BOOK REVIEW: Sins of the Cities of the Plain by Jack Saul

Sins of the Cities of the PlainSins of the Cities of the Plain by Jack Saul
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Project Gutenberg page

 

This is a short work of Victorian erotica that describes the sexual adventures of a male prostitute of the variety then called a “Mary-Ann.” The “Mary-Ann” was an effeminate male who — to a large extent, but not exclusively — serviced male clients. The story is presented in an epistolary form. It opens with a chapter that’s written as if by a john of the pseudonymous author / main character. This opening sets up the rest of the work by explaining how this john, a Mr. Cambon, came to use Jack Saul’s services, and – furthermore – how he then became involved in the publication of this story.

After the details of Mr. Cambon’s interaction with Jack Saul is presented, the book proceeds as if a diary conveying the saucy bits of Saul’s sex life (both professional and personal.) While Saul explains that he prefers engaging older male clients, the book presents a mix of homosexual and heterosexual activities (both in his work and in his personal relationships.)

There is some ancillary matter in the book. After Saul concludes [what is presented as] his personal story, he offers some second-hand accounts of individuals in the same line of work. Here one learns about the worst elements of these sex workers in the form of “George,” an anti-Semitic mary-ann who engages in blackmail and other heavy-handed and sociopathic tactics that – as far as we know – Jack Saul doesn’t engage in. [Although, under the direction of a client, Saul does take part in some unsavory practices.]

There are also a couple of essays at the end, one on sodomy and another on tribadism. If you’re like I was, you have no idea what tribadism is. That brings up a point worth mentioning. If you decided to read this work, you may want to have a good dictionary near at hand. The slang and terminology of the sexual domain have not aged well, and you may find yourself needing to look up many words. (Though, admittedly, context often gives one a strong clue.)

If you’ve gotten this far, it should be clear that there is a great deal of explicit sexual content in this book. While readers of some modern-day erotica might not find it particularly racy, it’s graphic in its descriptions and does involve a wide range of practices.

This book shines a light on a domain of Victorian society that one will not learn about from Dickens or Austen. Like most pornography, it’s not particularly well-developed or artistically grand, but it’s intriguing in its own way.

View all my reviews

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