Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)

(Item #5133) Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.). Erotic Literature, Fantosme, Sex Work.
Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)
Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)
Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)
Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)
Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)
Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)
Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)
Celebration, titillation, and anxiety surround this scarce, thinly-veiled expose on London's sex trade
Memoirs of the Nobility, Gentry &c. of Thule: or, The Island of Love. Being a Secret History of Their Amours, Artifices, and Intrigues (in 2 vols.)

London: Printed for W. Webb, 1742-44. First edition. Bound to style in 19th century sheep with morocco and gilt to spines. Measuring 168 x 96mm and with occasional mispagination but collating complete: xxiv, 300; [2], 336. Some offsetting to preliminary and terminal leaves and occasional light foxing and marginal chips not affecting text; discrete archival repairs to short tear on pages 115-116 and long tear to 285-286 of volume I preserving all text. Early amateur cloth tape repair to recto of front endpaper to volume II. A scarce example of early erotic literature centered on London's famous courtesans, ESTC lists only 6 copies with institutions. The present copy aside, the last example to appear at auction was in 1882.

Published two years apart, the two volumes of Memoirs of the Nobility are different in their approaches to London's elite, including the infamous Great Impures who hosted the wealthiest men in their parlours and their beds. Volume I launches its readers into a thinly veiled satire, wherein the protagonist Aloisa visits the mythical kingdom of Thule. During her tour on arrival, Aloisa discovers a city of extreme decadence whose cast of characters would be familiar to most Londoners (indeed, the copy housed at the British Museum has contemporary annotations from William Cole, denoting some of the avatars' real-life identities). "there was scarce a Thing as a Virgin of twenty Years of Age to be found in all the Island...all was flaming Lust; and from the Court to the Cottage all had their Share in amorous Intrigues." While sexual violence is rampant in Thule (Aloisa's host, the Chevalier Faire-Franc, informs her of numerous girls assaulted and left pregnant by the son of the new Lord Chancellor, for example), much of the kingdom's activities center on the sex trade. Ambition and wealth drive residents "to get Money, which at Night they as lavishly spend" at various houses of pleasure. In these descriptions, readers visit the brothels of such real-life bawds as Mother Elizabeth Wisebourn (here called Madona), who dresses as a nun to recruit girls and uses medicine and magic to "restore" their virginity and continuously demand the highest prices -- a practice she infamously used to market her girls, particularly Sally Salisbury and Sally Lodge before they rose to success in their own rights. Nearby, Miss Edwards of Kensington (possibly Kitty Fisher or Lucy Cooper) resides "in open Fornication" yet "defies all Scandal." A string of famous men -- authors, dignitaries, and gentry -- are also exposed for their engagement with courtesans, their elopements, and their affairs.

By volume II, these details fade and the stories shift toward a more general erotic fantasy. But both notably participate in celebrating and expressing anxiety about the growing power of London's sex trade. With estimates of London's sex workers ranging widely from 8,600-80,000, it was undeniable that a vast portion of the population was engaged in sex-for-money whether as a provider or consumer (Rogers). The money and public influence of courtesans like Kitty Fisher, Lucy Cooper, Sally Salisbury, Sophia Baddeley, Mary Robertson and others highlighted how women who defined traditional marriage economies could carve out their own wealth, independence and community.

ESTC T75813. Lowndes 2681. Not in the Register of Erotic Books.
(Item #5133)

Price: $5,500

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