This entertaining novel’s full title, which claims that it will show “All the Artifices and Strategems which the Ladies of Pleasure make use of for the Intreaguing and Decoying of Men,” suggests that it is a cautionary tale. And in fact, The London Jilt is presented as the memoir of a courtesan by an anonymous editor who justifies its publication as a warning to young men. Yet the narrative is remarkable for its time in allowing the “jilt” to speak for herself, and she tells the much more sympathetic story of a woman who turns to prostitution only after her father is cheated out of his estate and she is thrust into the world without resources. Her struggles are as much economic as they are sexual, and include encounters with a wide variety of amorous but unsatisfactory men.
This Broadview edition provides a critical introduction, commentary, explanatory notes, and appendices that incorporate selections from related contemporary works, including Spanish picaresque novels in which the narrator is a woman.
“Somewhere between Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and Defoe’s Moll Flanders comes The London Jilt—a lively, first-person voice who tells of her sexual adventures and economic trickeries in the city she seems to embody. This rare anonymous novel, previously known only to specialists in low-libertine literature, now appears in Charles Hinnant’s masterly edition, with a brilliant selection of comparable picaresque episodes from Don Quixote onwards. The sympathetic and learned introduction brings out the inventiveness of this rude, resourceful narrator as she negotiates the murky space between respectable marriage and abject whoredom.” — James Grantham Turner, University of California Berkeley