Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute

alice

The other night, during a Friday night dinner party, we got in a spirited debate regarding the lack of female narratives in high school literature. Thus, we, as women, are generally more capable for relating to male narratives then the other way around. Men just simple are not exposed in the same way to the varied life experiences of women.

I even realized that I am far more likely to mention a male character when discussing literary protagonists, partially because they are more recognizable to anyone I’m speaking with, but also there are more to choose from.

Which is why this book is particularly fascinating. Originally published by the San Francisco Bulletin in 1913 as a serial, it has now been compiled into a full memoir. Alice is the ghost written memoir of a young Midwestern girl, who moves out to the city to find work and support her family back home.

On the face of it, the book doesn’t seem at all relatable, but the interpersonal relationships and the personal struggles are just as relevant today as they were then. Sexual harassment at work, societal expectations of women in terms of marriage and childbirth, the stigma and law around abortion, the impact of poverty, the cycles of victimization – ALL THE SAME.

Despite touting progress, our society has a whole is operating on a framework that is still fundamentally oppressive. Alice’s character demonstrates both the complicated and fragile human nature we all possess as well as an objectively brutal and honest perspective at how we survive. Forgoing judgment, anger, and happy endings, this books illuminates an underbelly still shadily thriving.

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