Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel

Maryjean Wall. Univ. of Kentucky, $24.95 (218p) ISBN 978-0-8131-4706-2
Horse racing enthusiasts and Bluegrass State history buffs are the target audience for historian Wall’s (How Kentucky Became Southern) latest foray into the seamier side of late-19th-century Kentucky. Taking the local madam Belle Brezing as her focal point, Wall explores changing concepts of morality in Lexington by concentrating on the intersection of vice and legitimate businesses, particularly in horse racing. This “ordinary woman” approach can yield fascinating historical insights, but here the emphasis on local history negates the story’s potential for a wider appeal as does the fact that little is actually known about Belle. No diaries, letters, or interviews survive, leaving Wall with such a dearth of biographical material that the main character is a mere shadow. A pretty woman with a head for business, Belle took up prostitution at age 19 and opened her own establishment two years later in 1881, quickly becoming the most successful brothel operator in the city. Wall suggests that Belle’s life intersected with broader historical trends and issues, such as anti-prostitution campaigns and temperance, but fails to follow through, leaving Belle stuck in Lexington’s past. Wall’s book works as a narrow slice of local history, but those looking for the big picture will be disappointed. Illus. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/11/2014
Release date: 10/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 232 pages - 978-0-8131-4708-6
Open Ebook - 232 pages - 978-0-8131-4707-9
Paperback - 232 pages - 978-0-8131-6844-9
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