Analyzing a range of nineteenth-century texts, this article argues that the spatially fixed and commodified literary prostitute is a curious—and ultimately inaccurate—analogue to the flâneur. Immortalized by Charles Baudelaire, the flâneur is European, male, and financially secure. A part of and apart from the crowd, he is anonymous and autonomous, independent even within his crowded metropolis. While twentieth-century discussions of female flânerie frequently posit the prostitute as an example of a female flâneur, this article complicates the assumption that female flânerie could exist in nineteenth-century America. Restrictions on the literary prostitute’s mobility undermine her potential for flânerie, and in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” Arthur Mervyn, and City Crimes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Brockden Brown, and George Thompson present prostitutes fettered by their gender and profession. Associated with lax morals, physical contamination, and superfluous consumption, these women remain sequestered in the home, unable to traverse their cities independently or freely.
flâneur; prostitution; sexuality; gender; disease; commodification; 19th-century American city; “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”; Arthur Mervyn; City Crimes; Hawthorne; Brockden Brown; George Thompson; Lydia Maria Child; Baudelaire; Poe