But first my intro for those of you joining Harriette’s tale today, please skip this section if you’ve read it before.
In 1825 Harriette Wilson, a courtesan, published a series of stories as her memoirs in a British broad sheet paper. The Regency gentleman’s clubs were a buzz, waiting to see the next names mentioned each week. While barriers had to be set up outside the shop of her publisher, Stockdale, to hold back the disapproving mob.
Harriette was born Harriette Debochet, she chose the name Harriette Wilson as her professional name, in the same way Emma Hart, who I’ve blogged about previously, had changed her name. Unlike Emma, it isn’t known why or when Harriette changed her name.
She was one of nine surviving children. Her father was a watchmaker and her mother a stocking repairer, and both were believed to be from illegitimate origin.
Three of Harriette’s sisters also became courtesans. Amy, Fanny and Sophia (who I have written about before). So the tales I am about to begin in my blogs will include some elements from their lives too.
For a start you’ll need to understand the world of the 19th Century Courtesan. It was all about show and not just about sex. The idle rich of the upper class aspired to spending time in the company of courtesans, it was fashionable, the thing to do.
You were envied if you were linked to one of the most popular courtesans or you discovered a new unknown beauty to be admired by others.
Courtesans were also part of the competitive nature of the regency period too, gambling was a large element of the life of the idle rich and courtesans were won and lost and bartered and fought for.
So courtesans obviously aspired to be one of the most popular, and to achieve it they learnt how to play music, read widely, so they could debate, and tried to shine in personality too. They wanted to be a favoured ’original’.
The eccentric and outspoken was admired by gentlemen who liked to consort with boxers and jockeys, and coachmen, so courtesans did not aim for placid but were quite happy to insult and mock men who courted them, and demand money for any small favour.
We left Harriette last week once she’d gained successful revenge on a would be lover, Lord Lorne, by making him wander up and down the road at the turnpike waiting for her when she’d no intention of going there to meet him.
But it seems neither that, nor Harriette’s current lover’s mockery could put Lord Lorne off. Without any further encouragement from Harriette he sent a friend, and a former acquaintance of Harriette’s, to vouch for his reasons for standing Harriette up previously.
Lorne’s friend claims Lorne is really annoyed, but would not write himself for fear Harriette might read the letter with Frederick and merely laugh at him, and he said he could not call because he had been unable to bribe Harriette’s address from the local post mistress, hence him asking a mutual friend to write to her without revealing the reason and ask to meet her.
His friend says Lorne was not ‘coxcomb’ enough as to think Harriette cared for him, but that he wishes her to think as highly of him as she did before he missed his appointment. Then the friend tries to convince Harriette to go and meet Lord Lorne now.
Knowing just how to play the waiting game Harriette refuses and has his friend walk her home.
Her memoirs do not state her delay a deliberate action to obtain Lorne, but you cannot help but wonder. Because of course she does not wish to give herself away for free. She is living with Frederick who is supporting her on a pittance. What she is after is a richer man who would give her a better life and Lord Lorne was certainly that.
Well now that Lord Lorne’s friend had walked her home – of course he tells Lorne her address.
Harriette finally forgives Lord Lorne when she receives a message from her maid, stating Lord Lorne has been waiting outside the house for an hour in the hope of seeing her. She snatches up her bonnet and cloak and rushes out (I would say she is fairly sure of his interest now she has put him through several tests, and realises she must give a little back if she is going to get her wish… a contract (engagement, in Harriette’s phrasing) to be the courtesan of a wealthy young, reasonably good-looking man).
She immediately declares she has forgiven him, and agrees to walk with him, though she maintains that she will do nothing to be false to Frederick.
Harriette writes of one conversation which fascinates me, she is speaking to Lorne of a scenario regarding Frederick and uses the words ‘suppose I love you’. The devious little madam, bless her… She is busy fishing again… In the era of competitive Romantic love and the art of open devotion for a courtesan, of course Lord Lorne could not let her comment rest without reply and states, she must love him some day or other, because he has fixed his heart on it.
Harriette then goes on to say her ‘sentimental’ walks with Lorne continued for a month. Him waiting outside her house until she came out and walked with him. With Frederick Lamb’s knowledge, as Frederick trusted Harriette completely.
But I do not think Lord Lorne a man like Frederick, who’d endured similar temptations from Harriette and accepted her, no, in good humour. Lord Lorne had a roving eye and a reputation with women which preceded him. He was courting Harriette with expectation.
She describes one night when they walked, it grew dark, and in ‘a moment of ungovernable passion’ Lord Lorne frightened her with his ardour. She does not declare herself unmoved by it, completely contrary, she declares that their next meeting might ‘decide my fate’. My guess being she let him go so far, and then said, no, because she did not want to give him for free, what she wished him to pay for, and he probably then felt misled, cheated and became and angry and insistent. Anyway no, was no that night, even though Harriette was not certain her no would succeed as no the next time. She declares in her memoirs that, ‘There is a charm in the humility of a lover who has offended. The charm is so great that we like to prolong it. In spite of all he could say, I left him in anger.’
Again, I think this a ploy, I think she hoped he would wish to come back for more, but willing to make the offer Harriette hoped for – a large monthly sum in return for the favours she was more than inclined to give.
Lord Lorne was not easily played though. He was a recognised master at the game of seduction himself. He wrote to Harriette the next morning.
‘If you see me waiting about your door, tomorrow evening, do not fancy I am looking for you; but for your pretty housemaid.’
Such a cad 😀
Not about to be beaten Harriette plays her last all or nothing card, couched in a pretty letter which speaks of her natural affection for all, and her unwillingness to deceive her current protector Frederick Lamb. She says she may not meet Lord Lorne again, but then immediately says, ‘lovers, we must be, hereafter, or nothing.’ Then she states she has enclosed a lock of hair, because he liked her hair, and she does not care how the lack of that lock might have disfigured her head, as though she would be forlorn without him, though she doesn’t say it – clever as she is.
Sadly for Harriette, Lord Lorne saw straight through her and took the nothing option.
‘True, you have given me many sweet kisses, and a lock of your beautiful hair. All this does not convince me you are one bit in love with me. I am the last man on earth to desire you to do violence to your feelings, by leaving a man as dear to you as Frederick Lamb is; so Farewell Harriette. I shall not intrude to offend you again.’
Well if Harriette casting her line did nothing else, it drew Frederick Lamb’s attention back to her, and he began spending evenings with her once more, reading to her, or her entertaining him by playing the pianoforte….
Next week Harriette meets a fellow fallen woman…
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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