The paperback edition of Emily Hahn’s novel, Miss Jill from Shanghai, is billed on the cover as “a beautiful girl’s story of salvation and sin in the Orient”. Jill was an Australian woman who became romantically involved with a married Japanese aristocrat. Her own parents never married and she felt “degraded beyond imagination” by her family background. When she traveled to Shanghai, she was sold into a house of prostitution.
This story may sound like an outdated orientalist trope, but Emily Hahn did not make it up. In her memoir, China to Me, she wrote about her friend, Jean, who spoke Japanese because she’d been romantically involved with Prince Tokugawa. Hahn met Jean in Shanghai when the latter was a prostitute there. She invited Jean to live with her, thus “saving” her from a life of “sin”.
Jean and Jill were pseudonyms for a woman named Lorraine Murray, an Australian who did indeed have a relationship with Prince Tokugawa. Nick Hordern writes about Lorraine—and her friendship with Emily Hahn—in his new book, Shanghai Demimondaine: From Sex Worker to Society Matron. Even without the Emily Hahn connection, Hordern’s biography of Murray is fascinating in a Cinderella-type of way. The Shanghai setting, the interwar period, and later Cold War London also make for story-worthy settings.
At the beginning of the book, where many authors would provide a list of characters, Hordern includes a list of identities. For Murray alone, he lists:
Laurianna Agnes Treweek: name on Lorraine Murray’s birth certificate, Adelaide, 22 January 1910
Lorraine Lee: name used by Lorraine Murray in Shanghai, 1933
Johnny Jean: Lorraine Murray’s workname in Madam Louise’s brothel, Shanghai, 1934-1936
Jean: non-fictional portrait of Lorraine Murray in Emily Hahn’s 1944 memoir China to Me
Jill: fictional portrait of Lorraine Murray in Emily Hahn’s 1947 novel Miss Jill
Lorraine: non-fictional portrait of Lorraine Murray in Emily Hahn’s 1950 memoir England to Me
The Shady Lady: nickname for Lorraine Murray used by Soviet agent Rupert Lockwood, 1954
And this is just for Murray. If it seems confusing, it becomes clear as Hordern tells the story of Murray’s childhood in Australia and her subsequent relationship with Prince Tokugawa. Murray was only supposed to pass through Shanghai on her way home to Australia from Japan, but ended up staying for years, working for a while as a prostitute, as Hahn wrote in her books. In Shanghai, Murray met Edmund Toeg, a Baghdadi Jewish cousin of Victor Sassoon. Toeg fell in love with Murray, but knew her background would not go over well with his family. Yet he was not without social awkwardness himself.
And yet, despite the Toegs’ considerable standing and their Sassoon connection, Edmund’s Iraqi and Jewish background meant that he would never be free of anxiety about being accepted—whether by English society or Australian immigration officials. The fear of exclusion was something he and Lorraine had in common.
As much as Toeg cared for Murray, he felt she needed to get away from her past demimondaine life and enter normal society before his family could accept her. He supported Murray financially when she moved in with Emily Hahn.
Hordern writes that it was a bit odd that Hahn viewed Murray through a Christian lens, pitying Murray because she had been living a life of sin. Hahn herself was involved with several married men before she finally settled down. But in Hordern’s book, Hahn presented herself as superior to Murray.
Murray returned to Australia during World War II and would eventually move to England to work as a nanny of Hahn’s young daughter, Carola. Toeg also moved to England and he and Murray finally married. The society matron part of the book’s subtitle manifests in England. She had shed her past and was accepted into English society.
Although Hahn wrote extensively about Murray, both in fiction and memoir, Murray was never fully comfortable with the way Hahn seemed to exploit her story. With the Miss Jill novel, which centered completely on Murray, Hahn convinced her friend that the book would never be published anyway, so there was nothing to worry about. But it was published and people who knew the women back in Shanghai knew exactly to whom Hahn was referring.
Many decades later, Hordern tells Murray’s story in a way that is sympathetic and without judgment. To this, Murray would approve.