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Like a Courtesan

I have naturally good looks and skin, but I strongly think I need to refine them for my husband.  In my country we don’t have as much variety of expensive beauty products as you do in the United States, so I was wondering if you could drop some tips on how to take care of oneself finely, like a courtesan did.  It would help a lot.

Like you, most of my beauty is natural; my good skin, healthy color, and other features are all mine without having to do anything other than stay healthy and clean.  I get plenty of sleep, avoid chaotic schedules whenever possible, eat a varied diet in small enough portions that I don’t put on weight, and wash my face and body with gentle products that don’t dry out my skin.  I have never smoked, used drugs or drank more than a minimal amount of alcohol (and that only on rare occasions), and I’ve never subjected my hair to harsh chemicals in order to change its color or texture.  And in fact, now that I’m aging I find myself at a bit of a loss, because I never really learned many beauty tips; for the first time I’m seeing grey hairs and dark circles, and though I don’t have any crows’ feet or smile lines yet I suppose it’s inevitable that they will eventually appear.  So, I’m only now beginning to think about some aspects of self-care that others have been dealing with since their teens, and that means I’m not really a very good source of beauty advice.  However, two months ago I asked my readers for new makeup suggestions and the response was excellent; I’m therefore going to “crowdsource” this question as well.  Readers, what beauty secrets are you willing to share?  Try to keep brand names out if you can, so the tips will apply in every part of the world.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.  –  The Gospel of Philip

Today is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, long considered to be either a prostitute or “reformed” prostitute and therefore the subject of special devotion by many Catholic (and Orthodox, and Anglican, and Lutheran) whores.  As I have explained before, there is no canonical evidence for this; the idea seems to date to a sermon  delivered in 591 by Pope Gregory the Great, in which she was identified as a repentant harlot (possibly by identification with the “adulterous woman” whom Jesus rescues from being stoned in the 8th chapter of John).  But the four canonical Gospels are not the only ones:

…among those used by Gnostic congregations (and subsequently excluded from the canon) were four more Gospels:  Thomas, Philip, Mary and Judas, all but the last of which assign a much more prominent role to Mary Magdalene than the four canonical ones; indeed, the Gospel of Mary is actually attributed to her.  These Gospels refer to Mary as Jesus’ “companion” and describe him as loving her more than his other disciples and often kissing her on the mouth…the Gospel of Mary identifies her as the unnamed “disciple Jesus loved” mentioned so often in John…

Pope Gregory may well have been aware of these gospels, and perhaps intentionally conflated the Magdalene with the adulteress as a way of smearing her in a time of increasingly-patriarchal Church practices and increasingly-prudish Church attitudes toward sex.  It is possible that one of the reasons Mary the Harlot caught on so quickly as a mythic figure was that she built upon and supplanted the clearly sexual (though not specifically professional) portrayal in the Gnostic gospels, oral traditions of which could well have survived their suppression two centuries before Gregory’s sermon.  I might even point out that she could well be viewed as a Christianized Venus, just as the Blessed Mother is a Christianized mother-goddess and Jesus himself a Christian solar deity.  The actual biographical facts of the lives of the human beings upon whom the mythic figures are based is of no more importance than whether Buddha could actually perform miracles, King Arthur pulled a sword from a stone or Mohammed flew into heaven on a winged horse; as in the case of Saint Nicholas (the official patron saint of whores), the mythology which has developed around the historical Mary Magdalene has a life of its own independent of the mundane facts.  The process of apotheosis creates a new being separate and distinct from the long-dead person whose name he or she shares, and that being inhabits the irrational realm of faith rather than the rational one of fact.

Simply put, Mary Magdalene the symbol is an entity wholly distinct from Mary Magdalene the first-century Jewish woman, and whether the latter was a whore, wife or mere follower to Yeshua bar Yosef is immaterial to the power of that symbol.  For centuries, the name “Magdalene” has been synonymous with “prostitute” in Christendom; when in the 13th century the idea arose for the first time that whores were “fallen” women in need of “rescue”, the asylums established for the purpose were called “Magdalene homes”.  Though few of these institutions survived the Black Death, the movement was revived in the mid-18th century and the number of such places multiplied with the rise of the “white slavery” myth a century later; though they again died out in most places in the early 20th century, they continued on in Ireland until 1996.  In various parts of the British Isles, the term “Magdalene” became “Maggie”, and applied either to whores in general (in England) or ones confined to Magdalene laundries (in Ireland).  The working girls in a number of folk songs are named “Maggie”, and of course Stephen Crane gave us Maggie:  A Girl of the Streets; some of y’all have probably guessed that I chose the name “Maggie” for a reason, and perhaps noticed that the name “Maggie McNeill” has a similar cadence to “Mary Magdalene”.

So even though I well understand that Mary Magdalene may not have “really” been a member of my profession, I also understand the difference between fact and truth.  The sacred whore may have largely ceased to exist in the mundane world of matter, but she still exists in the human unconscious.  And in the West, it has pleased her for a number of centuries now to work under the stage name Mary Magdalene.

Cathryn and me at the Everleigh Club site 7-19-14Up to this week, the pace of my tour has been relatively sedate, with more downtime than appearances.  But as of Saturday that changed; Chicago will be a whirlwind, and the number of quiet days from here to at least Charleston will be in the minority.  So even though last week in Memphis and Nashville was rather quiet, I wasn’t all that concerned; it gave me time to catch up on some writing so I won’t be caught flatfooted before the end of August.

Since my book is self-published, most large bookstores won’t carry it on their shelves; however, independent stores can do as they like so a few have agreed to stock Ladies of the Night.  Before leaving Memphis last Monday I stopped in at The Booksellers at Laurelwood to sign their copies, and was pleased to hear that one had already sold over the weekend.  If you’re in Memphis, call them to see if they have any left!  That night I had dinner with one of my “Angel” sponsors in Nashville, and this morning I’m having breakfast with another in Chicago.  I also had dinner and visited with activist Cathryn Berarovich in Chicago on Saturday night; the picture is us in a grassy lot where the Everleigh Club, Chicago’s busiest and most elegant brothel, used to stand.  And on Friday night in Indianapolis, I had dinner and a long discussion with a criminologist who is preparing a study of violence against sex workers in criminalized and legalized systems.

My one public event in Nashville was a presentation at Liberty On the Rocks; since the space was rather noisy and the group relatively small we opted for a discussion-group style event rather than a lecture followed by questions.  Though I felt as though the format was a bit more chaotic than I prefer, the attendees seemed pleased with the outcome and one even wrote about it.  There’s a small footnote to that event which emphasizes the reason I’m out here and gives me hope for the future:  when I left, I felt like getting some ice cream so I stopped at a small parlor on the next block which was still open.  As I walked out and was eating my cone on the sidewalk, a young woman (university age) asked which flavor I’d bought, and she and her boyfriend and I struck up a conversation.  When I told them who I was and why I was travelling, they expressed enthusiastic support for the cause, wished me luck and asked for a card to read the blog.  I think their attitude is more common than the prohibitionists want to admit; in twenty years, young people will view repression of sex work in the same way young people now view attempts to suppress gay rights: as a weird, incomprehensible thing people used to do which has no valid place in a civilized society.

Here’s my tour schedule, which is still in flux; check back when I’m getting close to you for details of local appearances.  If your city isn’t on the list, but it’s within about four hours’ drive of another city which is on the list, just send an email asking me to visit.  Your request will have even more impact if you can suggest a specific place I could do a book reading or give a talk, and it’s virtually assured if you can actually make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

Links #211

Defense counsel:  So you entered the house based on a lie?
Cop A.B. Beck:  Yes.
Defense counsel:  And this is your policy for domestic violence warrants?
Cop A.B. Beck:  Yes.

Usually I’m very conscientious about recording where I saw a given item first, but I’m afraid I lapsed in the case of today’s first video.  Weird Al Yankovic has released a new video every day this week to promote his new album, and so many people have tweeted them I lost track of who went first; this one was my favorite, and I think you’ll find it appropriate.  The second video (which I’m sure everyone with BDSM experience will appreciate) was sent me by Libertine Video, everything above the first was provided by Grace (who also gave us “how about now?”), and the links between the videos were contributed by Radley Balko (“fascism”), Amy Alkon  (“God”), Walter Olson (“pig”, “colony” and “police state”), Teller (“centennial”), Jesse Walker (“nightmares”), Aspasia (“not Florida”), Rick Horowitz (“terrorist”), and Popehat (“caste” and “records”).

From the Archives

An abolitionist is an abolitionist…whether Radfem or Muslim.  It is a little bit moot whether you kill someone with a bullet or by making their lives impossible while cranking up the stigmas…You are still just as dead, and in my honest opinion the bullet is quicker and cleaner.  –  Maggie Jones

Bad Girls Alix Tichleman

Ladies, it is NEVER a good idea to provide drugs to a client, because if something goes wrong they’ll be looking for a scapegoat:

An alleged prostitute has been charged with manslaughter for injecting a Google executive with heroin and then leaving him to die of an overdose…Alix Tichelman …is being held on…$1.5 million [bail]…Forrest Timothy Hayes…died Nov. 23 on his 50-foot yacht, Escape…His body was discovered the following morning by the yacht’s captain…Police say security footage from the yacht shows…Tichelman… gathering her belongings including drugs and needles, downing a glass of wine and lowering the blinds before leaving…Tichelman had an “ongoing prostitution relationship” with Hayes that began when she met Hayes on SeekingArrangement.com…

Only the sick mind of a cop could belch out a phrase as moronic as “ongoing prostitution relationship.”

Do As I Say, Not As I Do 

Get it straight, cops; you have to rape a whore not to get in trouble.  Fairly paying her demonstrates you’re not the kind of person they want in their ranks: “[Florida cop Trenton Moore] was arrested for soliciting a prostitute.  Now he’s out of a job…”  And stealing the cash from the leaders of your cop gang is an even worse idea:

….£120,000 of seized criminal cash was taken from [a Scottish] police office by…Robert Moffat…£90,000 of that cash was found in Moffat’s house and buried under a slab in his back garden…That cash was then taken by…Dean Burnett as part of a £205,000 haul he blew on gambling and vice girls…Burnett…was jailed for 45 months…but was only ordered to pay back £5000…

Rooted in Racism

Sometimes “trafficking” just means “bringing in black people“:

A 30-year-old man has been sentenced to six months in prison for attempting to smuggle refugees into Sweden, after claiming he met them at a wedding in Germany and offered them a lift back…the man…hired a car from a rental firm in Stockholm.  He opted for a vehicle which could accommodate seven people, arguing that he needed the space as he intended to transport a set of large loudspeakers…He offered a lift to six people from Eritrea, who…were seeking asylum in Germany.  He said he received €600…as a thank you…but when he was picked up by border police he had €1,150 in his pocket…

They Just Don’t Get It (TW3 #18)

Reading stuff Pennsylvania reporters write about cops is like watching fellatio porn:

…Sgt. Rick Blake said…he’s discarded the notion that prostitution is a “victimless crime” because women choose to sell their bodies.  He said many women are forced into it…”backpage.com…is a way for them to advertise without being directly out in the view of…law enforcement,” Blake said…”None of them want to lead this life”…When a Florida woman was picked up in a sting…”She thanked us because this was truly her only way to escape from the people she was being used by”…

As Mistress Matisse pointed out, “women we arrest thank us” is the moral equivalent of “she liked it when we raped her”. 

Whatever They Need To Say

Bangladesh’s oldest brothel has been shut down following pressure from local clerics and politicians…More than 750 prostitutes in Tangail City were forced out of a cluster of houses that made up the 200-year-old Kandapara brothel…after the dwelling’s owners ordered them shut…[following] a march last week demanding the eviction of the sex workers…Monowara Begum, who heads a sex-workers group at Kandapara, accused the local mayor…of…threatening the women…“He…sent dozens of young men…they told us that we have only one hour to leave…or they would burn down the brothel with kerosene”…

Under Every Bed 

Just the same old revolting “all prostitutes are pimped addicts”, but nearly all of these wastes of ink include this nowadays: “South Burlington [Vermont] is a busy city of more than 18,000 people…right on Interstate 89…

An Example to the West (TW3 #316)

To commemorate the National Day of Sex Work, the Secretariat of Labour and Employment Promotion (STFE) of [Mexico City] gave 50 credentials to persons exercising sex work and recognized them as self-employed workers with social and labor rights.  The event…represents the second delivery of these documents…since last March, when the first group of 19 persons filed an injunction against the Law…which criminalized prostitution [in the city] as a crime “against the peace of the people”…[agency head] Patricia Mercado… admitted that public policy change was driven by the “Elisa Martínez” Street Brigade in Support of Women directed by Elvira Madrid and Jaime Montejo…[and] litigated by attorney Barbara Zamora…

Passive Voice

Radley Balko on a syndrome I’ve discussed before:

…Use of the passive voice in an admission of wrongdoing has become  so common that the political consultant William Schneider suggested a few years ago that it be referred to as the “past exonerative” tense.  You’ll often see a similar grammatical device when a police officer shoots someone.  Communications officers at policy agenies are deft at contorting the English language to minimize culpability of an officer or of the agency…

Policing for Profit Michael Mobley

When you’re a cop, armed robbery becomes “misdemeanor embezzlement” and decades in prison becomes a few weekends in the county jail:

[Virginia cop Michael Mobley] was sentenced to 30 days in jail…for stealing more than $3,000 from three prostitutes…he…pleaded guilty…to two counts of misdemeanor embezzlement…[and] can serve his sentence on consecutive weekends…Mobley…questioned [the victims] under the guise of a police investigation…[and stole their] money…

If he’d turned the money in to the head thugs, this would’ve been legal.

Buttons, Bags & Banknotes

Dr. Brooke Magnanti on the latest development in British “feminism”:

…Twitter has been a-bubble with prominent feminists endorsing Who Made Your Pants, a company which employs refugee women…to sew…underwear…with prices between £18 and an eye-watering £21.50 a pop…the implication (from people on Twitter, not the company itself) that not wearing them makes you not ethical or not feminist leaves a bad taste in the mouth…Many of the people who can’t afford to spend £20-plus [$34] on purportedly feminist knickers are themselves workers in a marketplace that devalues their labour.  This does not make them bad feminists, bad consumers, or bad people.  If we who are in a position of financial privilege are unable to recognise that, the fault lies with us – not with them…

Traffic Circle

Even the more ethical “human trafficking” folks are now starting to distance themselves from “sex trafficking” hysteria:

Human trafficking has become the cause célébre for sensationalist…media…a great deal of the…content is both inaccurate and irresponsible …[This] sensationalizing or falsification…is often excused…[as] “raising awareness”…[but] misinformed people…support policies and  organizations that are ultimately counter-productive…

The author, Ryan Turner, goes on to list what he considers the worst offenses:

…All human trafficking statistics should be regarded with some  skepticism…Misleading statistics obscure the true nature of the problem and…when…inevitably exposed as false or methodologically unsound, it undermines the credibility of the whole anti-trafficking movement…Conflation of sex work and sex trafficking often leads to policies that criminalize prostitution, making sex workers more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.  Meanwhile, the distinct needs of trafficking survivors are ignored in favor of “demand reduction”  programs that…harm…sex workers…Reveling in graphic details does not help victims and survivors, nor does it contribute in any meaningful way…The myopic focus on sex trafficking…draws attention away from the fact that the tomatoes we eat may be the product of forced labor in Florida…

Down Under (TW3 #350)

Prohibitionists insist decriminalization doesn’t work:

Police resolved a dispute between a sex worker and a client who refused to pay — by escorting the man to a cash machine to settle his $100 bill…A [New Zealand] police spokesperson said…”It…is a routine thing. Police would help any citizen having a disagreement whether they were a sex-worker or working in a pizza shop”…

What a Week! (TW3 #402)

Gunmen…attacked two buildings…in Baghdad’s Zayounah neighbourhood, killing at least 33 people including 29 women…there are suspicions the buildings were being used as a brothel.  The words “This is the punishment of those practising prostitution” were scrawled in black on one of the buildings…Michelle Obama bring back our girls

Here’s an excellent commentary on the story from another Maggie:

…where is the outrage…Where is the team of “British specialists” sent… to Bagdad to investigate…Where is Michelle Obama gormlessly holding up a #BringBackOurGirls sign?  Where is the hysterical Twitter campaign?  Perhaps if we were to relabel those women as “vulnerable victims of evil sex traffickers” their death might attract more sympathy?  As independent women…supporting themselves, not relying on some well funded NGO organisation to “rescue” them…they were…simply the “wrong kind of women” to be deserving of the ritual hand wringing…

Devil’s Advocate

Intellectual honesty is dead in the West:

Once we start creating sex-robots, what will be the limits we put on them?  It’s not a human being so you should theoretically be able to rock your human-like Rumba however you want, but there may be some situations that create moral panics even if the Cylon-victim involved is just a bundle of algorithms and plastic.  I asked the panel how society would deal ethically and legally with a hypothetical company that starts producing child sex-robots to satisfy deviant sexual desires…

You can guess the result.  Nobody wants to admit that a child-shaped toaster is still a toaster.

Drawing Lines

Another excellent Marijke Vonk essay:

…It’s a mistake to think that prostitutes are fundamentally different from other people…that sex is obviously and clearly different from non-sex, that sex work is strictly different from other types of work, that prostitution is clearly different from non-prostitution.  Violence against sex workers should be stopped…but it’s a mistake to think that violence won’t harm us all.  There’s no clear line between sex workers and the rest of us…

Maggie in the Media (TW3 #424)

Recorded while I was in Los Angeles early last month:

Schadenfreude (TW3 #425) 

More and more reporters are discovering the truth about “sex trafficking”:

Eden supposedly follows the life of Chong Kim…whose…story has been trumpeted [by "trafficking" fetishists while]…activists…have been busy poking holes in…it…In 2004, Kim published an essay titled “Nobody’s Concubine”…[which] has little in common with Eden.  Kim writes that she suffered abuse at home and was…raped by an acquaintance…She started working as a stripper and then for an escort service after escaping an abusive boyfriend and falling on hard times…Missing…is the desert warehouse full of teenage sex slaves in Nevada and the daring escapes described in her later accounts.  Over the years, Kim’s story has grown more lavish and sensational as the bad guys morphed from abusive clients and boyfriends to international gangs of kidnappers, pimps, human traffickers and johns that included law enforcement agents and even an unnamed former state governor…

Consult my research paper “Mind-witness Testimony” for an explanation of the psychological mechanism behind the inflation of stories like Kim’s.

Divided We Fall (TW3 #427)

Canada’s Bill C36 is merely the hook for this excellent essay against sexual prohibition:

…“unnatural” sex has always been problematic for moral crusaders.  For example, masturbation and homosexual acts were previously depicted as “harmful” to individual and collective health; yet such claims proved not only to be unfounded, but dangerous.  This, however, has not stopped the perfectionists among us from endorsing a new cause:  the present obsession with prostitution …the so-called deleterious effects of masturbation [were] widely discredited in…[the early] 20th century…and…by 1973, the American Psychiatric Association no longer considered homosexuality a disease…Yet here we are in the 21st century, justifying state repression of prostitution…we can get over our anxiety…whenever we come to realize that sex workers and their clients do not require “treatment”…

Whither Canada? (TW3 #428)

Many religious groups in Canada…have been enthusiastically supporting the government’s new prostitution bill…But dozens of Anglican clergy say the proposed law is immoral and endangers sex workers, and they are urging the government to withdraw it.  Rev. Bruce Bryant-Scott…has submitted an open letter to the justice committee signed by 33 of his…colleagues…

This essay first appeared in Cliterati on June 8th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

According to the popular narrative, sex workers are “bad” or “defective” or otherwise abnormal; we are not to be trusted even to run our own lives, so when “good” women who claim to want what’s best for us say that we need to be criminalized for our own good – that our statements should be ignored, our clients demonized, our workplaces raided by armed thugs who drag us away to cages where we can be subjected to degrading attempts to “correct” or brainwash us, and our organizations branded as a “pimp lobby” – the politicians side with them and the legions of the ignorant mindlessly parrot their drivel about “sex trafficking”. There are many of these righteous guardians of female purity; in Ireland, for example, they are led by Ruhama, an organization founded by the exact same nuns who ran the infamous Magdalene laundries, where sex workers and other “sinful” women were condemned to slave labor until they were completely broken. Among these outcasts were unwed mothers, whose children were ripped from them and incarcerated in hell-holes like St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home:

The bodies of 796 children…have been found in a disused sewage tank in Tuam, County Galway. They died between 1925 and 1961 in a mother and baby home under the care of the Bon Secours nuns…historian Catherine Corless discovered the extent of the mass grave when she requested records of children’s deaths in the home…The vast majority of the children’s remains, it seemed, were [simply dumped into] the septic tank. Corless and a committee have been working tirelessly to raise money for a memorial that includes a plaque bearing each child’s name…death rates for children in the Tuam mother and baby home, and in similar institutions, were four to five times that of the general population. A health board report from 1944 on the Tuam home describes emaciated, potbellied children, mentally unwell mothers and appalling overcrowding. But, as Corless points out, this was no different to other homes in Ireland. They all had the same mentality: that these women and children should be punished…

Eden posterAnd yet, these nuns still receive funding from the Irish government and their lies about sex workers are still accepted unquestioningly by the Irish media. In the United States, laws and old prejudices prevent the Catholic Church from gaining quite such a powerful hold, but nothing short of absolute exposure stops sociopaths like Somaly Mam or the woman whose supposedly “true” story the movie Eden was based on:

…Chong Kim whom [sic] has claimed to be a survivor of human trafficking is not…after thorough investigation into her story, people, records and places, as well as, [sic] many interviews with producers, publishers and…organizations, we found no truth to her story. In fact, we found a lot of fraud, lies, and the most horrifically capitalizing [sic]…We have found several other organizations…who have been defrauded by Chong collecting money in their name…

When Eden came out many sex worker activists condemned it as a pack of lies; we’ve done the same about Somaly Mam for years. And despite their being exposed as charlatans, others very like them continue to cash in and exert such powerful influence over politicians that outrages like this are the norm these days:

…This cynical, dystopic model does not resolve the problems found by the Court in Bedford to be unconstitutional, and adds new ones such as the prohibition on advertising.  The Charter rights…[of] life, liberty, security of the person, freedom of expression and equality…are [all] breached…It is an unconstitutional variation of our broken laws that impose more danger, more criminalization, and fewer safe options, contrary to the requirement of the Supreme Court of Canada…All that will be required for police to surveil and target sex workers is the suggestion that a person under the age of 18 can reasonably be expected to be present…purchase [of]…sex…[carries] mandatory fines…from $500 to $4,000, to five years in jail…Without the ability to advertise in newspapers, online, or other forms of media, sex workers will now have severely limited means for working safely indoors…

pile_of_bonesHow many more skeletons need to be found in closets or cesspools before the public wakes up to the evil of prohibitionism? How many more lies until the self-appointed saviors lose their credibility for good? And how many more women have to die before governments abandon their mad dream of controlling the sexuality of every individual within their borders?

Alice Keppel

I do not mind what she does as long as she comes back to me in the end.  –  George Keppel

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VII of the United Kingdom, had an interest in women which is notable even by the promiscuous standards of noblemen.  Naturally, among his dalliances were a plethora of professionals, among them Skittles and La Belle Otero.  His first semi-official mistress was Lillie Langtry, whom we discussed in May; today I’ll introduce you to the last (and longest-lasting) lady to hold that position, from three years before his coronation until the day he died.  She had a number of things in common with Lillie: an ability to get along with their royal patron’s wife, Princess (later queen) Alexandra; a gift for discretion so highly-developed that many people to this day don’t realize (or else deny) that they were whores; and most importantly, a similar motive for taking up the profession.

Alice Frederica Edmonstone was born on April 29th, 1868, the daughter of Sir William, 4th Baronet Edmonstone, and his wife Mary.  Sir William was a retired admiral, and Alice (the youngest of nine children, all but one girls) grew up in Duntreath Castle on Loch Lomond, the home of her family since the 14th century.  Her childhood appears to have been wholly unremarkable; none of the short biographies I consulted have anything at all to say about her personal life before June 1st, 1891, when she married George Keppel, son of the 7th Earl of Albemarle.  But while her husband was of a good family with a long history of service to the Crown, he had very little money; had the two of them been content to raise their daughters quietly in the country his income would have sufficed, but both of them loved city life.  It was expensive to keep up with London society in those days, and since Alice was strikingly beautiful (with an hourglass figure, alabaster skin and thick chestnut hair) the two of them soon hit upon a simple plan: she would take on wealthy lovers whose income would finance their lifestyle and provide George with business connections.  He wasn’t her pimp, not exactly; she found her patrons and charmed them with her own abilities.  George’s contribution was to stay out of the way and provide her with the appearance of respectability.

The historian Victoria Glendinning wrote that Alice had the “sexual morals of an alley cat…sexual faithfulness to her husband wasn’t a value to her.”  But this is merely the ignorant attitude of an prudish amateur.  Cheating “alley cats” hide their affairs from their husbands; Alice planned hers with George.  Nor was he a weak cuckold sitting alone at home while his wife wandered; he also had many affairs, with Alice’s full knowledge and approval.  Her daughters later described their parents’ marriage as a “companionship of love and laughter”, and though this certainly could be taken as a biased view, it must be pointed out that the Keppels remained happily married for 56 years and died within two months of one another; though there is some speculation that Violet (born 1894) may have been the daughter of a lover, Sonia (born 1900) strongly resembled George, so there is little doubt that he was her father.  Though their relationship may seem strange to those outside of the demimonde, I’m sure every sex worker reading this will recognize it; they loved and trusted each other, and sex with others had no effect on that.

Alice’s first arrangement, with Ernest Beckett (later the 2nd Baron Grimthorpe), began less than two years of her marriage; it is Beckett who is believed to be the biological father of Violet.  Next was Humphrey Sturt, the 2nd Baron Alington.  There were a few others in the second half of the ‘90s, but on February 27th, 1898 she met “Bertie”, and the rest is literally history; within weeks she had replaced his previous mistress (the indiscreet Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick), and she remained with him until his death in 1910.  The arrangement was extremely lucrative for the Keppels: though Edward was notoriously stingy (by courtesan standards) with direct payments, he enriched them indirectly in several ways.  First, he gave her part ownership of a rubber company, from which she made £50,000 (about £3 million today); he also had his own top-notch financial advisers manage her investments, and got a high-paying job for George.

Even before she met the (then) Prince, Alice had acquired the reputation of being one of the most talented hostesses of her era.  She was intelligent, witty, well-informed and never unkind or intemperate, and she brought these characteristics and others into her role as royal mistress.  She was so discreet she even hated people to mention her relationship with the King a quarter-century after his death, and she was the only person who could bring him out of the black moods he often fell into.  These traits made Queen Alexandra actually fond of her, thus smoothing what could otherwise have been an extremely difficult relationship:  His Majesty insisted on having Alice in his entourage practically everywhere he went.  This was not only for her companionship; she was noted for her wisdom and political judgment, and the King depended on her advice.  Furthermore, so great was her skill at conversation he often employed her to feel people out on delicate topics, or to let his opinion be known without making an official announcement.  The reverse was also true; when ministers or other officials wanted to further explain opinions with which Edward disagreed, Alice could present them to him in such a way that he would at least listen without getting angry.

But despite her influence, she was unable to convince the King to cut back on his smoking and heavy eating, even after his health began to fail.  When he was dying in May of 1910 he asked for her to come to his deathbed, but apparently that was too much for the Queen; as soon as he lost consciousness she ordered the doctors to get rid of Alice, who reacted with uncharacteristic loss of composure.  She became so upset and hysterical, in fact, that she had to be removed by the guards; from that point on she was no longer welcome at court.  Alice had developed genuine feelings for Edward over the past 12 years; furthermore, she was by this time 42 and had become a bit plump, so she was no longer able to function as a courtesan.  She and George decided it would be best to leave London for a while, so they spent two years travelling in the Far East (ostensibly for their daughters’ education).  Upon coming home they bought a new house and returned to society, albeit more quietly; Alice also helped run a hospital in Boulogne during the First World War.  In 1927 they bought the Villa dell’ Ombrellino near Florence and lived there the rest of their lives except for 1940-1946, when the Second World War forced them to return to the UK; they stayed in the country for a time, but then moved into the Grosvenor Hotel in London in spite of the Blitz.  By the time they returned to Italy Alice was terminally ill with cirrhosis; she died at the age of 79 on September 11th, 1947, and George followed her two months later.

Famous harlots do not usually have interesting descendants, but Alice Keppel is an exception.  Her elder daughter, Violet, became involved in a torrid lesbian affair with the poetess Vita Sackville-West; apparently, Alice’s sexual liberality stopped short of That Sort of Thing, so Violet was induced to marry Denys Trefusis and break up with Vita.  Violet became a novelist and her affair appears in fictionalized form in a number of works, notably Virginia Woolf’s Orlando; she subsequently had other lesbian affairs, but because she learned to be discreet about them after Vita her mother had no objection.  The younger daughter, Sonia, married Roland Cubitt and had a daughter, Rosalind, who in turn married Bruce Shand and bore a daughter, Camilla, less than two months before Alice died.  When Camilla grew into a young woman she met and became involved with a great-great grandson of her great-grandmother’s most famous patron, but because he needed to make a political marriage, she instead married a cavalry officer named Andrew Parker Bowles.  The tendency to be a royal mistress, it seems, runs in families, though unlike her famous ancestress the Duchess of Cornwall eventually married her Prince of Wales.

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