In The Mysteries of London G. W. M. Reynolds several times introduces prostitution, explaining how girls and women were obtained, trained, and retained by procurers. For example, Chapter 196, “The Old Hag and the Resurrection Man,” whose title names two out of three of the novel’s main villains, explains how the old woman exploits young girls for prostitution and blackmail. “In order to increase her resources, and occupy, as she said, ‘her leisure time,’ she had hired or bought some half-dozen young girls, about ten or twelve years old,” after which these “children of tender age were duly initiated by the old hag in all the arts and pursuits of prostitution” she sent them in pairs to streets known to men as places where prostitutes could be found — Aldersgate Street, Fleet Street, and Cheapside. The hideous old woman instructed her charges to attract “elderly men, whose tastes might be deemed more vitiated and eccentric than those of the younger loungers of the great thoroughfares where prostitution most thrives.”
Not satisfied with the earnings of these child prostitutes, the old woman uses them for blackmail:
A favourite scheme of the old woman's was this:—One of her juvenile emissaries succeeded, we will suppose, in alluring to the den in Golden Lane an elderly man whose outward respectability denoted a well-filled purse, and ought to have been associated with better morals. When the wickedness was consummated, and the elderly gentleman was about to depart, the old hag would meet him and the young girl on the stairs, and, affecting to treat the latter as a stranger who had merely used her house as a common place of such resort, would seem stupefied at the idea "of so youthful a creature having been brought to her abode for such a purpose." She would then question the girl concerning her age; and the reply would be "under twelve" of course. Thus the elderly voluptuary would suddenly find himself liable to punishment for a misdemeanour, for intriguing with a girl beneath the age of twelve; and the virtuous indignation of the old hag would be vented in assertions that though she kept a house of accommodation for grown-up persons, she abhorred the encouragement of juvenile profligacy. The result would be that the hoary old sinner found himself compelled to pay a considerable sum as hush-money.
Why did the girls state they were younger than twelve years old? Why not fifteen or fourteen? In early Victorian Englandthe age of consent — that is, the youngest age at which a girl could legally consent to sexual relations — was . . . twelve!
- “The picture is, alas! too true” — Reynolds on the lives of young girls in London slums
- Prostitution in Victorian England
Reynolds, George W. M. The Mysteries of London. vol 1. Project Gutenberg EBook #47312 produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team from images available at Google Books. Web. 2 August 2016.
Last modified 25 October 2016