But beforehand let me share the background for this set of blogs, for anyone reading for the first time, if you’ve read it already , skip to the next piece after the italics.
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.
So, how did Harriette and Frederick part ways? Well I was surprised to discover at this point just how little Frederick was actually supporting her in London. She had mentioned frequently that he was not giving her enough money, but at this point she declares that she is actually living in accommodation she’s found for herself in London, lodging with a widow, an old nurse of her sister’s. She had been funding this by selling the few presents her former protector, Lord Craven, had given her. Now she has run out of things to sell.
Harriette speaks of the widow allowing Harriette credit, letting Harriette build up a debt, while sharing the widow’s food, until a day comes when the old woman declares she has no more money either, and cannot feed either of them anymore.
Unwilling to lower herself to the point of begging money from Frederick, Harriette immediately thinks of a far more exciting option. Lord Lorne – with whom she had flirted for a month. ‘Necessity hath no law.’
All morals for being faithful were cast aside as Harriette writes to her former flirt. ‘If you still desire my society, I will sup with you tomorrow evening in your own house.’
Lord Lorne immediately returned her interest, probably as much thrilled to have one over on his friend Frederick who’d been busy mocking Lord Lorne for his lack of ability to win Harriette, as he was to gain Harriette. He did ask though to meet Harriette just for five minutes to make sure this was no game.
Harriette describes that meeting in comparison to the moment when she had fled to Frederick on leaving Lord Craven. ‘How much more amiable was his reception than that of Fred Lamb in Hull! The Latter, all wild passion; the former, gentle, voluptuous, fearful of shocking or offending me, or frightening away my growing passion… the expression of his eyes and the very soft tone of his voice, troubled my imagination, and made me fancy something of bliss beyond all reality.’
They agree that Lord Lorne will send his carriage for Harriette and bring her to his home that night, and Harriette states, ‘I will not say in what particular year of his life the Duke of Argyle succeeded with me… Joy produced a palpitation which had, well nigh, been fatal…’
In the morning Harriette returned to Frederick, who’d been visiting his father the evening Harriette had gone away, and told him of her adventure.
She describes him as being dumb from astonishment, and half choked with rage and battered pride.
Even then Harriette did not tell Frederick she had only gone to Lord Lorne out of poverty. She had her pride too.
‘You told me he was, when he pleased, irresistible,’ said I,’
But Frederick had thought Harriette in love with him, and therefore himself entirely without fear of infidelity.
She told him plainly now he was wrong, and asked if he had ever heard her say she was in love. All she had done was not deny his statements that she loved him.
Well Lord Lorne must have furnished Harriette’s purse as well as having fed her, although Harriette never speaks of money other than the lack of it. But after her parting fight with Frederick she moved to a furnished house at the west end of town, to receive her new lover.
But all was not sublime and perfect with Lord Lorne, for Lord Lorne informs Harriette once they commence their ‘engagement’ that she cannot have all his heart, and Harriette then assumes he is reserving some of it the long-standing affair he is known to be having with a married woman, Lady W–––. Harriette describes how Lord Lorne would sit with Lady W, in her opera box, and wore a chain Harriette thought was this woman’s, and came home from the opera with a rose in his buttonhole, when Lady W had, had one earlier.
As I said last week, such a cad.
Well Harriette, as you might guess from my earlier blogs, was not about to play second fiddle to Lady W.
‘If, thought I, he is not to be entirely mine, perhaps I shall not be entirely his.’
More next week 🙂
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark