Last week I spoke of the end of Harriette’s love affair, which she claims in her memoirs she never recovered from, and from this point her memoirs take a turn of decline.
But before I begin this part of her story, here’s my usual bit of back ground for anyone joining my blog today. Please read on from the end of the italics if you have read this 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.
When Harriette finally began to recover her health, she visits her closest sister, Fanny, and there catches up on all the gossip. Her sister Sophia is still with Lord Deerhurst, who is still spendthrift and mostly ignores her. So Sophia, the youngest of the sisters to take up the role of courtesan, has two new escorts vying for her attention.
Incidentally it is strongly believed people did not regularly wash, but in the Regency era, cleanliness had become more of a priority, and Sophia’s constant complaint about her lover is that he does not wash, and Deerhurst is mocked for this being abnormal.
Harriette’s friend Julia is also mentioned, and Harriette says, while Julia’s long-term lover, Colonel Cotton, continued to feel attached to Julia, Julia’s affections have moved on, but her young lover, who had at first equalled Julia’s interest, had turned away when a friend commented on the fact his paramour could be his mother. Here, Harriette comments on the vanity of men’s relationships with ‘daughters of Eve’ in that their interest originates in, only, vanity. As I said in my background above, men wanted to be envied for their paramours. So, of course, after this comment, Julia was cut by this man.
Anyway, back to Harriette, who says, when she returned home after this visit, she passed her sister Amy’s house, the sister who she has never got on with. She is shocked then, to see the carriage of the man who had been second most in her love interests standing outside Amy’s house. She is so surprised she asked her servant to ask the coachman, “Is it Lord Lorne’s carriage?”
Harriette’s affair with Lord Lorne, the Duke of Argyle, had come to an end probably nearly four years before, and yet at the time it had begun she had been devoted to him, and at this time, he had stepped into her life again and become a crucial support, he played an important part in her aim to recover from the heartbreak of losing Lord Ponsonby’s affection.
So then, to see his carriage outside the house of the sister Harriette hated, when she had known for several years Amy had been trying to catch his interest even when Harriette had been with him, and Lord Lorne had claimed to dislike Amy, well, it only added insult to injury. Harriette says, she could not claim to love Lord Lorne at this point and yet… and yet… This was too cruel.
Harriette says Amy was pregnant by him after living a month with him, and so Harriette could not then be unsure of their relationship. She then admits to being so angry with her sister she locked Amy in a room, and claims she was ‘thinking about killing her’. Jealousy is a hard task master.
When Lord Lorne arrives to seek forgiveness, reminding Harriette that he could not have returned his attentions to her because she had not been constant to him. Her response is that, well, he was never constant to her… A little more like the old Harriette, although she strikes me now as having a harder edge than she had before her affair with Lord Ponsonby.
Yet, now, Harriette’s moment of greatness, has passed. Her love affair with Lord Ponsonby meant she’d ceased to maintain the constant interest of England’s elite men, and now she cannot return to that place in society as other women have taken her position. So not only did she lose Lord Ponsonby, she has realised now, she has also lost the idolization she had always craved before she found love to feed her hunger for selfishness.
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