COURTESANS Alli THE latest literary fashion. Accounts of their lives, presenting them as free spirits and protofeminists who could dictate the terms on which they worked, are tumbling from the presses. Although I can't entirely agree with this rosy picture, Frances Wilson's life of Harriette Wilson, the most notorious of early nineteenthcentury courtesans, is an absorbing read.
Frances Wilson carefully distinguishes at the outset between the courtesan and the prostitute. While the poor, bedraggled street-walker had nothing to look forward to but disease and an early death, the courtesan 'could e.Kpect to have a career including perks, promotions, pay rises and a certain amount of job security'.