Beyond Brutal Passions

Prostitution in Early Nineteenth-Century Montreal

Reviewed by Karine Duhamel

September 15, 2016

In Beyond Brutal Passions, historian Mary Anne Poutanen traces the largely ignored lives of women in the sex trade in nineteenth-century Montreal. As Poutanen illustrates, these women were much more than the sum of their work. They were daughters, mothers, sisters, wives, members of the community — women who displayed an uncommon courage in doing what it took to survive in a time when women’s opportunities were, at best, limited.

From the 1830 street shooting at Madam Sarah Noxon’s brothel — inspired by sex worker Rosalie Beaulieu’s attempt to protect her client base — to the arrival of poor young Irish immigrants with few other options for earning a living in a strange land, Poutanen’s story of the trade involves the lives of sex workers beyond their work.

Her study is about not only the workers but also the relationships between prostitutes, clients, and their communities. And it examines the perception of prostitutes as victims of “brutal passion,” as reflected in the book’s title.

Poutanen’s careful attention to the dynamics of class, gender, and ethnicity is oriented towards a scholarly audience, but the subject matter is sure to appeal to many readers.

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