Sex and Sin in New York City

Sex and Sin in New York City

Duff, Paul James. Siren's Wiles: A Realistic Reflex of Life in Gayest New York. [Chicago: s.n.], 1899.  176 p.; 19 cm.  Pages browned, water staining to last pages and rear cover, which has suffered abrasion and loss along the left margin.  Still a tightly bound copy in illustrated salmon wraps featuring a siren in deshabille.      

     A melodramatic tale of sex and sin in the underworld of New York City at the turn of the century.  The novel features an irredeemable cast of characters, including pimps, prostitutes, con artists, fake faith healers, blackmailing detectives, performers in risqué vanities, and other specimens of human depravity, who spend their time ogling the “red-hots and hottentots” at Coney Island, drinking hallucinatory cocktails in night clubs, brawling over five-cent crap games in the Tenderloin, chasing dragons at joss houses in Chinatown, and waking up bewildered after the “pandean orgies” of the previous night. Occasionally, they break into song:

Barney backs the winner, we're on a booze today,

     We had a goose for dinner and whiskey for our tea,

We lined our coats with five pound notes

     And drank our noses blue,

For, when Barney backs the winner, boys,

     We don’t care what we do.

     As our Virgil guides the respectable reader through the dark allies and forbidden corners of the urban landscape, he does not lose sight of the fact that the privileged classes are no better than the denizens of the street. “Those aristocratic men, resplendent in fashionable wardrobe and costly diamonds, are but the parasites and puking pimps of the unfortunate drabs who must pay them over the wages of their sins.”

     Paul James Duff was evidently a newspaperman – journalists and editors populate his tales. He was obviously also a man of cultural attainment.  Clearly, he felt most at home in Chicago, the setting for most of his tales. Even in A Siren’s Wiles there is occasional reference to the Windy City, though the terms generally are unflattering. “Does your effete [New York] society countenance this social evil?” gasps one character in dismay. “Then you must be on the on the same moral plane … as Chicago.”

     Duff’s other works include Adam and Eve: A Realistic Romance (1892), Woman's Duplicity: A Story of High Life in Chicago (1892), Scarlet Sin: An Entrancing Story of Man's Inherited Passion (1893), Innocent Evils (1894), Tessie’s Temptation: A Realistic Story of Woman’s Love and Man’s Weakness (1895); Crimson Love: A Realistic Romance of Guilty Passion (1895); Rosa’s Confession: A Realistic Romance of Love and Adventure (1897); Side Lights on Darkest Chicago (1899), and What Dora Did: A Study in Smiles, Being a Realistic Novel (1903).

     A rare book. OCLC locates six copies.

Please note that due to adult themes, this volume is not for sale to minors.

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