Rachel Pringle, the Notorious Barbadian Madamme

Rachel Pringle, the power of an almighty orifice

I’ve taken some liberties with the story of Rachel Pringle, the famous 18th century Barbadian hotelier, entertainer of princes and commoners, sailors and soldiers… But, no, let me rephrase that right away – I have taken a lot of liberties with the story of Rachel Pringle, the notorious Barbadian Madamme…

A Negro’s weight in Gold

Because history here has this quirky habit of sanitizing and making politically correct the facts, especially in these parts, the West Indies – and whereas it is possible that Rachel Pringle was never in fact a madamme, in all probability she absolutely was, and a powerful, even heroic one at that, and, I dear say, a woman of major importance to West Indian history, whore or not – and, indeed, for to me, as a whore, she accrues even more stature, more monumental dignity and historical significance, for all the struggle and strength and fortitude implied in that profession.

So… the liberties I have taken are to visit her establishment as an observer moving from room to room in the manner of Jean Genet’s Balcony, a luxury that only the imagination can offer. Historical accuracy was never uppermost in my mind, the real trappings of whoredom in 18th century Bridgetown being at best minimal, at worst, a kind of flea-ridden destitution and squalor a la Hogarth or even Goya. No, I have taken the path, very consciously, of John Cleland in Fanny Hill- and Fielding in Tom Jones – or, if you prefer, and more to my own field of art, Courbet and our own Brunias, with a touch of grime here and there, like dirt under the fingernails, for surely there is a little grime in most sex, , if only to spur on excitement, or there would be no whore houses, no whores, and, just as a side thought, no self righteous indignation or reason for policing by either church or state, either – just a thought.

The Princes of the opening sentence – well, one prince, really: Prince William Henry, son of George 111, soon to be Duke of Clarence, eventually King William IV, who wrecked the Pringle establishment in a drunken frenzy with friends from the British Royal Navy, docked at Bridgetown harbor at the time, probably en route to the American War of Independence, a source of much prosperity for the lady, without which she undoubtedly would not have been able to add to her wealth the procurement of no less than 10 properties along Canary Street in Bridgetown. For boldface as she was, immediately she was capsized from her chair by the prince himself as he lurched out of her toppsy-turved premises, she picked herself up out of the detritus and set to work at her bill of damages, which the prince immediately the next morning, and without refute, honored to the full of 700 pounds. A good business woman, too, to boot!

So… the liberties I have taken are to visit her establishment as an observer moving from room to room in the manner of Jean Genet’s Balcony, a luxury that only the imagination can offer. Historical accuracy was never uppermost in my mind, the real trappings of whoredom in 18th century Bridgetown being at best minimal, at worst, a kind of flea-ridden destitution and squalor a la Hogarth or even Goya. No, I have taken the path, very consciously, of John Cleland in Fanny Hill- and Fielding in Tom Jones – or, if you prefer, and more to my own field of art, Courbet and our own Brunias, with a touch of grime here and there, like dirt under the fingernails, for surely there is a little grime in most sex, , if only to spur on excitement, or there would be no whore houses, no whores, and, just as a side thought, no self righteous indignation or reason for policing by either church or state, either – just a thought.


Stuart Hahn’s younger Rachel Pringle

The Princes of the opening sentence – well, one prince, really: Prince William Henry, son of George 111, soon to be Duke of Clarence, eventually King William IV, who wrecked the Pringle establishment in a drunken frenzy with friends from the British Royal Navy, docked at Bridgetown harbor at the time, probably en route to the American War of Independence, a source of much prosperity for the lady, without which she undoubtedly would not have been able to add to her wealth the procurement of no less than 10 properties along Canary Street in Bridgetown. For boldface as she was, immediately she was capsized from her chair by the prince himself as he lurched out of her toppsy-turved premises, she picked herself up out of the detritus and set to work at her bill of damages, which the prince immediately the next morning, and without refute, honored to the full of 700 pounds. A good business woman, too, to boot! The Famous Rowlandson Cartoon is the only visual reference to this remarkable woman that anyone knows. I use it in this ongoing project with reverence to the great cartoonist and erotic master, emulating in my own way his wonderful joyous spirit and sensuality – maybe not so evident in the Pringle portrait, but certainly elsewhere in his pornographic outpourings.

Lastly, a few words about eroticism in art in these parts, something I wrote for something else, but which seems appropriate here: Who knows what treasures lie hidden in draws, stacked away against secret corners of studios, works that artists have chosen not to show, far less exhibit publicly, in Trinidad and Tobago, at any rate. The clandestine nature of a recent exhibition of erotic works – for selected adult guests and prospective buyers, only – and the – I suppose understandable, in present circumstances – insistence of the young artists themselves to remain out of the public eye – no reviews or media publicity of any kind – are symptomatic that nothing is going to change in the near future, not the attitudes of either artists or public. Surely we must appear rather ridiculous in the wide world of international eroticism – re Japanese animated S&M for instance. And, of course, lest we forget, the American pornography market is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and no longer a criminal one. And, in comparison with all this, and amongst it, in the wide world out there, how do we look, as far as the quality and content of our work – at least that which is seen – is concerned? – TAME, to say the least, I would think! – certainly not very experimental or forward looking! On the other hand, may be something wonderful will be squeezed out of all this, something unique and powerful, if the – self inflicted – bear hug hold doesn’t cut off our oxygen altogether and kill us. But I doubt it – nothing I’ve seen indicates that this is going to happen. But who knows. For is that not the way of art itself, squeezing out of oppression and repression, and despite ourselves, some of our most powerful utterances? Well, we shall see. – Stuart

%d bloggers like this: