The Mistress by George C. Foster

The members of the world’s oldest profession have been portrayed in many ways through fictional literature over the centuries, including the temptress, the fallen woman, the hooker with a heart of gold and the tragic victim.

The Greeks, the Romans, the Elizabethans and the Victorians were particularly fascinated by prostitutes although modern novelists keep returning to prostitution themes again and again. Our selection has tried to steer clear of erotica (although John Cleland’s Fanny Hill can be considered an early example of pornography in English prose) and the countless pulp paperbacks from the 1950s and 1960s that feature hookers. This list includes the likes of Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Jack Kerouac, Mario Llosa Vargas, William T. Vollmann and Paulo Coelho.

Working girls often appear as supporting characters – such as Lorena Wood in Lonesome Dove,  Bianca in Othello, Sandy and Candy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind - but many writers have used a prostitute as their central character and attempted to provide an insight into sex and life on the Game.

Courtesans, streetwalkers, call-girls, escorts, hookers, madams, fallen women, scarlet women and ladies of the night – call them what you will, but prostitutes are continue to be a reoccurring theme in literature.

25 Prostitute-Themed Novels

The Bitter Orange Tree by Istrati Panait

The Bitter Orange Tree
Istrati Panait

A hard-to-find novel from 1931, this love triangle features two men and a prostitute.

Fanny Hill by John Cleland

Fanny Hill
John Cleland

This infamous novel about an 18th century prostitute is also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

Man and Wife by Beth Brown

Man and Wife
Beth Brown

A risqué thriller (the mob, detectives etc) from 1933 later reprinted as The Profession of Marie Simon.

Last Nights of Paris by Philippe Soupault

Last Nights of Paris
Philippe Soupault

Published in English 1929, a prostitute struggles to save Paris. Soupault was an early surrealist.

Nana by Emile Zola

Nana
Emile Zola

From 1880, Nana goes from street girl to high-class hooker. Things go badly for the men who pursue her.

To Beg I Am Ashamed by Sheila Cousins

To Beg I Am Ashamed
Sheila Cousins

Supposed co-written by Graham Greene, this is a fictitious ‘autobiography’ of a London prostitute.

The Mistress by George C. Foster

The Mistress
George C. Foster

This Jazz Age novel from 1930 illustrates how thoughts on sexuality were changing.

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.

Last Exit to Brooklyn
Hubert Selby Jr

This controversial novel from 1964 features two prostitutes - Georgette, a transvestite, and Tralala.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist
Charles Dickens

Nancy, Sikes' girlfriend, is a key character in his unromantic portrayal of Victorian crime and poverty.

Tristessa by Jack Kerouac

Tristessa
Jack Kerouac

A novella from 1960, set in Mexico, about a drug addicted impoverished prostitute.

My Little Sister by Elizabeth Robins

My Little Sister
Elizabeth Robins

Published in 1913, this scarce novel addresses prostitution and white slavery in London.

Gracia - a Social Tragedy by Frank Everett Plummer

Gracia - a Social Tragedy
Frank Everett Plummer

Published in 1900 by radical publisher Charles H. Kerr, this is a tale of fallen women, told entirely in verse.

Boule de suif by Guy de Maupassant

Boule de suif
Guy de Maupassant

The inspiration for John Ford’s Stagecoach movie - prostitute Boule de Suif and others flee to Le Havre.

Yama: The Pit A Novel in Three Parts by Alexandre Kuprin

Yama: The Pit A Novel in Three Parts
Alexandre Kuprin

A Russian novel translated into English in 1929 – a powerful epic about prostitution in Russia.

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

In the Company of the Courtesan
Sarah Dunant

Set in 1527, a famed courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini takes her business from Rome to Venice.

The Blue Note Book by James A. Levine

The Blue Note Book
James A. Levine

Levine’s debut novel from 2000, an Indian girl is sold into the sex trade at the age of nine.

The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Green House
Mario Vargas Llosa

The Peruvian author’s second novel, translated in 1968, about a brothel on the edge of town.

Whores for Gloria by William T. Vollmann

Whores for Gloria
William T. Vollmann

Published in 1991, a Vietnam vet searches for a beautiful street prostitute who may or may not exist.

Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

Eleven Minutes
Paulo Coelho

A young Brazilian girl travels to Switzerland and joins a brothel, and then meets a painter.

My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time by Liz Jensen

My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time
Liz Jensen

A time-travelling whore? A 19th century Copenhagen prostitute goes to 21st century London.

Hundred Dollar Baby by Robert B. Parker

Hundred Dollar Baby
Robert B. Parker

A Spenser mystery from 2006 - the Boston private eye is asked to help a call-girl.

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman

The Dress Lodger
Sheri Holman

A novel set in 1831 Sunderland in a cholera epidemic - Gustine turns to the Game in desperation.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

The Crimson Petal and the White
Michel Faber

Sugar is a 19-year-old working in a brothel, who yearns for a better life in Victorian London.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin
Colum McCann

McCann’s novel from 2009 features the trial of a New York City prostitute.

Streetwalker by Anonymous (Jonathan Gash)

Streetwalker
Anonymous (Jonathan Gash)

Supposed be a memoir from a London prostitute but it is really Gash’s debut novel. Gash was a doctor.

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