One of the one liners I use from my first novel, Illicit Love, which was inspired by Harriette’s memoirs, to advertise this book, is, ‘Choice was a holy grail; a cup fallen woman longed to drink from.’ It’s stories like this one which inspired this point of view.
As usual, I will quickly give some background to this series of posts, for anyone who is starting to read them today. If you’ve already read this, then pick up the story 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 the person running out of choice this week is Julia Storer, Harriette’s close friend. Having enjoyed a long affair with a married man, Julie had a number of children, but since meeting Harriette, Julia had tired of the man she’d fallen for in her youth, and she was not only on the Courtesan market, along with Harriette and her sisters, but also deep in debt.
As when Harriette had been in this position, this was the moment that choice died.
Julia had begun an affair with a young man she fancied, I don’t know if it was love, or not, there isn’t any really indication, but what Harriette tells us now, is that Mildmay, the man in question, is losing interest in Julia, even though Julia is still interested him. But more importantly, Mildmay was not paying Julia’s bills.
Harriette and her sister, Amy, deem it time to intervene.
We have a glimpse now of how the courtesans controlled the men who favoured them. Amy had a potential suitor, a wealthy young man, whose income they claim is £3000 per year, but they say he has a £100,000 saved. However, his down side is that his body is not particularly attractive. So Amy decides he is the perfect suitor for poor, Julia, who has less choice.
To pacify Julia, Harreitte persuades Julia’s current favourite to go to Julia once more, with the promise that if he does, then he can see Harriette privately. She had no intention of giving him any favours, it’s just manipulation.
Then to Napier, the man she wishes Julia to have, she makes it clear that Julia is from an aristocratic family, the daughter of a maid of honour! Both Harriette, and Amy, encourage him to speak to Julia.
Once the two had been first put together, no differently than a day dress, and a pelisse, Harriette calls on Julia, and adds further persuasion. Pointing out to Julia, that she needs the money or she will be in jail, and what will happen to her children then?
Despite claiming to really dislike the man, Julia accepts this is true, and agrees she will seek to begin a longer term relationship with Napier, only because he is wealthy.
Fortunately for Julia, when Harriette skips back to Julia’s story later, it’s to share, that although Julia had not liked Napier, once she’d begun her affair with him, her opinion changed, and she did come to like him after all. But as for his wealth, and the hope he would support Julia’s nine children, that did not end quite so well, in that Harriette records her sister Fanny, saying, Napier would give Julia nothing by choice. So, Julia had to refuse to give him any favours until he gave her money. Therefore completely stripping any pretence of romance from the courtesan’s role.
Poor Julia, Harriette does paint her as someone to be pitied. But Julia did also write her own memoirs, claiming half of Harriette’s to be untrue. 🙂
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