D tells me that there is a Chinese saying to this effect, or rather (to give its full effect) that one should never fall in love with a prostitute or an actor. I have not been able to track it down to give a link. (Update: see comment 3 below.) However, there are many reasons why one might think that to be good advice and why there might be such a saying.
I have been thinking about the case of Lord Browne, the head of BP who was obliged to resign after being caught out lying to the court in an attempt to obtain an injunction against the Mail on Sunday to prevent publication of allegations made by his former boyfriend of some four years, a Mr Chevalier. 宁论 (that’s Ninglun, if the Chinese characters are not readable) wrote about this a while back, and referred to Fall of the BP chief Part 1 and Part 2 on Yawning Bread.
What I found a bit surprising was the suggestion in some reports that Justice Eady had in effect punished Browne for his lies by refusing to grant him the injunction which he sought. These lies related to the circumstances in which Browne met his boyfriend, and accusations of drug-use against him, and were not particularly relevant to the central issues of the case, and were recanted by him before any final determination of the issues. When I read the judgments more closely, the story proved to be more complicated. Justice Eady did not reach his decision based on the lies, but he did deal with the lies in his judgment and also in deciding that Lord Browne should pay Mr Chevalier’s costs on an indemnity basis (this is a bit mysterious to me, as there is no reference to that in Justice Eady’s judgment as published, or even to Mr Chevalier being a party). However, he did propose to publish a judgment setting out the nature of the lies. On appeal, the Court of Appeal excised that portion of Justice Eady’s judgment (so far as it was to be published) which disclosed that Lord Browne met Mr Chevalier through an escort agency, and not, as Lord Browne first said, when Lord Browne was jogging in Battersea Park. However, the Court of Appeal did not enjoin the newspaper from reporting this, quite apart from whether it appeared in the judgment.
Witnesses often tell lies, and often change their evidence. Obviously, whether somebody has told a lie may be relevant to their credibility, but should not in itself be a ground for refusing them relief to which it is otherwise found they are entitled. Justice Eady characterised the jogging/escort service lie as “white lie.” Why did this mean that this detail of his private life should now be splashed across the world’s newspapers? (The right to privacy in question is one which arises under European law; in Australia such matters could probably only be protected as confidences.) The Court of Appeal’s reasoning seems to be that the fact of the lie itself is what made it a matter of public interest and that Lord Browne could not show that the details of the lie should not be published. The reasoning is a little Delphic, in part because of the dancing round details which were still not to be disclosed and the pretence by the court that the court itself was not disclosing these details (as opposed to permitting their disclosure or not preventing their disclosure): it is at paragraphs 84 to 87.
On the one hand, this is a familiar story and especially in public life: sometimes it is the lie which can become the story rather than what was lied about. By going too far, Lord Browne helped make himself the story. On the other hand, I can’t say I am really comfortable about this, even though Lord Browne is hardly a man who otherwise needs my sympathy. The Court of Appeal’s dancing around the details seems just a little too casuistical. I say “too casuistical” because in the circumstances some degree of casuistry would seem to be required.
There was a time when falling in love (for want of a better phrase) with a prostitute was something of a literary topos. Scrubbed clean a little and moved upmarket to the question of liaisons with courtesans – think Manon /Lescaut or La traviata (those are the operatic versions; behind them both are well-known books, about a century apart), it produced tear-jerkers a-plenty. In these stories, there is nearly always a family member (generally the father) trying to break the union. In La Traviata, that is touchingly and famously couched in terms of an appeal by the Alfredo’s father to Violetta to consider the effect of the union on the Alfredo’s sister. It is likely that in the real-life stories, families were less than convinced that the woman in question truly had a “heart of gold.”
I suspect that one reason for the rise of this literary and dramatic theme, and presumably the social phenomenon which lay behind it, was the gap between desires for affective marriage and the economic constraints which were preconditions for marriage. It was hardly surprising that men fell in love with women who were available to them [yes: I am focusing on the man here] and with whom they were free to express their affections. In particular, I think it became a theme of particular prominence in the nineteenth century because the cultural status of artists (in the broadest sense) became more elevated without necessarily a corresponding improvement in their social or, in particular, economic position. Artists had become educationally and culturally part of the middle class (this is a big simplification), but were not particularly eligible prospects.
As a literary genre, the topos appears to have declined in the twentieth century, but of course people still meet people in this way and this often progresses to a relationship of some sort. It is easy to be prejudiced against such relationships. In general, people take a dim view of both prostitutes and people who resort to them, and once can certainly understand why Lord Browne wanted to keep this aspect of the genesis of his relationship from the scrutiny of the court, even when he was seeking the assistance of the court to keep the relationship out of the public eye.
Most of the critique of prostitution focuses on the demeaning effect of prostitution on the prostitute. From this perspective, the prostitute is the victim, and the client is the exploiter. Yet the reasons which lead people to resort to prostitutes can also make them vulnerable to exploitation, and it is by no means clear that the exploitation is all one way, even if we might think that at least Lord Browne was big enough to look after himself.