James Boswell

“As I was coming home this night, I felt carnal inclinations raging though my frame. I determined to gratify them, I went to St. James’s Park, and like Sir John Brute, picked up a whore. For the first time did I engage in armor, which I found but a dull satisfaction. She who submitted to my lusty embraces was a young Shropshire girl, only seventeen, very well-looked, her name Elizabeth Parker. Poor being, she has a sad time of it!”

Friday 25 March. from James Boswell’s London Journal

Considering this account was the behavior of a gentleman, a modern reading of his promiscuous behavior in a public space feels problematic. The definition I have of a gentleman in this century is a man of working class or higher who is successful in his career, displays upheld morals and manners and can navigate a variety of social situations with ease. Roughly 200 years ago, though, the definitive gentleman would not be held to the same moral behavior as 21st century people. Hiring a prostitute, as depicted in this excerpt, would be normal behavior of men in the upper class since they can afford to spend the time and money, literally for pleasure.
I think what stood out to me as most strange was that this seemingly private affair occurs in a public space. There is no shame in his tone nor any attempt at skirting around the subject of prostitution. It is seen as a given that these women, these equally created human beings, exist to entertain his “carnal” desires and can be used in the plain view of others. His description of his basic desires as carnal, his treatment of Elizabeth as a means to an end, and her submission makes the encounter feel rather dehumanized when Boswell is supposed to be a higher member in society as a gentleman. His quick surrender to his own bodily desires partially subverts his elevated social status and proves he fundamentally is no better or enlightened than his sexual partner. Affairs in this London seems wholly paradoxical yet oddly still true.


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