The Rakish Husband

London: Jennings, [1809].

Price: $2,750 save 20% $2,200

Add to Cart

A man's finances reveal that his relationships with his courtesan and his wife are far more economic than emotional as they each reject his poverty

(Item #5972) The Rakish Husband. Bawdy Broadside, Sex Work, Marriage.

The Rakish Husband

London: Jennings, [1809]. Early edition. Broadside measuring 250 x 360mm and printed in five columns to recto only. Deckled bottom edge. A Near Fine example with a bit of toning to edges and archival reinforcement to verso along central fold line. Scarce in any version, Bodleian Broadside Ballads records The Rakish Husband (or The Rakish Husband's Garland) across nine variants -- the present undocumented -- from 1757 to 1836. While the majority open "You gallant beaus of pleasure," the present opens "Come all you rakish husbands" (an opening present in only two recorded variants). While ESTC is unavailable at the time of cataloguing, OCLC reports only one existing copy of this variant (at the BL). No examples appear in the modern auction record, and the present is the only example in trade.

The Rakish Husband speaks to turn of the century anxieties about the rising wealth and influence of London's demi-monde community. Casting successful sex workers as a danger to men's economic power, the broadside also pits female courtesans against wives and mothers. Certainly men get some blame for their financially irresponsible choices; but in the end, the courtesan's ingenuity in using her body, her company, and her fame places her at fault. Her refusal to uphold the status quo is cast as the reason that women who played according to the social rule book by remaining at the mercy of their husbands under coverture wind up financially devastated.

The broadside dives right in with a warning from the male narrator's perspective. "Come all you rakish husbands, a warning take by me, And make much of your money, And shun bad company...At length I fix'd my fancy Upon a youthful whore, And she did likewise tell me That me she did adore; Three years we liv'd together, I left my loving wife, And did not give one farthing For to support her life. I cloath'd my wanton harlot In gold and jewels bright, And kept a maid and footman To attend her day and night." While the narrator's legal wife endured three years of poverty as a single mother and didn't warrant a thought from him, his courtesan thrived and managed to build her own savings -- owning the gifts and earnings because she wasn't subject to coverture. It isn't until she gains the upper hand and he sinks to poverty that he is shocked by the sex worker's business-like approach. Unlike a wife, she refuses to abide by his budgets, to let her servants go, or to remain faithful to him. Unable to pay, he is no longer a client. Unswayed by his sudden mentions of the wife whose wealth she usurped, she grows impatient with him. Emotional appeals are for wives, not courtesans. "I have not wherewithal, So now upon my life, The very best thing you can do, Is to go to your wife."

On returning to his family, the narrator feels some guilt about the "innocent sweet babes" he abandoned and is gutted that his wife refuses to share a bed because she "had not one penny Them victuals to provide." But even more he burns with the shame that when you "bring yourself to poverty, The world will at you jeer." Desperate to regain control, the narrator turns to a fellow of the patriarchy -- his brother in law -- to borrow clothes and money. Luring his courtesan and her daughter to meet him under the guise of renewed wealth, he instead strips and assaults them, gleefully chasing them with a weapon. Taking their rich clothes to his wife so she can dress like wealth and welcome him back to bed, he re-enters a marital space but has also exposed how similar wifehood and whoredom truly are. His actions suggest that all women are at men's mercy when ultimately they have little legal or social recourse for abusive male behavior regardless of their marital positions.
(Item #5972)

Price: $2,750 save 20% $2,200

Add to Cart Inquire Add to Wish List
The Rakish Husband

"I have not wherewithal, So now upon my life, The very best thing you can do, Is to go to your wife."