Reading ‘Lost Girls, Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence’, by Nicholas Terpstra

Writers, historians, artists and photographers must, on occasion, dip their toes into forbidden waters.

In the past few months, I’ve been researching the nasty world of human trafficking, sex trafficking, grave robbing, organ harvesting, and forced adoptions of the not too distant past. From the stolen babies of Spain, Australia and Canada, to the recent revelations of the Tuam baby deaths, prevailing views on fallen women, sin, shame, appearances of family values, immorality and illegitimacy have had life-altering results throughout the centuries.

I’m now reading and researching the forbidden topic of young girls and sex with books like Nabokov’s Lolita, and The Enchanter, Hartog’s The Photographer’s Sweethearts, and, the following.

One such period of time when the economic and ‘mystical’ consequences of fallen women — more accurately, fallen girls – prompted the state to step in a provide protection is detailed in Nicholas Terpstra’s Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence, a real-life sexual murder mystery set in Renaissance Florence. Lost Girls explores the mysterious deaths of a large number of adolescent teenage girls at one Home run by a charitable organization with the intent of protecting them by keeping these girls’ virginity intact until they are married off. Most often, familial financial self-interests were the key factor in ensuring their daughters were intact. Virginal teenage girls (and especially boys in Renaissance Florence) were highly valued commodities bought, sold and bartered by both strangers and family alike. Virgins were allegedly instilled with magical healing qualities — particularly when it came to healing men’s STDs.

The mask of modernity due to the excess of global media coverage, global do-gooders, and the ease of transportation make sex trafficking, seem like only a modern-day problem, but Lost Girls presents us with yet another example that it’s a side of human nature that has been with us for centuries.

Source: Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence, Nicholas Terpstra, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2010

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