- Cynthia Jordan's new historical fiction "Pearl" focuses on prostitution and San Angelo in the 1900s
- The book is historically accurate; only the characters were created to tell the story
- Jordan addresses women's issues through the content of the book
- The book is Jordan's first and a sequel is in the works
“It takes 17 minutes to awaken the goddess,” says Cynthia Jordan, San Angelo resident and local artist, “…and Pearl teaches that.”
Victoria Pearl would know. As the madam of one of San Angelo’s most prominent brothels, Pearl may be considered something of a local expert on all things sex, even if her expertise stems from a century long turned.
“Here’s the deal,” continues Jordan, “Guys would just roll over—she was in her night gown; boom-boom-da-boom-biddy boom—and take two or three minutes. No wonder women didn’t like sex and called it their wifely duty; they didn’t know what it was. And that’s what Pearl’s all about, she’s an educator,” Jordan says.
“Pearl” is Jordan’s new book, a historical fiction that centers on a heroine of the same name and follows her on a journey from Chicago to San Angelo, telling the stories of 10 women in between.
The book, Jordan says, has a little of everything: love, drama, Texas cattlemen and the Santa Rita oil boom, even Paintrock’s Lady in Blue and the old Christoval bathhouses. And, “Everything in the book is true,” Jordan says, “except for one little story about Miss Hattie’s. Only the characters were made up to tell the story.”
Divided into three parts, the book begins in 1900 with Pearl’s arrival at the Everleigh House in Chicago, which caters to wealthy gentlemen. On its opening night, the owners of the Everleigh are forced to turn away groups of men who do not meet the standards of their preferred clientele, until a group of Texas cattlemen appear and are invited inside.
The women of the Everleigh were “very classy ladies,” says Jordan, “very creative and classy, beautiful; they were like ‘My Fair Lady’…that read every day with these impeccable manners.”
The story begins to develop as Victoria Pearl—now one of these classy ladies—meets and falls in love with a cattleman, who whisks her away some time later to a ranch in Menard.
Due to the work she had done at the Everleigh House, Pearl arrives in Texas wealthy, and buys a large house on the Concho that she turns into a parlor. Including herself, the maid and a new girl, there are 13 women working at Pearl’s Parlor, and part two of the book tells the stories of these women.
The Underlying Message
“To me the question was, ‘Why would a woman go into that business?’” Jordan says. “It’s not what you think. It’s not about a man showing up and going chinka chinka chinka and leaving. That’s not what it’s about.”
But what exactly it is about is a secret she’s not ready to divulge. “You’ve got to read the book,” Jordan says. “You’ve just got to read it.”
One thing she could tell us without reading is that the book has an underlying message. And for a story that centers around the madam of a brothel in the early 1900s, the message may not be what most would expect.
“[I’m] really trying to stress the importance of education, of being beautiful, of keeping your self-esteem,” Jordan says. “Women need to know that now. They need to be educated, they need to develop their own career, they need to demand respect. And men need to get their act together because women deserve that.”
The statement is one that contrasts the conditions of old with the position of women in modern society. Referring back to her initial question of why, Jordan continues.
“We have a basic instinct to want to be sexually desirable, because until now it was our survival…women depended on men too strongly,” Jordan says. “Women weren’t allowed to have educations…women worked 90 hours a week…I could go on and on.”
Through research done for the book, Jordan has learned a great deal about the role of women throughout history, she says, and a part of the problem she identifies today is that women have cast off the need for respect in favor of being free and independent, to a point that leads to regrettable sexual promiscuity.
“I found out horrible things, that people have no idea of how far women have come. But what happened is that because women have gotten more independent, men don’t have to be gentlemen,” Jordan says. “There’s some woman out there that’s needy enough to lay down for them…and Miss Pearl wouldn’t like that.”
Although her book centers on women who made their money selling sex, the real issue Jordan’s book presents today is that women are selling themselves short.
“Have you ever had sex for any other reason besides the fact that you were so in love with this man and you wanted to express that? When you’re married to keep the peace, when you’re dating to get another date, when you want a part in a play, or you’re auditioning or you want to keep your job,” Jordan inquires. “At least this business [prostitution] was honest.”
And while prostitution may be the main business of the book, “Pearl” also paints a vibrant and accurate historical picture of San Angelo in the past. Part three begins with the Santa Rita oil boom, and tells stories of drama, love and other events over a four-month period.
Jordan says it was David Wood at the Train Depot that initially got her interested in the Santa Rita story, an interest that was piqued once more when she saw the Santa Rita pump on the UT campus.
But the original idea for the book stems from her own background as a musician and songwriter, and a quest to rediscover her purpose several states from home.
It was 1983 in Hollywood, California and a song she’d written, “Jose Cuervo is a Friend of Mine,” had reached Song of the Year status. She was living out in Cali, and ‘had met a cowboy oil man’ that within a few months swept her off her feet and across the nation.
They went to Texas, married, and then to Nashville for a record deal. Eventually, Jordan landed permanently back in San Angelo, and found herself on the search for something meaningful.
“When I moved to San Angelo from Nashville…I said…‘there’s a reason I’m here,’” Jordan says. “It took me about five years to figure out.
“I started thinking about Miss Hattie’s, and I started thinking about the town’s genesis, and I started thinking about Jose Cuervo and how fun it was…I wanted to do fun again,” Jordan says. And around this time she began composing for a musical.
As she began to do research for the content, Jordan started uncovering things in history, and that musical—which by then had become a three-hour production—turned into the book “Pearl.”
“The book just kept writing itself,” says Jordan. The more she researched—and she did for every single page—the more she found out that needed to be told. “It’s all true,” she says. “The locations are all true. I just colored in a little.”
Jordan “colored in” the characters, which she admits are based on facets of herself and on friends and acquaintances (remember the cowboy that takes Pearl to Texas?). But just how much of herself is in the book she’s left to the reader to discover.
“Pearl” clocks in at 380 pages written in a little over a year, but for Jordan, the book is only the beginning.
Following on the storyline and history presented in the book, Jordan has also written a history book of San Angelo, told by the girls of Miss Pearl’s Parlor, which depict pieces of local history such as the Santa Fe Train Depot with references from “Pearl”. A sequel is also in the works titled “Diamonds,” which Jordan says will also address women’s issues.
“Pearl” may be purchased in the Cactus Book Store at 6 E Concho Ave., and Jordan is offering free music along with purchase of the book. Jordan has also recorded and produced an audio version of the book, parts of which may be heard online.
For more on the book, online purchases, or to hear excerpts of the audio version, visit http://theladypearls.webs.com/
For more on Cynthia Jordan and her music, visit http://www.cynthiamusic.com/