Wednesday, January 30, 2008
56. A History of Mistresses - Elizabeth Abbott

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up a copy of Elizabeth Abbott's A History of Mistresses but it was either this or a plethora of books on the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or numerous volumes about American politics. The choice was obvious. And a good choice it turned out to be.

Abbott takes the reader on an entertaining journey into the lives of some of history's most famous mistresses. She covers everything from lovers in the ancient world, royal mistresses, and mobster molls to eastern concubines, mistressdom as survival during times of war, and some of literature's famous "other women". Despite what you might think, Abbott's book is neither tawdry nor bawdy. It's a serious look at the reasons women become mistresses, whether by choice, circumstance, or coercion. As well, A History of Mistresses explores the reactions of contemporary society to each of the women discussed and how each of their lives changed, whether for better or more often for worse, as a result of their affairs.

Abbott breaks her book down into short sections based on a particular topic or time period (eg: Love Out of Wedlock in the Ancient World, Mistresses of Men Above the Law) and then seperates her discussions of each individual woman. I found this great as I could read a few pages about a particular woman, put the book down for a few days, and when I came back I didn't have to worry about needing to go back and reread a few pages to remind myself where I was. In contrast to A History of Mistresses, Abbott has also written A History of Celibacy which I'm now looking forward to reading.

Easy reading and highly enjoyable. Recommended.

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