to keep her pregnancy a secret and to tell her where to receive an abortion: “Upon the expiration of an hour afterwards, Miss Isabella Rich left the abode of the “Wandering Jew,” who had her with a letter of address recommendation to one of the most celebrated and infamous female abortionists of the day” (Thompson 18).

For an online version of The Outlaw, click here.

Harry Glindon, or, The Man of Many Crimes (1854)

Diana Morton (Profile: insatiable passion, tortures a man to death)

Diana is one of the meaner and more violent of Thompson’s women. Although she is a fearsome model of femininity, Thompson does create her to be physically beautiful and appealing: “Her complexion is of an alabaster dazzling whiteness, which forms a most delightful contrast with the glossy black hair, tastefully arranged over her temples. Eyes that seem to swim in liquid love, so soft, so deliciously melting in their deep, dark beauty, are they. The small foot in its delicate white satin caseing, and the embroidered hem of the white petticoat, slightly raised and displaying the sculptured ankle, and just sufficient above it to render the intoxication of the sight complete. No wonder Harry Glindon gazed upon her with eyes that spoke the intensity of his admiration for the bewitching woman in all her matured loveliness before him” (Thompson 38). However, the narrator does highlight the fact that Diana has a wrathful nature early on in the novel: “And yet beautiful as an angel as she was, if we may draw the comparison; those liquid eyes could light up with demoniac fury, and those fair features become distored with passion and that sweet placid bosom heave with the intenseness of fury, did aught occur to awake the slumbering volcano beneath” (Thompson 38).

However, Diana’s rage can be subdued only by her love for Harry Glindon, one of the worst criminals in the city. Although she is a hardened woman to everyone else, her adoration of Harry makes her an idealized woman for solely him: “He related to her his adventures since his escape from Sing Sing, and her eyes glowed, and her bosom heaved as she listened to the recital. She was a fit companion for him. No terror was visible upon her delicate countenance as she eagerly heard each incident recalled. And yet one soft feeling she had in her heart, and that was love! Love of the intensest character; love that brooked no rivalry, yet still was gentle as the love of the soft, cooing dove. Such love as would lead her even to kill its object rather than that another should possess it” (Thompson 41).

However, after Harry no longer loves Diana and wishes to kill her in order to be with a wealthy woman, Diana’s full fury comes to light. This beautiful creature not only kills Harry, she sadistically tortures and taunts him. Diana ties Harry to a contraption in which one scalding drop of hot water falls in the same place on his head at a time. This causes Harry intense pain and agony, and ultimately death. Before his death, Diana says to Harry, ‘“Accursed wretch as you are, your hour has come. Your doom is sealed and a few torturing hours will end your vile existence. It is needless to ask for mercy for you will receive none. You thought you would murder me, did you, and then with the fair form of Isadore Valmerdon by your side, and riches in your possession, you would escape to some distant land and laugh at the trick you had played your unsuspicious victim. But you are foiled, reptile as you are, and now the hour of retribution has arrived”’ (Thompson 59). Thompson couldn’t have given us a better description of a femme fatale. This woman, although beautiful and ideal, has no scruples when it comes to her rage and sadistically kills the man who scorned her.

For an online version of Harry Glindon, click here.

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