In Gilmore Girls, aka the best show ever written, bright-eyed Rory Gilmore is continually seen reading a wide array of books. Whether in preparation for Harvard or for her time at Yale, she is always improving herself via literature.

Juxtapose this with Patrick Lenton, who found himself re-reading The Wheel of Time for the seventeenth time, grimly hoping the ingrained misogyny might somehow disappear if he just believed hard enough. What happened to his days of challenging himself? What about that one time he read Moby Dick and felt good for eight years? Patrick decided to take a leaf out of Rory’s books and read Rory’s books.

This week’s Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge is covered by guest reviewer Steph Miffin.

49.) The Crimson Petal and the White

At the risk of sounding ‘controversial’, I don’t think men should write narratives about sex work. There are maybe some exceptions – men who’ve had experience working in the field or similar – but generally, no.

According to the Guardian’s review of The Crimson Petal and the White: “All the familiar tropes of high-Victorian fiction are here – the mad wife, the cut-above prostitute, the almost-artist, the opaque governess – but they are presented to us by a narrator with the mind and mouth of the 21st century.”

The entire purpose of the novel seems to be a sort of wink-wink nudge-nudge inverse portrayal of Victorian history. Instead of being narrated with the usual sensibilities and repressions and whatnot, the narrator is a bold, brazen, supercilious guy who’s gonna shove the filthy details of sex work right down yer pie-hole. Personally, a narrator like this makes me want to throw the book down a well, but for others it might be right up their (prostitute-filled) alley.


The Crimson Petal and the White is about sixty billion pages long, but only really deals with four characters: Sugar, a prostitute highly sought-after because of her acquiescent nature and brilliant intellect (OK); William Rackham and his child bride Agnes; and their daughter, Sophie.

Willy is a wannabe author (puke) who isn’t overly interested in taking over his family’s perfume business, but is overly interested in marrying a child and falling in love with a prostitute. The novel is chock full of steaming hot female stereotypes: Agnes Rackham is so innocent and sexually repressed that she believes her menstruation is an act of the devil, while Sugar is sassy, sexually liberal and can satisfy any man.

All of this is in pretty stark contrast to Gilmore Girls, which not only keeps the graphic descriptions of cum to a minimum, but also features well-rounded and un-tropey female characters.


The novel appears in the episode ‘The Reigning Lorelai’, where Rory’s great-grandmother passes away and causes quite the posthumous shitstorm. Apparently she had written a letter to her son, Lorelai’s father, on his wedding day, warning him not to marry Lorelai’s mum.

Lorelai’s mum Emily finds the letter and is justifiably upset, spending the remainder of the episode wearing a floral nightgown and drinking scotch at midday (something we can all relate to, except replace ‘scotch’ with ‘paint thinner’ and ‘flowered nightgown’ with ‘the same clothes I’ve been wearing daily for the past four months’).

In Gilmore Girls, Emily’s book club is supposedly reading The Crimson Petal and the White – let’s hope they enjoy the section that explicitly details the medieval methods of birth control. (Hint: it involves a lot of douching.)

emily gilmore dressing gown

Curious to see the full reading list? You can view it here.

Steph Miffin is a creative writing graduate and author with a penchant for drinking scotch on her front porch in a car racing t-shirt and men’s Y-fronts.