History of Mistresses

Alpine Books


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She has been known as the "kept woman," the "fancy woman," and the "other woman." The French acknowledge her existence by remarking, "The chains of marriage are so heavy that it often takes three people to carry them." She is Jeanne Antoinette de Pompadour, and Simone de Beauvoir, not to mention Marilyn Monroe and Camilla Parker-Bowles. She is a mistress, and she has been – and is – very much apart of our human cultural history. But who is she, really? What is the true nature of the mistress-lover relationship? How do women experience mistressdom? And where does love figure in all of this?

Elizabeth Abbott, who made celibacy sexy in her acclaimed A History of Celibacy, has the fascinating storehouse of answers in a deliciously rich blend of history, personality and cultural study. In a lively and accessible style, History of Mistresses draws intimate portraits of mistresses throughout history, from Chinese concubines to Europe’s royal mistresses and the clandestine consorts of (un)celibate clerics. Mobster molls, trophy dolls and modern mistresses are deconstructed, with often surprising results. Beyond the personalities, some interesting themes emerge: the relationship between mistresses of colour and their married men; the coercion of Jewish women during the Holocaust; and a contemporary look at today’s "power" mistresses.

From lust to love, from money to power, Abbott’s A History of Mistresses ferrets out the motives and morals of these women, carrying the reader along on a journey that is hugely informative and always entertaining.