BOOK 1: Spectacular Wickedness
From 1897 to 1917 the red-light district of Storyville commercialized and even thrived on New Orleans's 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.
BOOK 2: The Great Southern Babylon
With a well-earned reputation for tolerance of both prostitution and miscegenation, New Orleans became known as the Great Southern Babylon in antebellum times. Following the Civil War, a profound alteration in social and economic conditions gradually reshaped the city's sexual culture and erotic commerce. Historian Alecia P. Long traces sex in the Crescent City over fifty years, drawing from Louisiana Supreme Court case testimony to relate intriguing tales of people both obscure and famous whose relationships and actions exemplify the era.
BOOK 3: Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women
When a priest suggested to one of the first governors of Louisiana that he banish all disreputable women to raise the colony's moral tone, the governor responded, "If I send away all the loose females, there will be no women left here at all." Primitive, mosquito infested, and disease ridden, early French colonial New Orleans offered few attractions to entice respectable women as residents. King Louis XIV of France solved the population problem in 1721 by emptying Paris's La Salpêtrière prison of many of its most notorious prostitutes and convicts and sending them to Louisiana. Many of these women continued to ply their trade in New Orleans.
Storyville's founding was envisioned as a reform measure, an effort by the city's business elite to curb and contain prostitution -- namely, to segregate it. In 1890, the Louisiana legislature passed the Separate Car Act, which, when challenged by New Orleans's Creoles of color, led to the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, constitutionally sanctioning the enactment of "separate but equal" laws. The concurrent partitioning of both prostitutes and blacks worked only to reinforce Storyville's libidinous license and turned sex across the color line into a more lucrative commodity.
By looking at prostitution through the lens of patriarchy and demonstrating how gendered racial ideologies proved crucial to the remaking of southern society in the aftermath of the Civil War, 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.