A woman in the Gilded Age—respectable or unrespectable—had to know how to land a man. He was her life support unless she were an heiress since women had no financial rights or viable means of earning a living wage. The experts in the business were “ladies of the evening,” the professionals who specialized in the arcana of seduction. The upper crust, the virtuosos, became wealthy, and earned a modicum of independence, but the competition was fierce. You had to know some very sophisticated ropes, as the young Miriam Follin learned, to get there. Fortunately, the greatest courtesan of the nineteenth century came to her aid—the mankilling sensation, Lola Montez.
In 1856 Lola adopted Miriam as her “sister” and gave her a crash tutorial on the art of seduction—the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime. She taught her the “secrets of a ladies’ toilet”—sophisticated makeup and the value of elegant dress and accessories. Next came “graceful and fascinating deportment.” But the most important lessons in erotic empowerment were psychological: captivating conversation, “sympathy,” animation and a flirtatious interplay of delight and difficulty, and the craft of fascination.
When Mrs. Leslie was at the height of her powers, a veteran of brilliant love affairs, enamored suitors, and duels for her favors, she advised Gilded age women. “Hold yourself back and your lover will pursue; remain queen of your position and he will make you queen of his.” She itemized the Art of Love in an essay. Besides work, love was one of Miriam’s specialties—a survival skill in a patriarchal world pitted against her and other women. She had Lola Montez to thank for it—and her own lovesmarts and inborn charisma.
Learn more about Miriam’s life and New York City in the Gilded Age in Diamonds and Deadlines: A Tale of Greed, Deceit, and a Female Tycoon in the Gilded Age
Available March 29, 2022
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