From 1897 to 1917 the red-light district of Storyville commercialized and even thrived on New Orleans' longstanding reputation for sin and sexual excess. This notorious neighborhood, located just outside of the French Quarter, hosted a diverse cast of characters who reflected the cultural milieu and complex social structure of turn-of-the-century New Orleans, a city infamous for both prostitution and interracial intimacy. In particular, Lulu White, a mixed-race prostitute and madam, created an image of herself and marketed it profitably to sell sex with light-skinned women to white men of means.
In Spectacular Wickedness, Emily Epstein Landau examines the social history of this famed district within the cultural context of developing racial, sexual, and gender ideologies and practices. In 1890, the Louisiana legislature passed the Separate Car Act, which, when challenged by New Orleans' Creoles of color, led to the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, constitutionally sanctioning the enactment of separate but equal laws. Landau reveals how Storyville's salacious and eccentric subculture played a significant role in the way New Orleans constructed itself during the New South era.
©2013 Louisiana State University Press (P)2015 Redwood Audiobooks
"Historians of race, gender, and sexuality will learn much from Landau's explanation of how vice precincts such as Storyville reinforced the patriarchal and racial logic of segregation, and challenged it in the most subversive (and intimate) of ways." (Journal of American History)
"Well-researched and informative, Spectacular Wickedness is a welcome addition to the ever-growing canon of New Orleans cultural history books." (New Orleans Advocate)
"Landau's scrupulously researched profile of Lulu White, in particular, is a model for historians interested in giving voice to women of color so often absent from the archival record." (Journal of Southern Religion)
There are no listener reviews for this title yet.
"A fascinating [academic] read"
First off, Spectacular Wickedness an academic work and it shows. For someone who enjoys non-fiction and has experience reading academic papers and such this is a great read, especially if you're already familiar with the turn of the century South. If you're just picking this up out of prurient interest and/or don't have any affinity for history, sociology, anthropology, etc, this is not going to be the book for you. This is not the book's fault; it does what it says on the tin.
Now that that's out of the way.
I really enjoyed this. I've never gotten to go to New Orleans, but I spent many months each summer in Mobile, another originally French-settled Gulf city, all the way through my teens. That influence is still there, even if not as pointed as in New Orleans, so it wasn't completely foreign to me going in.
I do feel that understanding race relations in the post-reconstruction South is essentially to fully grasping the reality of Storyville. Landau does touch on it, and to be fair the topic is several books worth of analysis on its own, but I feel given how much Storyville relied on sex tourism that expanding the historical concept would have helped.
The biggest issue I had with this book was that it was frequently repetitive. The fact that sex was for sale in Storyville and that Octoroons were a huge draw was explicitly stated at least three or four times a chapter. A more ruthless editor was definitely needed.
Where I felt the book really worked best was the chapter on Lulu White. After a plethora of exposition and analysis, Landau discusses the life of one particular madam, Lulu White. After a lot of general information this case study so-to-speak really crystallized that. It made me want to read more about the individuals in Storyville.
Another thing I liked was the bits of the story of jazz. Landau uses several quotes from jazz songs and performers to describe and contextualize Storyville and very unsubtly points out how our modern-day concept of the birthplace of jazz is incredibly shortsighted and sanitized.
The narration for Spectacular Wickedness was solidly decent. Howlett's pacing was reasonable, pronunciation was mostly okay though I'm sure a New Orleans native could find things to pick at, and her tone was balanced. Another reviewer mentioned this was like listening to a good professor and I'd have to agree. I'd happily listen to other works from her.
I received this audiobook for free in exchange for an unbiased review. All opinions are entirely my own.
"Good history of New Orleans 1800-1920"
I grew up on the Westbank and downloaded this hoping to find out a little more about the hometown.
Not only does the book cover Storyville, but it lays out much of the race relations and history of NOLA in the hundred years preceding it. Jazz is a side item in the book as it focuses more on prostitution and efforts to control it at the turn of the century.
"Interesting read-detailed history not overwhelming"
Spectacular Wickedness challenges the history you believe you know of the founding of the jazz era in Storyville district of New Orleans. Landau outlines how the ideals of masculinity held during slavery carried over into the turn of the century contributing to the extraordinary culture New Orleans is known for. These ideals combined with separate but equal laws and city officials desire to attract people to the city created a unique culture in Storyville. Racism and sexism runs rampant. These same elements resulted in the decline of the very culture they created 20 years later.
Storyville was known for its sex trade – specifically its trade of light skinned black women to wealthy white men. Lulu White was a well know madam in the midst of it all. Lulu was able to take advantages of this culture to become a successful entrepreneur in a time where there was little opportunity for black women. Landau paints the portrait of an interesting woman misinterpreted (or forgotten) by history.
Very interesting read. Detailed history but not overwhelming. The audiobook narrator was a perfect fit for this book.
I received this book in exchange for this unbiased review via the courtesy of AudioBookBlast dot com.
"Spectacular Wickedness is fascinating"
The only book I have ever encountered before about Storyville was The Girl From Storyville by Frank Yerby, published in 1972. As I listened to Spectacular Wickedness, I was struck by how accurate of a picture Yerby had portrayed in his novel. Emily Epstein Landau introduces us to the real Storyville.
New Orleans had a reputation for being a city of sin from it’s earliest days. Landau traces how this reputation was earned in each incarnation of the city. From the French, Creoles, and Americans, as New Orleans changed hands, it did not change its reputation. In 1897, the city passed a zoning code establishing a red light district in the hope of containing the vice to one area. The hope was if the vice was contained, visitors would see more of the honest hard working community and attract more business. This red light district became Storyville and for almost twenty years it was the wildest red light district in the country.
Landau explores the history of Storyville through primary source documentation from individuals from all points of the social and economic spectrum. The most important business in Storyville was sex. There were closet sized bordellos and very fancy upscale bordellos. The women who worked there were members of all races as were their customers. The major difference was while the sex workers may be of several different races within a bordello, the clientele would only be white or non-white. The rules concerning races were less stringent in Storyville then outside the red light district. That all changed with the advent of Jim Crow laws due to the Supreme Court ruling on Plessy vs. Ferguson which started in the New Orleans courts. Another area Landau explores is how Storyville was an incubator for Jazz. Many great jazz musicians began their careers playing at the bars, clubs or bordellos in Storyville. Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton are just two of these greats who worked there.
Lee Ann Howlett does a good job narrating Spectacular Wickedness. The subject matter is complex and dense at times. Her voice is pleasant and never goes to monotone. Her narration reminded me of a good college professor. It is similar to listening to a very good lecture.
Spectacular Wickedness is fascinating. Ms. Howlett does a fine job with it. The only reason I rated it as 4 stars for attention holding is because of the complexity of the information. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to look at a familiar topic through a new perspective.
Audiobook was provided for review the narrator.
Please find this complete review and many others at my review blog
[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]
This was a good read.Lee Ann Howlett narrates it nicely.This is the story of how Storyville came to be and how it was both legal and illegal.Its the story of racism in New Orleans and how it was normalized to suit the people who wanted to get around it.I was given this book free for an honest review.
"Native New Orleanian"
Since, I live in New Orleans, personally I feel reading it would be better. This is only because Lee Ann Howlett is not from here and does not know how to pronounce the street names. For me it was like nails on a chalkboard. For the person outside of New Orleans, you will never notice. Beware if you come visit and want to see some of these streets, you may be saying them wrong if you follow Lee Ann's pronunciation and will be corrected fast. Not in an mean way but in a city pride way. As the book explains, we were founded by the French, and we say things much differently.
New Orleans is always my favorite character in a historic book.
For any historical book about New Orleans, It would be a great idea to hire someone to read the book from this area. The street names are mispronounced in most books about New Orleans. For example: Conti does not rhyme with tea and have the emphasis on CON. The way the say it here rhymes with tie and the emphasis is on the second syllable.
"Buried in Minutiae"
No. I'm very interested in New Orleans/Louisiana history, culture, etc. I would even consider another book by this author. This book just wasn't for me.
It is thorough and very well researched.
The middle 70% of this book is essentially a data dump of the racial make up of New Orleans starting way before Storyville existed. The author makes the same points over and over. Much of the book is an indictment of white males, which is fine I suppose. But she just keeps hammering that point over and over. I wish there had been something in the title or description that explained how so much of the book was backstory compared to actually being about Storyville.
"The "wrong" side of town"
This is a fascinating, extremely disturbing sociological study, which has been written for a nonacademic audience. As with most books from University Press, the presentation is excellent in all ways.
This book openly discusses sexual matters, although it is not in the least salacious. What disturbed me most, I think, was confronting directly, by reading about it, the history of post Civil War white supremacy. Again, the author takes an objective and no holds barred look at this phenomenon, and, perhaps, it is that very objectivity which unsettled me so much.
But this is also a wonderful story about a time, place, and a thorough guided tour of one of the most famous “red light” districts in the country, and much of it was delightfully colorful and completely intriguing. Of course, I’ve always known about such districts, and, being raised in Baltimore (which had its own famous one), I had always been a bit curious. This book more than satisfied that passing curiosity.
The writing is accessible, vivid and readable, and the narration was professional and adequate to the needs of the book.
I received this book in exchange for this unbiased review via the courtesy of AudioBookBlast dot com.
The author spells out plainly in the beginning of the book that it is going to be very one sided. This detracts from my overall experience with the book because I wondered through much of the book what lens it was being presented through. Great historical documentation but too one sided of a view to appreciate as history.
"Why to much editorialising and not enough history"
The author spent way to much time making a connection between sex and racism. It's an absurd speculation.
Additionally the majority of the book is spent telling us how bad a person Lulu White was. A few paragraphs on Ms White's character would've be sufficient.
I expected this to be a record of the eras history. Instead it was the authors attempt to connect race with sex, gambling, drinking and music that describes the prior three.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.