Hooker with a heart of gold


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Vasantasena from the Sanskrit play Mṛcchakatika.

The hooker with a heart of gold (also the whore with a heart of gold or the tart with a heart) is a stock character involving a courtesan or prostitute with a hidden integrity and kindness. The character, traditionally female, is usually an example of irony: an allegedly immoral woman who demonstrates virtues absent in a woman morally correct for the role.


This character is often a pivotal, but peripheral, character in literature and motion pictures, usually giving key advice or serving as a go-between. She is sometimes established in contrast to another female character who is morally correct but frigid or otherwise unyielding. Hookers with hearts of gold are sometimes reluctant prostitutes due to either desperation or coercion from a pimp. Or her prostitution may reflect an overall lust for life, as in Ilya in Never on Sunday.

The stereotype may originate from certain traditions surrounding the Biblical figures of Mary Magdalene and Rahab, or to the ancient Indian theatrical tradition of Sanskrit drama where Śudraka's play Mṛcchakatika (The Little Clay Cart) featured a nagarvadhu (courtesan) with a heart of gold named Vasantasena.[1] But this stock character is pervasive enough in various myths and cultures in the form of a tragic story of the concubine who falls in love with her patron/client or, alternatively, young and often poor lover. Therefore, this might be considered not just an archetype but also fairly universal, and somewhat indicative of various societies' complex ideas about sexual decency and moral character. A variation on the theme, the dancer (stripper) with a heart of gold, is a tamer version of the character.

The fictitious courtesan Chandramukhi in Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's highly acclaimed Bengali novel Devdas has been adapted into film numerous times, most notably into Hindi in 1955 and 2002 with the character-role of Chandramukhi being played by actresses Vyjayanthimala and Madhuri Dixit, respectively. "Chandramukhi" here fulfills Devdas' desire of feeling loved which was betrayed by Parvati (Paro).

In opera and musical theater, a hooker with a heart of gold is most often portrayed by a mezzo-soprano.[citation needed] (One notable exception is the heroine of Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata, Violetta Valery, portrayed by a soprano.) She is portrayed in a tragic light and often dies a tragic death. Another classic example of the "Tart with a heart" character is the character of Nancy in Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist and the stage musical derived from it, Oliver!.

In television history, the "tart with a heart", not necessarily actually a prostitute but usually dressing and behaving like a stereotypical prostitute, has become an important archetype in serial drama and soap opera, especially in Britain. During the 1960s, the character of Elsie Tanner in British series Coronation Street set the mold for future characters such as Bet Lynch, Carla Connor (both also Coronation Street), Kat Slater, Stacey Slater and Dawn Swann (all three characters from the British soap opera EastEnders). Characters of this nature are often depicted as having tragic lives, but put on a front when in public to create the illusion of happiness. More often than not, these female characters are vital to their respective shows, and have become some of the biggest stars on British television.

The hooker with a heart of gold is also a prominent character in many American western movies. In The Usual Suspects, detective Dave Kujan says to Roger "Verbal" Kint: "... so don't sell me the hooker with a heart of gold." Leaving Las Vegas features Elisabeth Shue in one a roles as "A hooker with a heart of silver".


The story of Rahab in the Bible's Book of Joshua is considered by some the earliest example of this character type.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Pauwels, Heidi Rika Maria (2008). Indian Literature and Popular Cinema. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-415-44741-6.
  2. ^ Jakes, T.D. (2003). God's Leading Lady. New York: Berkley Books. p. 127. She may be the original hooker with the heart of gold
  3. ^ Rea, Steven (May 19, 2011). "'Hobo with a Shotgun': Vagrant vigilante cleans up a town". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (1972-12-15). "Man of La Mancha". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-05-26. The only performance that really survives the movie is Sophia Loren's.... She has kind of a thankless role (they've cast her as the whore with the heart of gold again)....
  5. ^ Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth (1981). "Scarlett O'Hara: The Southern Lady as New Woman". American Quarterly. 33 (4): 391–411. doi:10.2307/2712525. JSTOR 2712525. Belle Watling, to be sure, is not a lady, but the classic whore with a heart of gold, a shrewd and successful business woman in her own right, has a far deeper sense than Scarlett of the essential qualities that informed true ladyhood.
  6. ^ Nava, David (2004). "Othello, the Moor of Venice: Message from the director". The American Shakespeare Project. Archived from the original on 2007-09-22. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Bianca, the "heart of gold" courtesan, deludes herself into believing that she can escape outsider status by an alliance with Cassio....
  7. ^ Pradhan, Vidya (2008-01-21). "Heart of gold, speckled with sin". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 2008-10-11. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Starting with Chandramukhi in Devdas, the commercial sex worker in Hindi movies has usually been depicted with a heart of gold, forced into her profession by circumstances beyond her control.
  8. ^ "Molly Ringwald to take 'Sweet Charity' on the road this fall". USA Today. Associated Press. 2006-02-27. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Molly Ringwald will portray Charity Hope Valentine, the dance-hall hostess with the heart of gold, when Sweet Charity goes out on the road this fall.
  9. ^ Welky, David B. (2002). "Stagecoach". St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. Gale Group. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Dallas (Clare Trevor), the prostitute with a heart of gold....
  10. ^ Sullivan, Catey (2005-03-09). "Theater: Sweet Charity". Windy City Times. Chicago. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Ah, the hooker with the heart of gold. It’s a conceit that dates from Mary Magdalene to All My Children’s Donna Beck and beyond.
  11. ^ Daly, Sean (April 9–15, 2004). "The Girl Next Door". Washington City Paper. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Naturally, the budding porno princess with the heart of gold falls for nice guy Matthew—as he falls into her sin-soaked world and jeopardizes his button-down future.
  12. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (5 July 2018). "'Downton Abbey' & 'Game Of Thrones' Stars Join Ricky Gervais in His New Netflix Comedy 'After Life', Shoot Under Way". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 5 July 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 6, 2007). "Shoot 'Em Up review". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  14. ^ Wilonsky, Robert (2005-03-31). "Color Bind". Dallas Observer. Retrieved 2008-05-26. ...the blood-red bed on which hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Goldie (Jaime King) gives herself to psycho killer Marv (Mickey Rourke)....
  15. ^ a b Ghose, Anindita (August 2006). "Of Names of Women in Hindi Cinema: An Exploration in Semantics" (PDF). e-Social Sciences. p. 11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-24. Retrieved 2009-04-02. In ‘Pyasa’ (1957) the prostitute who is pitted against the lead woman is called Gulabo. Similarly, in ‘Pakeezah’( 1971) the heart of gold metaphor is put forth in the name, which literally means ‘pure heart’.
  16. ^ Trillin, Calvin (2005-09-05). "Letter from Ecuador: Speaking of Soup". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-05-26. That led, not unexpectedly, to my mentioning the noted Mexican actress Katy Jurado, who, of course, appeared in 'High Noon,' playing the role of what I think could be fairly described as `la puta con un corazón de oro.′
  17. ^ Gallo, Bill (1995-11-08). "In Her Genes". Westword. Denver. Retrieved 2008-05-26. The whore with a heart of gold and the punchy fighter with a rosin bag for a brain are not exactly new movie types—not even for that high Manhattan intellect Woody Allen.[dead link]
  18. ^ Leib, Mark (2005-05-25). "The Half of It". Creative Loafing. Tampa. Retrieved 2008-05-26. He terrorizes London and confuses his friend John Utterson and his consort Lucy Harris (the prostitute with a - you guessed it - heart of gold).
  19. ^ "Loving Luenell: one on one with Borat's leading lady.(The Great Entertainers)". Curve. September 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-26. In addition to a multiple-decade career in film, theater and stand-up, Luenell is best known for her recent appearance as the hooker with a heart of gold (also named Luenell) in Sasha Baron Cohen's 2006 controversial mockumentary, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
  20. ^ Garner, Dwight (1997-09-19). "Too Little, Too Noir". Salon. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), a languidly glamorous hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold who resembles Veronica Lake....
  21. ^ a b Chopra, Anupama (April 2, 2001). "The Courtesan Club". India Today. Retrieved 2010-12-04.
  22. ^ Krämer, Lucia (2017). "Adaptation in Bollywood". In Leitch, Thomas (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Adaptation Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 258. ISBN 978-0-19-933100-0.
  23. ^ Johnson, Katie N. (2006). Sisters in Sin: Brothel Drama in America, 1900-1920 (PDF). Cambridge University Press. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-521-85505-5. From the middle of the nineteenth century, no other character epitomized the demise of the goodhearted fallen woman better than Marguerite of La Dame aux Camélias, popularly known in the United States as Camille.... Camille soon became the iconic hooker with-a-heart-of-gold whose story would seduce audiences every Broadway season.
  24. ^ Morris, Virginia B. (1985). Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. Barron's Book Notes. Woodbury, N.Y.: Barron's Educational Series. p. 14. ISBN 0-7641-9161-6. For many readers, Nancy is the most important character in the novel.... In contrast, other readers insist that she is just a cliché – the typical prostitute with a heart of gold.
  25. ^ Thomas, Colin (2007-11-29). "Oliver!". Georgia Straight. Vancouver. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Nancy, the whore with the requisite heart of gold....
  26. ^ Clark, Mike (2005-04-03). "Flesh, fantasy run rampant in 'Sin City'". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Jessica Alba plays Nancy Callahan, a stripper with a heart of gold in Sin City.
  27. ^ Wile, Rob (June 27, 2013). "It's The 30-Year Anniversary Of The Greatest Wall Street Movie Ever Made: Here's The Story Behind It". Business Insider. Archived from the original on July 3, 2020. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  28. ^ Ghose, Anindita (August 2006). "Of Names of Women in Hindi Cinema: An Exploration in Semantics" (PDF). e-Social Sciences. p. 11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-24. Retrieved 2009-04-02. The names of these fallen woman are generally indexical of physical attributes while the lead women rarely have names which have overtly physical connotations. In ‘Amar Prem’ (1971), Sharmila Tagore who is a prostitute is called ‘Pushpa” which means ‘flower’.
  29. ^ Queenan, Joe (2001-09-01). "French kiss-off". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Satine, the enigmatic hooker with a heart of gold, is obviously quite fond of the earnest but not terribly bright Christian.
  30. ^ Maslin, Janet (1995-10-27). "Lurching Through a Life Of Alcoholic Abandon". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-26. Ms. Shue gives a daring and affecting performance, but she's essentially playing one more whore with a heart of gold.
  31. ^ Wieland, Christina (2000). The Undead Mother: Psychoanalytic Explorations of Masculinity, Femininity, and Matricide. London: Karnac. p. 229. ISBN 1-85575-913-6. It is in the person of Sonya, a young prostitute with a heart of gold – the 'Holy Sinner,' one might say – that Dostoyevsky glimpses the essential goodness, a goodness beyond the morality of a paternal super-ego, which will act as a good external object.
  32. ^ Macdonald, Moira (2004-12-03). "The skinny: "Machinist" is daring, haunting experiment". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-05-26. 'If you were any thinner,' says his call-girl girlfriend, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing a scratchy-voiced whore with a heart of gold), 'you wouldn't exist.'
  33. ^ "It's Suzie Wong Doing the Town". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1960-05-22. p. G70. 'Suzie' concerns the life, loves, and woes of the proverbial tart with the heart of gold, the variation being that this one is Chinese.
  34. ^ Hagedorn, Jessica (January–February 1994). "Asian Women in Film: No Joy, No Luck". Ms. Suzie and all the other prostitutes in this movie are cute, giggling, dancing sex machines with hearts of gold. Reprinted in Shirley Biagi & Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, Facing Difference: Race, Gender and Mass Media. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 1997. Pp. 32, 33.
  35. ^ Allende, Isabel (2003). My Invented Country: A Memoir. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. New York: Perennial. pp. 26–27. ISBN 0-06-054567-4. Even though I don't consider myself an expert on the subject, I am not innocent of creating a whore with a heart of gold; mine, from my first novel, is named Tránsito Soto.
  36. ^ Baumgarten, Marjorie (1994-09-02). "Milk Money". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-05-26. The movie takes a recurrent narrative theme – the hooker with a heart of gold – and mixes it up with a suburban setting and a bunch of adolescent boys, one of whom, Frank (Carter), decides that this prostitute named V (Griffith) would make a perfect mate for his widowed dad (Harris).
  37. ^ Pauwels, Heidi Rika Maria (2008). Indian Literature and Popular Cinema. Routledge. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-415-44741-6. Vasantasena ... is the courtesan with a heart of gold, as she is genuinely in love with the hero even though he has lost his wealth.
  38. ^ Lidov, David (2005). Is Language a Music? Writings on Musical Form and Signification. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 165. ISBN 0-253-34383-6. To go back to the root, this is the story of a prostitute with a heart of gold....
  39. ^ Orr, John (1998). Contemporary Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 211. ISBN 0-7486-0836-2.
  40. ^ Gibbs Van Brunschot, Erin (2003). "Community Policing and John Schools". Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology. 40 (2): 215–32. doi:10.1111/j.1755-618X.2003.tb00244.x. Retrieved 2008-05-26.