American Mysterymania

Greenhorns and She-Devils – George Foster on Prostitution in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York

Table des matières


In the 1930s and 1940s, the photo-reporter known as Weegee followed emergency services through Manhattan and the Lower East Side, taking snapshots of murder victims, car accidents, police arrests, cross-dressing men and couples locked in tight embraces. His photographs appeared in daily newspapers such as the Daily News, the Herald Tribune and the New York Post, giving readers access to the forbidden world of crime, sex, and violence. Weegee’s images of the New York underworld have cemented his reputation as a pioneer in the genre of urban photography; but he is less often viewed as a modern avatar of the nineteenth-century tradition of “city mysteries.” A century before Weegee, another “nightcrawler,” armed not with a 4⨯5 “Speed Graphic” camera and an ample provision of flashbulbs, but with a sharp eye, reported on the most scandalous aspects of New York nightlife for the popular press. George Foster’s sketches of life in New York, New York in Slices, by an Experienced Carver, and New York by Gas-Light, With Here or There a Streak of Sunshine, respectively published in 1849 and 1850, provided a vivid glimpse into the lives of criminals, gamblers, thieves and prostitutes in the mid-nineteenth century city. These essays, originally written as “city items” for the New York Tribune, exposed “the festivities of prostitution, the orgies of pauperism, the haunts of theft and murder, the scenes of drunkenness and beastly debauch, and all the sad realities that go to make up the lower stratum—the under-ground story—of life in New York!”1

During his nocturnal rambles through Manhattan, “Gaslight” Foster visited the Tombs, rushed to fires and crime scenes, dined at Delmonico’s and in oyster cellars, and spent time in the most notorious brothels in the city.2  His sketches of urban life literally made his name: after the publication of New York by Gas-Light, he was forever known as “Gaslight Foster.” (Similarly, Arthur Fellig became “Weegee,” a phonetic rendering of “Ouija,” because of his knack for showing up at the scene of a crime, accident, or fire only minutes after the police.) For all its sensationalism, however, George Foster’s city reporting cannot simply be categorized as a piece of voyeuristic flânerie. In his sketches of New York life, Foster attempted to pinpoint the underlying sources of vice and crime and to lay out solutions to the problems engendered by poverty, overcrowding, and inadequate policing. In short, Foster practiced voyeurism with a social conscience. This is as much of an oxymoron, perhaps, as the legendary “prostitute with a heart of gold” who haunted the Romantic era; but it strongly resonated with the moralizing aesthetics of contemporary “urban mysteries.” As any good journalist would, “Gaslight” Foster collected evidence, conducted interviews, and immersed himself in the social milieus he described; as any good urban mystery writer would, he created dream-like visions of an underground world teeming with victimized innocents and black-hearted villains.

The prostitutes of New York played an outsized role within this narrative of sin and redemption, because they held a mirror to Foster’s own story. Like the women he met in brothels and oyster saloons, George Foster was a creature of the night, who made a living in louche and dangerous settings. To spice up his “slices” of New York life, he monetized crime and prostitution. However, while prostitution loomed large in the commercial world of the penny press and “dime novels,” it also inspired utopian attempts at social reform. As he looked into the underworld of New York City, Foster both exposed the women who sold themselves for money and attempted to rescue them. Although his commercial success was largely built on voyeurism, he attempted to wash off “the mark of the beast” by insisting on his genuine desire for social change.3

Foster prefaced his description of a luxury house of prostitution near Broadway with the unequivocal statement:  “. . . prostitution, in one form or another, is a mother and nurse of every vice that afflicts and degrades humanity; and when we have found what prostitution is, and how to prevent it, we have accomplished the great task of reform” (p. 93). Foster’s self-explanatory utterance reflects and encapsulates the generalized anxiety surrounding women’s bodies and morals in the mid-nineteenth century. At no point does he ever explain why prostitution should have had a more catastrophic effect on urban life than other social problems such as alcoholism, theft, or gambling. The ambiguous social status of prostitutes and their increased visibility on city streets fed the fear that prostitution might spread among girls and young women, to the detriment of bourgeois family values. The terror of venereal disease also accounts for the centrality of prostitution in nineteenth-century accounts of the “miseries” of urban life.

Foster may have had conventional morality on his side, but not the law. Although women were routinely arrested on related charges, such as disorderly conduct, prostitution was not a statutory offence in mid-nineteenth century New York. As the historian Christine Stansell has pointed out, “There was no legal pressure to conceal it.”4 Timothy Gilfoyle, a scholar of the underworld in nineteenth-century New York, has shown that city authorities largely turned a blind eye to prostitution. Gilfoyle notes that, by the mid-nineteenth century, “. . . of the 143 addresses listed in the city’s leading guidebooks, only 7 were charged with any kind of disorderly conduct during the entire decade. And by the decade of the Civil War, prostitution was virtually ignored by Gotham’s lead law enforcement officers.”5

The city boasted a wide range of establishments that catered to customers from virtually all social backgrounds. To follow Stansell’s hierarchy, there were parlor houses for gentlemen near the elegant hotels of Broadway, “second-class brothels” for clerks and “the higher class of mechanics,” and private rooms in saloons and restaurants.6 Prostitution also took place in the third tier (i.e. upper balconies) of theaters, in houses of assignation, and in the lower houses of prostitution along the waterfront. Finally, many women “on the town,” to use the nineteenth-century expression, plied their trade independently on the streets.

Foster’s journey into the world of New York City prostitution starts at the top of the social hierarchy. His first visit is to a stylish house of pleasure near Broadway, “splendidly lighted, richly carpeted and furnished” (p. 94). The furniture consists of “an almost infinite variety of luxurious ottomans, sofas, divans and lounges, into whose recesses you sink with a feeling of voluptuous repose that takes your breath away” (p. 94). Foster seems to imply that even the most morally upright of men are likely to fall into temptation as they sink into plush sofas and silky ottomans. As the counter-example of Shaker chairs suggests, interior decoration can be used to either enforce or undermine moral values. Engulfed into this hyperbolically feminine furniture, which functions as a metonymy for the “soft” female body, the male visitor quickly loses sight of the straight and narrow path. Not coincidentally, given France’s reputation as a center of fashion, luxury, and high-class prostitution, the establishment described by Foster has a distinctly French atmosphere. Resplendent French mirrors line the ceilings, and some of the “tolerably good-looking women” are “arrayed in the latest Parisian style, according to the cuts in Sartain’s magazine.”7 The regular customers who enjoy the company of these fashionably dressed women belong to the category of “sporting men” – unmarried dandies who enjoy fine food, expensive wine, horse-racing, and loose women. They hardly pay any attention to “the Miss in short frocks and pantalettes, who passes for fifteen.” She has been wearing the same costume for years, and would only fool “a greenhorn from the West – a merchant come to replenish his dry goods and refresh his morals in the great metropolis” (p. 95).

Yet this apparently easy and voluptuous life is not meant to last. In case his readers found the description too enticing – who would not want to sink into one of these plush couches? – Foster predicts that most of the elegantly attired women now “lounging on the velvet sofas and stepping on the voluptuous carpets of this splendid mansion” will sooner or later end up “drunkards in the kennels of the Five Points, full of loathsome diseases, tramping the streets at all hours and weathers in search of sailors, loafers, green-horns, negroes, anything or anybody” (p. 96).

The dark mirror of this cocoon of luxury is the sordid world of low prostitution in lower Manhattan, which is the next step in Foster’s journey. At the time, as Foster explains, the ground floors of public houses in the Five Points area were occupied by drinking and dancing rooms, while prostitution took place on the upper floors. Basements accommodated “oyster saloons” where “thieves, burglars, low gamblers and vagabonds” congregated (p. 123). Unlike the “sporting men” of the house of pleasure on Broadway, the customers of these establishments were found, as Foster explains with evident distaste, among “sailors, negroes, and the worst of loafers and vagabonds, who are enticed and perhaps even dragged in by the painted Jezebels” (p. 122). More often than not, according to Foster, customers were robbed and assaulted by the male criminals who consorted with the prostitutes; they could count themselves lucky if they woke up unharmed at the Tombs the next day.8 In his reporting, Foster transforms the Five Points area into one of Dante’s circles of hell—a sight so awful that it will “make the blood slowly congeal and the heart . . . grow fearful and cease its beatings” (p. 120).  The presence of a significant black minority, which Foster strongly associates with the underworld of prostitution, contributes to the characterization of this space as radically alien to the white world of middle-class Manhattan. Reflecting the racial rhetoric of the time, Foster paints the male black population of the Five Points as “savage, sullen, reckless dogs” (p. 127). On the other hand, he acknowledges the strength, resilience, and economic achievements of black landlords, artisans, and house-keepers (p. 125). Although he claims to stand on the side of law and order, Foster cannot help but admire the courage displayed by black New Yorkers in their street fights with the police. Like the prostitutes with whom they are alleged to consort, they belong to a world apart. Remarkably, they have managed to survive, and sometimes even thrive, in the face of discrimination, persecution, and extreme hardship.

But the implicit comparison between these two marginalized groups—black New Yorkers and Five Points prostitutes— stops there. Foster says almost nothing of the history of the black community, except in an aside where he casually alludes to the legacy of slavery, noting that Blacks “bear brutalization better than the whites (probably from having been so long used to it!)” (p. 125) In contrast to this flippant remark, he is keen to compose a sentimental narrative explaining why young girls “fall” into prostitution—since the entry into the world of commercial sex is invariably described as a “fall,” or “ruin.” In most cases, he creates the impression that prostitutes are victims of social forces outside their control. Like the virginal prostitute Fleur-de-Marie in Eugène Sue’s novel Les Mystères de Paris, published in serial form in Le Journal des Débats from June 1842 to October 1843, they start out pure and innocent, until a combination of neglect, abandonment, abuse, and poverty lead them astray.  Foster attributes their “fall” to many causes: among them, the loss of a job or family member (usually a father or husband), low wages for female labor, domestic abuse, being seduced and abandoned by a lover, or the birth of a child out of wedlock. In New York by Gas-Light, he records the life stories of two brothel inmates to illustrate his point. The young woman known as “Princess Anna” is a farmer’s daughter who came to the city after being deserted by her lover, and describes herself as a “demon—a she-devil.” Her current situation is presented as the result of a calculated choice:  “I, with madness in my heart and its determination and coolness in my brain, came on foot and alone to New York to seek and execute revenge upon mankind” (p. 99). The other woman, who is not even graced with a nom de guerre, recalls for the journalist a childhood of misery, cold, and hunger in a damp and dark cellar on Orange Street. She was barely ten years old when a madam, decked out in bright-colored clothes and plumed hat, lured her into a brothel. Playing the part of “interesting and tender child,” in her own self-description, she was sold over and over to wealthy old men as a virgin (p. 102).

Unlike Sue’s Fleur-de-Marie, who passively submits to her fate, until she is rescued by Rodolphe and sent to the countryside to redeem herself through hard work and prayer, these two prostitutes seek revenge on the world. Engaging in commercial sex has empowered them: the victims have become victimizers. They are highly self-aware, and they refuse to sentimentalize their own stories. They have no desire to reform themselves. Although they acknowledge the social stigma attached to their profession, they are thrilled by their power over men. As Gilfoyle points out in his analysis of New York by Gas-Light, women such as Princess Anna “exhibit an ironic degree of personal agency in their predicament.”9 The threat inherent in this claim of independence was not lost on sentimental writers, who would often use the trope of the angel-turned-demon to characterize prostitution. In his Mysteries and Miseries of New York, a serial novel published in 1849, the same year as New York by Gas-Light, Foster’s fellow journalist and sentimental writer Edward Zane Carroll Judson, better known as “Ned Buntline,” paints prostitutes as demonic tricksters always seeking new ways to “fish” or “hook” new victims. In one of the early chapters of this prolix novel, the innocent Charles Meadows is taken by some “sporting men” of his acquaintance to a house of ill repute near Leonard Street, where he is swiftly and ruthlessly deceived by a young woman named Kate Hall. The lovely Kate sighs, simpers, sheds fake tears, and shares with her victim a “tale of sorrow” about her consumptive sister and heart-broken mother. To make a long story short, Charles empties his pockets and gives everything to her. Later, one of Charles’s more experienced friends refers to Kate as “the angel of darkness who fooled you so nicely.”10In his own life as journalist and newspaper editor, Ned Buntlinedid not hesitate to publicly expose women who ran houses of prostitution, such as a “Ms. Kate Hastings,” allegedly the keeper of a brothel on Leonard Street, whom he referred to as a “strumpet” and “gallows Kate Hastings” in a 1849 article for the newspaper he edited, Ned Buntline’s Own. Furious at the journalist for being “outed” (so to speak), Ms. Hastings promised that she would ‘”cowhide” Buntline next time she ran into him on the street. True to her word, she smacked him twice on the head a few days later.11

For reporters and urban mystery writers like Foster or Buntline, a financially self-supporting and unrepentant prostitute embodied a threat to the social order insofar as she undermined the middle-class ideal of the family. As Christine Stansell has argued, prostitution offered more than just money to nineteenth-century city girls. There were “serious drawbacks,” such as “venereal disease, physical abuse, the pain of early intercourse and the ever-present threat of pregnancy.”12 Despite these potentially life-threatening consequences, which make the word “drawback” seem like an understatement, prostitution “could be critical in structuring a life apart from the family.”13 Perhaps Foster and Buntline would not have stigmatized prostitution to such a degree if they had not been keenly aware that the life of a woman like “Princess Anna” might appear more desirable to working-class young women than the quasi-slavery of the workshop or factory, or the drudgery and often abject poverty of domestic life.  

Going beyond his self-described role as an “experienced carver” of New York life, Foster concludes his journey into the world of prostitution with a passionate plea for social reform. Although the status quo prevailed during the antebellum era, officials in New York City became increasingly aware of the unchecked growth of prostitution in certain areas of the city. A few years after Foster published the results of his investigative reporting, New York City aldermen commissioned a doctor, William W. Sanger, to examine the subject in depth. Dr. Sanger’s massive History of Prostitution, published in 1858, was based on the study of prostitutes incarcerated in the City Hospital. Its wide scope and empirical approach place it on par with Alexandre Parent-Duchâtelet’s 1836 two-volume treatise De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris. Parent-Duchâtelet, who was also a physician, began and concluded his massive study with the disillusioned statement that prostitution would always remain a necessary evil in a fast-growing metropolis, which attracted many single working men and women, drawing the latter into the maelstrom.14 While Parent-Duchâtelet considered the loss of female virginity as the single most important factor leading to prostitution, blaming women for what he viewed as an unforgivable lapse, Dr. Sanger pointed the finger at the men who seduced and abandoned young girls, often leaving them little choice but to enter the world of commercial sex simply to survive. He referred to this kind of behavior, which was almost always initiated by men, as a “crime . . . involving in its consequences not only the entire loss of female character, but also totally destroying the consciousness of integrity on the part of the male sex.” Like Parent-Duchâtelet, however, Sanger acknowledged that “it was an absurdity to assert that prostitution can ever be eradicated.” Instead, he recommended that the municipal authorities “exercise an effective but parental supervision on all its subjects.”15 The negative effects of prostitution could be somewhat improved through stronger marriage laws, official registration, medical visits, and tighter surveillance.

In stark contrast to the two doctors, Foster believed that it was possible to cure New York of this “poison,” as he called it (p. 131). The first step was to inoculate men against their own evil tendencies. Foster stated that prostitution was largely the outcome of “man’s individual villainy in seducing and betraying the pure being who trusts her destiny to his keeping” (p. 103). In his view, prostitution was inevitable whenever the social order tolerated, and sometimes even encouraged, the “degradation” of women, who were assumed to be the innocent victims of libertines. As a consequence, Foster proposed the following cure: “Let society . . . . apply a thorough and efficient remedy, by furnishing the means of comfortable and happy existence to women who would be virtuous, and exclude from its presence all men who are guilty of seduction or libertinism, or who have trifled with the sacred affection of woman, in any form” (p. 103). An adept of utopian socialism, who had been influenced by Charles Fourier’s radical views on social progress and gender equality, Foster championed the rights of working women to higher salaries and improved living conditions, and he correctly predicted that these measures would diminish the lure of prostitution.16 But his plan to protect female virtue by quarantining predatory males from the rest of the population to protect female virtue seemed implausible. As a more reasonable alternative, he might have suggested increasing legal protections for unmarried women. Furthermore, while Foster’s proposals were directed at preventing women’s “fall” into prostitution, he refused to offer a helping hand to those who had already entered the world of commercial sex. In his view, “After a woman once enters a house of prostitution and leads the life of all those who dwell here, it is too late. The woman is transformed into a devil and there is no hope for her” (p. 131). In New York by Gas-Light, Foster consigns “fallen women” to the apocalyptic hell of brothels and low dives, barring the way for re-entry into conventional society through work or marriage.

In reality, of course, the clear-cut distinction Foster drew between respectable young men and libertines did not reflect the complex realities of male sexuality; nor was it possible to divide young women into the two separate categories of pure maiden and raging she-devil. In many instances, women engaged in casual prostitution to supplement their income without becoming social pariahs. Borderline forms of prostitution proliferated in mid-nineteenth-century New York, such as “treating,” in which women traded sex for presents, clothes, jewelry, a night out, or even dinner.17 Such euphemisms deliberately blurred the boundaries between commercial sex and erotic exchanges. Foster warned his readers of the dangers that lurked not only in the elegant brothels of Broadway and public houses of the Five Points, but also in innocent-sounding words. New York by Gas-Light was probably written less for the sake of the New Yorkers who already knew what was happening in their city than for their potential victims: the “greenhorns” who could so easily be tricked by the “she-devils” of the metropolis, and perhaps the innocent young women who might have been lured into prostitution by the promise of an easy life (although it is difficult to imagine a book like New York by Gas-Light falling into the hands of pure young girls).

At the time when George Foster was writing these “city items,” he was collaborating with a French-born journalist, opera singer, and music critic named Julie de Marguerittes. Julie de Marguerittes eventually became Foster’s “only real, legal wife,” as he cryptically wrote to his childhood friend Rufus Griswold. (Evidently, he did not apply to himself the high moral standards he preached for others.)18 Like her husband-to-be, de Marguerittes commercialized her knowledge of city life. Her guidebook, entitled The Ins and Outs of Paris; or, Paris by Day and Night, was published in Philadelphia in 1855. De Marguerittes used the copyright for this book to bail Foster out of jail, where he had been imprisoned for fraud.19 Beyond the immediate goal of generating the cash needed to secure Foster’s release, Julie de Marguerittes’s guidebook attempted to do for Paris, though with less sensationalism, what New York by Gas-Light had done for the American metropolis: to warn innocent readers about the lures and dangers of city life, including, of course, prostitution in its many shapes and forms. In a style far less sentimental than Foster’s, Julie de Marguerittes provides a hierarchy of prostitution, from the lowly working-class grisette to the mercenary lorette and, all the way at the top, the fashionable lionne, “who talks slang, smokes cigars, drinks a bottle of champagne at breakfast and wears the beflounced, becorded, bevelveletted peignoirs also seen in the fashion-plate and at Newport and Saratoga.”20 “Beware, young America,” de Marguerittes exclaims, foreshadowing Henry James, “for it is to you I have been speaking from the first.” Just as Charles Meadows is fooled by the lovely Kate Hall in Ned Buntline’s Mysteries and Miseries of New York, the naïve American traveler will be introduced to “some fair and frail creature, and induce[d] to take her to the Bois de Boulogne, the Opéra and the cafés, thereby forever shutting the doors of those really noble, intellectual, and elegant salons so ready to receive and welcome strangers.”21

These “creatures,” who can successfully imitate the appearance, mannerisms, and cultural cachet of upper-class women, shows the dangers of being unfamiliar with established social codes. French prostitutes from the “half-world” (le demi-monde) pick up the social and cultural codes of high society (le monde) to deceive their victims. De Marguerittes implies that savvy Parisians would not be fooled. Only a visitor from a very different cultural and social background—particularly a young American traveler, or “greenhorn”—would be unable to tell the difference between a real society lady and a courtesan, especially if she was dressed like a lady from Newport or Saratoga.22

When The Ins and Outs of Paris is read alongside New York by Gas-Light, Foster’s city reporting suddenly appears to fit into another para- or sub-literary genre. A work of journalism and sentimental fiction, it could also be categorized as a travelogue for the mid-nineteenth century tourist. In Foster’s reporting, the city appears as an unknown continent whose inhabitants speak a foreign tongue. The book almost reads like the parody of an early modern travel narrative detailing the appearance, customs and mores of native people from the New World. Young American travelers to Paris needed Julie de Marguerittes to translate Parisian society into a language they could understand—although it is easy to imagine that it simply made them paranoid about every woman they encountered. Foster translated the underworld of New York into an intelligible language, giving his readers the code to a subterranean world of intrigue, deception, and vice.

Ultimately, these books propose not only to protect their readers, who are assumed to be mostly male, from the traps laid out for them in the city, but also to save them from their own base instincts, which will lure them into gambling, overspending, drinking, and sex with prostitutes. By descending into the underworld, Foster acts as witness, guide, and translator. He sees what others cannot, and perhaps should not, see. He gives his readers the experience of vice and crime by proxy, putting himself at risk so that they may preserve their innocence. But paradoxically, the objective of New York by Gas-Light is also to disenchant the reader—to take away his virginity, so to speak—by exposing the dismal realities of urban life. These urban sketches operate on the assumption that innocence and a good heart inevitably lead to victimization. The fate of naïve “greenhorns” and guileless “suckers” is to be fooled by thieves and prostitutes. The world is divided into those “in the know,” including, of course, the reporter, who has the keys to the language and mores of the underworld, and those who are blind to the signs of deception or danger. The fear of being duped, taken advantage of, or otherwise abused runs deep through the book, perhaps deeper than the desire to remain pure at heart. For all of its sentimental utopianism, Foster’s New York by Gas-Light is perhaps less driven by the wish to protect female virtue than by the imperative to safeguard men’s wallets, and to ensure that “greenhorns” will not fall prey to the “she-devils” of the metropolis.

(Amherst College)

Works Cited

Primary Sources  

Foster, George G., New York in Slices, By an Experienced Carver, Being the Original Slices Published in the N.Y. Tribune, New York, W.F. Burgess, 1848.

---, New York Naked, New York, R.M. DeWitt, 1850.

---, New York by Gas-Light and Other Urban Sketches, ed. Stuart M. Blumin, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990.

Marguerittes, Julie de, The Ins and Outs of Paris, Or, Paris by Day and Night, Philadelphia,  W.W. Smith, 1855.

Sanger, William, The History of Prostitution. Its Extents, Causes and Effects throughout the World, New York, American Medical Press, 1859.

Secondary Sources

Anbinder, Tyler, Five Points, The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum, New York, The Free Press, 2001.

Bernheimer, Charles, Figures of Ill Repute, Representing Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century France, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press, 1989.

Brooks, Peter, “The Mark of the Beast: Prostitution, Serialization, and Narrative,” Reading for the Plot, Design and Intention in Narrative, 1984, New York, Vintage Books, p. 143-170.

Clarke, T.J., “Olympia’s Choice,” The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers, rev. ed., Princeton, Princeton UP, 1999, p. 79-146.

Clement, Elizabeth A., Love for Sale: Courting, Treating, and Prostitution in New York City, 1900-1945, Durham, University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Corbin, Alain, Women for Hire, Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1990.

Gilfoyle, Timothy, City of Eros, New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, New York, Norton, 1992.

Hill, Marilynn Wood, Their Sister’s Keepers, Prostitution in New York City, 1830-1870, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.

Nichols, Heidi L., The Fashioning of Middle-Class America, “Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art” and Antebellum Culture, New York, Peter Lang, 2004.

Reckner, Paul, “Remembering Gotham: Urban Legends, Public History, and Representation of Poverty, Crime, and Race in New York City,” Journal of Historical Archaeology, no 6.2, June 2002, 95-112.

Sante, Luc, Low Life, Lures and Snares of Old New York, 1991, New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.

Stansell, Christine, City of Women, Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860, New York, Knopf, 1986.

Taylor, George Rogers, “Gaslight Foster: A New York ‘Journeyman Journalist’ at Mid-Century,” New York History, no 58.3, July 1977, p. 297-312.


1 George Foster, New York by Gas-Light and Other Urban Sketches, ed. Stuart Blumin, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990, p. 79. All subsequent quotations from New York by Gas-Light will refer to this edition.

2 See George Rogers Taylor, “Gaslight Foster: A New York ‘Journeyman Journalist’ at Mid-Century,” New York History, no 58.3, July 1977, p. 302.

3 See Peter Brooks, “The Mark of the Beast: Prostitution, Serialization, and Narrative,” Reading for the Plot, Design and Intention in Narrative, 1984, New York, Vintage Books, p. 143-170.

4 Christine Stansell, City of Women, Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860, New York, Knopf, 1986, p. 174.

5 Timothy Gilfoyle, City of Eros, New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, New York, Norton, 1992, p. 125.

6 See Stansell, City of Women, 174.

7 Foster, New York by Gas-Light, p. 95.  Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art was a Philadelphia-based monthly literary and artistic journal which published Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Lydia Child, among other writers. It also had sections on fashion, flower arrangements, architecture, music, and the fine arts. This beautifully produced magazine, which pioneered the use of mezzotint, was diametrically opposed in content and style to the fairly scabrous “city items” composed by Foster and the serialized “urban mysteries” popular at the time. See Heidi L. Nichols, The Fashioning of Middle-Class America, “Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art” and Antebellum Culture, New York, Peter Lang, 2004.

8  On the Five Points area and violent crime in nineteenth-century New York, see Herbert Asbury’s 1927 classic Gangs of New York; as well as Luc Sante, Low Life, Lures and Snares of Old New York, New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991; Tyler Anbinder, Five Points, The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum, New York, The Free Press, 2001. For a critical reappraisal of “urban sketches” of the New York underworld, ranging from Foster to Sante, and of the ideology of “the moral causality of urban poverty,” see Paul Reckner, “Remembering Gotham: Urban Legends, Public History, and Representation of Poverty, Crime, and Race in New York City,” Journal of Historical Archaeology, no 6.2, June 2002, p. 95-112.

9 Gilfoyle, City of Eros, p. 150.

10 Ned Buntline [E. Z. C. Judson], Mysteries and Miseries of New York, Dublin, James M’Glashan, 1849, p. 224.

11 The anecdote is taken from Marilynn Wood Hill, Their Sister’s Keepers, Prostitution in New York City, 1830-1870, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993, p. 162-63.

12 Stansell, City of Women, 190.

13 Stansell, City of Women, 185.

14 Alexandre Parent-Duchâtelet, De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris (1836). See also Alain Corbin, Women for Hire, Prostitution and Sexuality in France After 1850, Cambridge, Harvard UP, 1990.

15 William Sanger, The History of Prostitution. Its Extents, Causes and Effects throughout the World, New York, American Medical Press, 1859, p. 492-93, 19-20, 629.

16 In his article on “Gaslight Foster,” George Rogers Taylor notes the Fourierist idealism expressed in Foster’s introduction to The Poetic World of Percy B. Shelley (which was published in 1845). In the preface to his edition of Shelley’s poetry, Foster argues that the poet’s civilizing role leads the way toward the perfection of utopian socialism (p. 297-312).

17 On the continuing prevalence of this practice into the twentieth century, see Elizabeth A. Clement, Love for Sale: Courting, Treating, and Prostitution in New York City, 1900-1945, Durham, University of North Carolina P, 2006.

18 See George R. Taylor, “Gaslight Foster,” p. 310-311. Foster died in Philadelphia in 1856.

19 See George R. Taylor, “Gaslight Foster,” p. 311.

20 Julie de Marguerittes, The Ins and Outs of Paris; Or, Paris by Day and Night, Philadelphia, W.W. Smith, 1855, p. 190.

21 De Marguerittes, The Ins and Outs of Paris, p. 192.

22 On the theme of courtesans’ power to manipulate and blur the exterior signs of social class, see Peter Brooks, “The Mark of the Beast,” quoted above; T. J. Clarke, “Olympia’s Choice,” The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers, rev. ed., Princeton, Princeton UP, 1999, p. 79-146; and Charles Bernheimer, Figures of Ill Repute, Representing Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century France, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press, 1989.

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Laure Katsaros, « Greenhorns and She-Devils – George Foster on Prostitution in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York », American Mysterymania, sous la direction de Catherine Nesci, avec la collaboration de Devin Fromm Médias 19 [En ligne], Mise à jour le : , URL: