"Courtesan," which in a different age is probably what she [Anna Nicole Smith] would have been labeled (even though she was married), is a category we don't have much use for anymore. The woman who makes sexual alliances for money, who was less than a blushing bride but not so fallen as a prostitute, was once a vigorous cultural type, at least through the 19th century. Courtesans were the essential heroines of our greatest operas. They offered up their bodies, in various states of undress, to painters from Caravaggio to Toulouse-Lautrec -- and too many others to mention. It was a courtesan who set in motion many of our greatest novels, not least of them Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" -- which begins with the love of a man named Swann for a "great courtesan."Read the whole article about Anna Nicole Smith and how she "stripped marriage of its illusions."
But the idea of the courtesan has all but disappeared, and with it much of the nuance about our analysis of sex and marriage.
Our continuum of sexual alliances runs from the happy marriage of loving equals, on one end, to prostitution -- the pure exchange of sex for money -- on the other. The trophy bride, the marriage of youth and beauty to age and power, is the closest we have to the category of the courtesan -- but it involves the collective pretense that it isn't only about money. To see the old category of courtesanship in operation today, you have to travel to poor places around the globe, where sex, love and sometimes marriages are negotiated between wealthy westerners and local girls without either party acknowledging the idea that the exchange is commercial.The courtesan was rich but not on her own terms, an object of scorn but not completely disreputable, a living reminder of an economy of sexual exchange that we like to pretend doesn't exist. When Anna Nicole Smith, a voluptuous 26-year-old Playboy Playmate, married an octogenarian oil-rich billionaire, she crossed a line, assuming too high a place in our supposedly mobile society.
The Fantasy of Happily Ever After
From the Washington Post: