A History of Mistresses

The mistress, or “kept woman,” “fancy woman,” “other woman” is a part of our human cultural history. But what is the true nature of the mistress-lover relationship? How do women experience mistressdom? And where does love figure in all of this? Elizabeth Abbott has the fascinating storehouse of answers in a deliciously rich blend of history, personality and cultural study and carries the reader along on a journey that is hugely informative and always entertaining.

Critical Acclaim for A History of Mistresses

“In a History of Mistresses, Abbott is careful not to oversimplify the matter by claiming that her mistresses had no choice but to sell themselves into the institution. Abbott, by putting a human face on each mistress, never portrays them as ineffectual victims of the patriarchy. [She] does this out of a genuine and profound respect for her historical mistresses.”

Toronto Star

“A History of Mistresses provides a wide historical and cultural sweep of the role and status of mistresses….”

Elle Magazine

“The many anecdotes that shape Elizabeth Abbott’s informative tome, A History of Mistresses. … probably [explain] why, as the saying goes, when a man marries his mistress, he creates a job vacancy.”


“A comprehensive history of the mistress … Abbott, also the author of A History of Celibacy, is on a useful mission here in treating women’s lives outside official history as a subject of study.”

Globe and Mail

“The book may garner controversy simply because Abbott, a feminist, refuses to be judgmental…”

University of Toronto Bulletin

“Abbott presents afascinating panoply of characters…. [her] extensive research is impressive….”

Edmonton Journal

“With A History of Mistresses, Elizabeth Abbott … may have written the ideal book for summer reading. Abbott’s thorough research covers sources from the Bible to the New Yorker as she traces tales of extramarital arrangements back to the ancient world. Her stories are delightfully written and gloriously rich in detail. The characters are stupid, greedy, ambitious and cruel. … this book has it all.”

McGill News

“Elizabeth Abbott reveals in her fascinating study, A History of Mistresses, … an arrangement with rich historical precedent. … Despite the steamy subject matter, Abbott … focuses attention not on the sexual or the ‘illicit’ nature of the relationship so much as on the women themselves….”Abbott for the most part avoids easy sterotypes, presenting each case as unique, laying out the trade-offs each woman made as she bartered sex and reputation for a different sort of security, sometimes wealth and, occasionally, great power.”

Montreal Gazette

Leave a Reply