I have been meaning to read this book for the past twenty years. It was well worth the wait. Set in 1898 New Orleans, the local government has just made prostitution legal as long as it stays in the "District". This is the story of two women, one, Julia Ransome, a transplanted progressive Suffragette Yankee who married Charles, whom she has just found out, after twenty years of marriage, owns a few whore houses. Julia sees this as a breach of trust and demands that he sell them off. Charles has never given them much thought (as his tenants can attest) to these properties and never thought to tell Julia or that they should be gotten rid of. Julia and Charles have a very loving relationship and a son, Laurence, who is at college at MIT, and a young daughter, Angelique, who only listens to her eccentric and cruel grandmother, Carlotta.
The other is a young girl, fifteen-years-old, Kate who is lured down to New Orleans with the promise of a better life and stays at the Versailles Hotel at the edge of the District with a man who promises to marry her, but leaves her as soon as he gets what he wants from her. He does leave her some money to pay the hotel bill. The desk clerk, known as Billy Shakespeare, is a former actor who feels sorry for Kate and tells her about a job at a dressmakers making hats. After a short while doing this, the owner sends her to a brothel to deliver a hat and essentially sells her to its owner. However, Kate is pregnant. They give her things to get rid of the baby, but she doesn't take them. One of the other whores in the house, jealous of Kate, sneaks her out to go to Mollie Q's house to work. While not a virgin, Kate is as green as they come. Mollie treats her well and fair.
The District is filled with a cast of characters including Mollie, who drinks too much and is very religious and plans on retiring to a cottage in Ireland and donating money to the nuns in order to save her soul. There's also Billy Shakespeare, who hangs out at Mollie's and provides council on everything from money matters to fashion and etiquette. Lady Caroline is a drag queen who caters to a "specific" clientele. There's also Monkey, a black kid who runs errands for people and plays music like no one else. In this book, you can hear the music and taste the beignets and smell the honeysuckle.
One night, when Laurence comes home from school to enlist in the Rough Riders to fight in Cuba in the Spanish American War, his friends, intent on getting him to lose his virginity, something he was saving for marriage (he has his father's good looks, but his mother's ideals and temperament), take him to Mollie's where he meets Kate and instantly falls in love. What will the family and society say when they find out he plans on marrying her?
Julia finds herself on the outs with her husband, whom she knows visited a brothel (which he did, but only to talk to a male friend and nothing else). When Julia finds out about Kate, she takes her in to live in the house, even though it could ruin her reputation. The two go to stay in Boston with Julia's family for a while so Kate can have the baby and to treat Julia's parent's illnesses.
These two remarkable women take on the world in their own ways and survive the hardships and tragedies that come to them both. They are women ahead of their time blazing a trail for others to follow and show that women are capable of anything they put their mind to and nothing can stop them. You can't help but admire both women, even as they make tough choices, you as a reader, may not like. This was an incredible read and a fascinating look into the history of New Orleans during a wild and progressive time when the new century shows how much things can and will change.
If only his parents would make love, he thought (for making love now seemed the solution to most of the world’s ills), they wouldn’t be able to stay angry with each other.
--Lois Battle (Storyville p 224)
You know, I think people in tropical climates are intellectually sluggish because the blood doesn’t circulate to their brains.
--Lois Battle (Storyville p 244).
Suicide was a plan even the most helpless could carry out. Two bottles of sleeping syrup and a bottle of whiskey. Rocked to sleep in the bosom of the deep. It was a comforting thought, better than a pile of money because no one could take it away from you.
--Lois Battle (Storyville p 378)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Storyville-Lois-Battle/dp/0140267697/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473860448&sr=1-3&keywords=storyville