Belle Brezing made a major career move when she stepped off the streets of Lexington, Kentucky, and into Jennie Hill's bawdy house -- an upscale brothel run out of a former residence of Mary Todd Lincoln. At nineteen, Brezing was already infamous as a youth steeped in death, sex, drugs, and scandal.Read more...
Belle Brezing made a major career move when she stepped off the streets of Lexington, Kentucky, and into Jennie Hill's bawdy house -- an upscale brothel run out of a former residence of Mary Todd Lincoln. At nineteen, Brezing was already infamous as a youth steeped in death, sex, drugs, and scandal. But it was in Miss Hill's "respectable" establishment that she began to acquire the skills, manners, and business contacts that allowed her to ascend to power and influence as an internationally known madam.
In this revealing book, Maryjean Wall offers a tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South, as told through the life and times of the notorious Miss Belle. After years on the streets and working for Hill, Belle Brezing borrowed enough money to set up her own establishment -- her wealth and fame growing alongside the booming popularity of horse racing. Soon, her houses were known internationally, and powerful patrons from the industrial cities of the Northeast courted her in the lavish parlors of her gilt-and-mirror mansion.
Secrecy was a moral code in the sequestered demimonde of prostitution in Victorian America, so little has been written about the Southern madam credited with inspiring the character Belle Watling in Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. Following Brezing from her birth amid the ruins of the Civil War to the height of her scarlet fame and beyond, Wall uses her story to explore a wider world of sex, business, politics, and power. The result is a scintillating tale that is as enthralling as any fiction.
- ISBN-13: 9780813147062
- ISBN-10: 0813147069
- Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
- Publish Date: September 2014
- Page Count: 190
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
Series: Topics in Kentucky History
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-08-11
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)