Books about "salacious transformations?"
March 21, 2013 10:55 PM   Subscribe

Well, I got some fantastic recommendations last time, and I'm hoping for a few more. I read 'Slammerkin' a while back and I'm looking for more stories like it - "broken Horatio Alger tales" - period pieces starring a corrupt young protagonist who is mercenary, alluring, shallow and status obsessed. Born into the peasantry, they use callousness, cunning, and well-placed sexual favors to pull themselves up. Ideally, they adopt an accurately depicted craft with its own set of rituals within the world of entertainment, crime, or criminalized entertainment. I know this is a fairly large subgenre, but I'm having a bit of a time finding appropriate examples.
posted by Selena777 to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber. It is also about a prostitute and her social ascent, without giving away too much!
posted by cyml at 10:59 PM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Since those are two of my favorites, I'll add Fingersmith and Perfume.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:16 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Barry Lyndon.

He isn't the protagonist, but Steerpyke in Gormanghast sort of fits.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just came here to recommend Perfume!
posted by scody at 11:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are OK with period as opposed to period piece...have you read Thackeray's Vanity Fair? Becky Sharp is one of the original corrupt young protagonists who schemes her way up through society. And Thackeray's writing is biting and funny as hell.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:39 PM on March 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

To drop in with the zeitgeist - how about non-fiction? The biography of David Bowie. Ticks all those boxes.
posted by Hugobaron at 1:22 AM on March 22, 2013

Mark Gatiss' Lucifer Box novels (The Vesuvius Club, The Devil in Amber and Black Butterfly)? They are not quite this, but they push the same buttons for me.
posted by f3l1x at 1:55 AM on March 22, 2013

Sorry I can't think of a novel, but the French film Un proph├Ęte (A Prophet) fits the bill.
posted by orme at 2:18 AM on March 22, 2013

Erica Eisdorfer's The Wet Nurse's Tale.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 2:32 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Fingersmith. Your description fits it exactly, plus with a very good plot twist.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:52 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

That's pretty much the summary of Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country
posted by Mchelly at 3:26 AM on March 22, 2013

Le Rouge et le Noir sort of fits.
posted by Segundus at 3:56 AM on March 22, 2013

Daniel Defoe was doing this long before Horatio Alger--think Moll Flanders and Roxana.

Minus the sexual favors (although there is definitely some homoeroticism), the rise of Jacques Collin/Vautrin/Abbe Carlos Herrera in Balzac's Pere Goriot, Illusions Perdues, and Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes.

Emile Zola's Nana (although, this being Zola, it all goes kaput).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:18 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sarah Water's Tipping the Velvet as well. From village oyster girl to drag king showgirl and rent boy...
posted by goo at 5:39 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know it's not of the period, and it doesn't fit exactly, but The Talented Mr. Ripley is such a great book (basically) in this genre that you should read it if you have not.
posted by OmieWise at 5:57 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's not an exact fit, but I think you will love "My Uncle Oswald" by Roald Dahl.
posted by jbickers at 5:59 AM on March 22, 2013

The Upstart by Piers Paul Read.

Erin Kelly's thriller The Burning Air is a version of this too.
posted by BibiRose at 6:25 AM on March 22, 2013

Fanny Hill (NSFW)
posted by Orinda at 6:37 AM on March 22, 2013

The first thing that comes to mind is Bel Ami. The protagonist is a sleazy journalist rather than an outright criminal, but otherwise I think it fits your criteria to a T.
posted by saladin at 7:08 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Steerpike in Gormenghast totally fits apart from the fact that his chosen craft for advancement involves not merely rituals but ritual itself rather than crime or entertainment.
posted by Decani at 12:46 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Flashman series of books by George McDonald Fraser seem like they'd meet your requirements.
posted by Allee Katze at 2:41 PM on March 22, 2013

Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
posted by Violet Hour at 3:40 PM on March 22, 2013

I'm not sure if you like speculative fiction (sometimes described as "fantasy") or not. If you are, or aren't sure, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. First in a series known as "The Gentlemen Bastards" series, which kind of gives you an idea.

Also Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books (starts with Jhereg) are in the general kind of storyline you describe, and though the related Khaavren books are not, they are such fun that it's hard not to enjoy them. More info on this series, though with minor spoilers.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:12 PM on March 22, 2013

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