I wrote about Harriette Wilson’s younger sister Sophia in an earlier post, but Sophia’s story didn’t end there and nor did Lord Deerhurst’s villainy.
Here, Harriette tells us what happened next for her sister.
For anyone who hasn’t read this series of post before, here’s the background, if you have read them already then please skip to then end of the italics as usual.
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.
I have already made it clear in earlier posts, speaking of Lord Deerhurst, the man was a miser. So, of course, when he is ready to dispense with the very young Sophia, who he seduced without shame, leaving her little option other than to become a courtesan, does he do it honestly? A man who would drive his carriage at speed through a toll gate, rather than pay a few pennies? Hardly.
No Lord Deerhurst deploys more trickery.
Harriette says she happened to call on her sister at eight in the evening, and not long after she arrived, the young Colonel Berkeley arrived too. He was a friend of Lord Deerhurst’s and ever since Deerhurst had set Sophia up in – what Harriette deemed – a shabby house – as his mistress, Colonel Berkeley had been a regular caller, it had been clear he liked Sophia, a lot, but Harriette claims there was nothing inappropriate going on between them.
However, barely minutes after the Colonel arrived, Lord Deerhurst came in, and then immediately cried out, appearing distressed and horrified with Sophia, claiming he had never thought she would treat him in this way.
Harriette says he cried very real looking tears, and was in so much distress he sat on the stairs while the landlady fetched him some refreshment.
His inference was, poor Sophia had been playing him false with the Colonel, “Did you believe that young creature so depraved?” He said to her landlady. But Harriette was a little older and wiser to believe his nonsense, especially when the Colonel did not appear to be bothered by the appalling charge, in the least, and adding to that, she knew the two men were close friends and they had arrived within minutes of each other, Harriette’s suspicion was tweaked.
She accused Deerhurst then, of having brought his friend with him and sending the Colonel into the house first, so that he might then claim to have found them together, because, should Sophia be unfaithful, he would save himself two hundred pounds a year, as he could simply cut her off. (The Miser)
He denied it of course, as did the Colonel at first, but once Deerhurst had left, the Colonel, believing his friend truly upset now, said he had better follow but he had to wait for his vehicle, and admitted driving here in Deerhurst’s carriage. Harriette asked to go with him, and he took her there.
Harriette discovered Lord Deerhurst fully restored at home.
But Colonel Berkeley was still uncertain if Lord Deerhurst had been upset or not, wondering if the Colonel’s attentions to Sophia, all be they innocent, had truly caused his friend offence, and he charged Lord Deerhurst to make himself cry again and prove he had not really been upset. Which Deerhurst did, proving Harriette right. She must have cursed the day her sister first met this fool.
Harriette, in these aspects of her memoirs, implies that she’s really protective of Sophia, their relationship does change later, but I wonder if at the time, Harriette felt guilty for having set Sophia such a poor role model.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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