After Harriette’s first meeting with the young infatuated Marquis of Worcester, he begged a chance to visit her at home, and to me, it seems Harriette loved the opportunity to play two young men off against one another. The young Duke of Leinster, a companion of Worcester’s at Oxford and one of Harriette’s current beau, was leaving his education behind and setting off on his grand tour, but he begged Harriette to at least not meet with Worcester until he was gone. (And I note she comments on the fact he wore breeches and stockings when he called – I laughed, you’ll have to look back to last week to see why – but Harriette preferred her men in breeches not trousers) While the Marquis of Worcester said he could not stand being in a room and know she was with Leinster.
But before I tell you more about Harriette’s potential stab at a title, as usual let me do a quick recap for anyone one joining this set of stories today. If you’ve read it before, then as always, please read on from the end of 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.
Playing them both beautifully, Harriette of course told Lord Leinster that she would not let Worcester visit until after Leinster had left for Spain, and to Lord Worcester, she said, that he only had to wait six weeks, until his friend was gone, and then he might have her full attention. I know crafty little devil, wasn’t she… Then that evening she talks about going to a masquerade with Lord Leinster, and being convinced that Worcester was observing them surreptitiously through a trelice.
But fortune took a hand now and she began meeting Worcester regularly regardless. A couple of weeks ago I told Sophia’s story, and as luck would have it Lord Berwick, who was courting Sophia at the time, had an usual agreement with the Marquis of Worcester’s uncle. Lord Berwick liked racing curricles but didn’t like driving them, and Worcester’s uncle was a great driver but had no money for horses and a carriage, so the two men had come to an agreement, and Worcester’s uncle, played tiger (groom), to Lord Berwick, driving him about in his curricle. So when Lord Berwick, slotted into Harriette’s usual set to court Sophia, and began planning picnics etc. Worcester’s uncle insisted Worcester was included in the parties.
This is what makes me wonder if Harriette had her own happy-ever-after plan when she began more regularly courting Worcester’s attention.
She’d quite clearly said she had no interest in him at the Theatre, and when she met him to tell him she would let him call on her after Lord Leinster left, she describes him gripping her hand and weeping, so she knew he was besotted, but even then she speaks about her lack of any real interest, she talks only of being kind to him because he likes her so much. As I’ve said before, Harriette’s memoirs are tongue in cheek, so it is a case of unpicking the truth from the fiction, but I hear truth in this piece. And a woman perhaps beginning to calculate options as she’s grown beyond her first flourish of success, and has perhaps started realizing, now she knows love did not work out for her, that she needs to begin thinking of the future, and what will happen once she’s older and she has lost her looks and the interest of these men.
In a letter to her sister Fanny, Harriette talks about her almost daily entertainments, incorporating Worcester, and states that, as he is also leaving Oxford, he’s joined the tenth Hussars and trying to persuade her to go to Brighton with him, and she mentions two things which must have highly recommended him. Firstly he’d ignored Amy’s flirting, refusing to even speak to Harriette’s sister who liked to steal Harriette’s men. Harriette describes him as ‘steady as a rock to me, and my interests. Not even ridicule, the sharpest weapon which malice can turn against the feelings and prejudices of youth, ever changes him one jot, even when it wounds him most severely.’
The other point was his solicitation, she speaks of being ill one day when he called, and him running up and downstairs to fetch and carry for her, bringing anything she needed, and if you’ve followed these posts, you’ll know Harriette loved nothing more than utter devotion in her men.
At the close of her letter Hariette repeats something Worcester has said, ‘Harriette’s goodness and singleness of heart approximate her nearer to my idea of perfection, then any human being I have yet met with, and her face and person, to me, convey all I can imagine most desirable.’ Then she adds, ‘I repeat this to you, my dear Fanny, merely to show the force and power of ardent passion in youth. Dieu! comme cela nous embellit! You shall hear what becomes of me, next Tuesday, after Leinster will have left London…’
And I will tell you next week J
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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