Today, William Sutton has kindly written a post surrounding the Deadly Sin of Lust, as part of his Seven Deadly Sins Blog Tour. This ties in very nicely with his latest novel,Lawless and The Flowers of Sin, which is published by Titan Books and is on sale now. .
‘LUST’ by William Sutton
When I first came to London, I was taken aback by Soho’s red light district; I was amazed they’d let it grow so extensively.
Now that I’ve spent two years researching and writing about Victorian prostitution, I’m amazed they’ve pinned it back so far. It doesn’t take long reading Victorian erotica, or the Dictionary of Victorian London, to discover that every train station had its own red light district: Waterloo’s was huge; King’s Cross’s reputation lingered into the 1990s. St John’s Wood was notorious for brothels, Kensington was known for high-class courtesans. The East End had the Radcliffe Highway. Victoria was surrounded by night houses, where the doors stayed ajar and you might rent rooms by the hour.
When I first came to London I was only sixteen…
I went down to the Dilly to check out the scene,
But I soon ended up upon the Old Main Drag.
The Old Main Drag (by The Pogues) tells a woeful tale of the wonderful terror that is London’s West End. Still today, it’s not too hard to see what people are driven too by poverty, inequality, despair or recklessness.
Back in the era of my novel, the mid-Victorian swinging 1860s, these inequalities were magnified. Consider the reasons for prostitution put forward by Henry Mayhew, the liberal-minded author of London Labour and the London Poor who interviewed countless numbers of the poor and the voiceless.
Causes to account for lax morality of female operatives:
1. Low wages inadequate to sustenance.
2. Natural levity and the example around them.
3. Love of dress and display, coupled with the desire for a sweetheart.
4. Sedentary employment, and want of proper exercise.
5. Low and cheap literature of an immoral tendency.
6. Absence of parental care and the inculcation of proper precepts.
In short, bad bringing up.
Even Mayhew cannot hold back from moral judgement. He notes poverty and low wages as a motivation; but he cannot resist blaming the women for levity, ostentation, sloth and bad upbringing. This is the same moral judgement that we read into Dickens’ David Copperfield, with Little Emily shamed; the same in the many foundations dedicated to rescuing fallen women.
Yet my researches turned up a more complex tale. Some women are driven to prostitution. Some are manipulated, coerced or trafficked. These reflect shamefully on society.
But even today, this more complex tale is hotly debated. Most agree that criminalising prostitution is crazy. But there remains disagreement. If sex workers choose their work, justifiably and knowingly, they may be protected, regulated and valued. Or is that kidding ourselves? Are all prostitutes are forced into it, whether they realise or not?
The epic erotic memoir, Walter’s My Secret Life, casts a long shadow over my novel. This real life sex addict tells of his encounters with women high and low, willing and unwilling, for payment and for pleasure (and, frequently, both). It is hard to read of the insouciant Yellow-Haired Kitty, who insists she is not yet a prostitute butmerely sleeping with men for “pies and pastries”, without rethinking our understanding of sex work.
For those who like their Victorian detective fiction with a hefty dose of realism, this is the book for you. It’s worth the read for Skittles alone (she’s my favorite character out of the bunch). (Goodreads)
She was an empowered woman, no doubt. She used her charms to rise to wealth and a respected position in society. She was celebrated in her day by rich and poor, in fiction and non-fiction.
Whether we should accept a society in which that was her chosen best option in life is a different matter. The recent memoirist Belle de Jour raises the same questions, and more, in her fiction and non-fiction, and I’ll be going to see Brooke Magnanti speak at Bloody Scotland crime-writing festival to try and gain insight. Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but after all my researches, I still can’t fathom the rights and wrongs.
See also Undressed, the Victoria & Albert Museum’s invitation to peek at undergarments.
LAWLESS AND THE FLOWERS OF SIN
Release Date: 12th July 2016
Published by: Titan Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
It is 1863, and as a reluctant Inspector of Vice, Campbell Lawless undertakes a reckoning of London’s houses of ill repute, a shadowy netherworld of frayed glamour and double standards, mesmerising and unspeakable by turns.
From the erotic booksellers of Holywell Street to the alleys of Haymarket, he discovers backstreet cast-offs and casualties of the society bordellos, and becomes fascinated by a musician who has established a foundation for fallen women.
But his inquiries draw the attention of powerful men, who can be merciless in defending their reputations. Lawless must unlock the heart of a clandestine network, before he too is silenced..
He learned blues harmonica from his Latin teacher, drove to California in a VW beetle and studied classics at Oxford. Besides writing radio plays and short stories, he has acted in the longest play in the world, tutored the Sugababes and played cricket for Brazil.
After living in Brazil and Italy, teaching English and singing in ice cream shops, he has returned to the UK where he teaches Latin and plays accordion.
The Worms of Euston Square is a literary mystery set beneath the smoggy cobblestones of Victorian London. The Scotsman newspaper said: William Sutton’s first novel is a fine, extravagant and thoroughly enjoyable example of Victorian Crime fiction. It somewhat resembles Boris Akunin’s Fandòrin international bestsellers, and there is no good reason why Sutton’s Worms of Euston Square shouldn’t also do very well.
One of the joys of the novel is the language employed by Worm and his friends, part authentic Victorian slang, part thieves’ cant, and part – I rather think – invented … The action moves with dizzying speed from the highest quarters in the land to the vilest slums and low dives of the teeming city. … A tale of this sort requires fine villains, and Sutton obliges us with a couple … This is a world enveloped in smoke and fog. The fun is fast and furious.
We are told that William Sutton is now at work on another Campbell Lawless mystery. If he can maintain this standard of invention, this mastery of linguistic tone, he is on to a winner. (Allan Massie, The Scotsman)