The Eastern Whore Romance

I’ve recently read four books which fit into what appears to be a new sub-genre of novel, one which I would call the “eastern whore romance”.

All of these books have been published in the last few years and, when I was in the book shop the other day, I noticed that there are many more.

The books that I have read are:

  • The Painter from Shanghai (2008) by Jennifer Cody Epstein
  • The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel (2008) by Maureen Lindley
  • The Last Concubine (2009) by Lesley Downer
  • The Courtesan and the Samurai (2010) by Lesley Downer

last concubineThey are all, to some extent, romances. While “The Last Concubine” and the “The Courtesan and the Samurai” are each in their own way perfectly enjoyable, they are quite simple love stories which would, I believe, appeal mainly to a female audience. Not quite in the same vein, but set in a similar place and time, is “The Russian Concubine” (2007) by Kate Furnivall.

“The Painter from Shanghai” and “The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel” are both based on true stories and are both very good indeed, well worth reading regardless of your gender. Each is a sensitive and insightful look into how women managed to break through the shackles of a system in which they were regarded as chattels and generally had few options. “The Painter from Shanghai” is a particularly moving book which also gives one a wonderful insight into the politics and mores of China in the early 1900s.

But what I really want to talk about here is what all these books have in common. Primarily, they deal with prostitutes, but specifically Asian prostitutes, who in some way or the other make good. I’ve been racking my brains to think of a book which follows the same basic premise as these books, but uses a white, western prostitute as the main protagonist, but can’t come up with one.

In love stories set in the west, shop girls are allowed to make good, governesses and waitresses and typists and (famously) nurses are allowed to make good, but not prostitutes. It is generally given that our underdog heroine is virtuous, although she might be allowed a lapse or two, but, while we may read about the “whore with a heart of gold”, prostitutes in most stories are not allowed to escape their place in life. In these stories, however, the women find men who help them out of their fetters and allow them to actualise in some meaningful way. They are allowed love and allowed to become more.

So, it would seem that, unless I’ve missed out on a whole other sub-genre (and I can’t claim to be widely read in the romance field), the prostitute as heroine is a new departure in love stories.

But why Asian prostitutes rather than Caucasian ones? Is it possible that Asian prostitutes are more glamorous to us than western ones and that it is therefore more acceptable to us that they be allowed to escape? Do we think that to be an Asian whore is more understandable than to be a Caucasian one? Are we more able to accommodate the concept of “concubine” than that of  “whore”? Have we been trained to feel that the “whore”, having lost her virtue, does not deserve to find love and freedom?

Another similarity between the books mentioned here is that they are set some time in the past. This again might make it more acceptable to us, removing it from the current framework in which we live. Potentially, a modern Asian prostitute would no longer be a “concubine”, but would simply be a “whore”.

Twenty years ago, the film “Pretty Woman”, which was a huge financial, as well as critical, success, implied that the American prostitute heroine might make good, but maybe it was acceptable because it was a comedy and because the prostitute was Julia Roberts!

Whatever the reasons, the recent surge in books with the particular conceit of “concubine makes good” would seem to indicate that we are titillated by the idea and it will be interesting to see if it spills over to the ordinary “whore”.


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Jane

Jane

An avid reader and publisher, Jane owns Boutique Books. “Always wanted to see yourself in print? Many of us would like to see what we have written in print. It may be our memoirs, our stories, our poems or our family history. Maybe it’s a children’s book with our own illustrations or a collection of our favourite recipes with anecdotes related to the times these meals were eaten…” Boutique Books offers a range of services, any combination of which can help you to get your book into print.”

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