Else Jerusalem’s 1909 novel about the reality of prostitution in Vienna at the turn of the nineteenth century created a scandal. It sold out of multiple print runs and a total of nine editions were put out in the space of just a few years. Of course the book was not something anyone in polite Viennese society could have in their possession.
Jerusalem’s prose is hard hitting. Through fiction she revealed a world in which 1 out of 5 children in Vienna at that time had no official status — ie, they had no recognized father, and were therefore considered a non-person by the Austro-Hungarian empire. They had no access to healthcare or whatever other social services that “normal” children had. Many of the 1-in-5 had been born in a brothel. It was Jerusalem’s intent to expose this grim reality and gross inequity with the goal of galvanizing efforts to take better care of the orphans of prostitution.
Stephanie Ortega’s new translation will make this powerful book by an extraordinary Viennese feminist widely available to English readers for the first time in decades.