So as always before I continue her story, if you are joining this series of posts today here’s the background, and for anyone who has read it, as usual skip to 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.
Harriette tells us that the following Saturday, despite previously putting the young Mr Meyler off she had to endure his company in her opera box, because he was there at the request of her friend, Julia, who had paid the rent on half the box, so Harriette could not in all fairness turn him out. She then claims she is teased and taunted into riding home in his carriage with Julia, but she refused bluntly to let him come into her house.
“I had promised to send Worcester a journal of everything I did; and it really is so little in my nature, that it is scarcely in my power, to be artful; and so, as I would not walk about Camden Town , to enjoy a tête-a-tête and moonlight, Julia was pressed into the service, and we all three wandered about the fields, and Meyler sighed, and talked downright sentimental about leading a chaste life for my sake, and sending away all his women!”
She says they both laughed but Meyler continued in the ‘same humour for two months’. She says (perhaps sounding as though she claims it a little too much and is writing this piece for the benefit of Lord Worcester and his family) that she never once let him into her home, and protested frequently that she did not want him in her opera box, ‘but Meyler had so many little winning ways, really they were overpowering to a poor weak woman!’ – Harriette poor, and weak? – who is she kidding.
Now this bit is one of the little gems she tells that has the ring of truth.
‘He would tap at the door of my box, and Julia would open it, and assure him that I should quarrel with them both if she admitted him: and Meyler, instead of looking cross, would sigh! And point to a rose in his bosom, and desire Julia to tell me that it was the rose I gave him a week before, and he had preserved it with the greatest care. Then he would go downstairs, and then his legs were so beautiful, and his skin so clear and transparent, and Meyler was sentimental for the first time in his life!
Really all these things…. were enough to melt a heart of stone.”
Besides his good-looks and such sentimental touches, he would always wait to greet them at the theatre door, and Harriette’s says if they had any problems with carriages he would come up and whisper that his was at the door for their use, but he would not enforce his presence within it, instead joining a friend and leaving the carriage to them – far more the behaviour Harriette craved to be shown. She liked men who displayed obsession and treated her like she was a treasure.
She tells us that Mr Meyler did succeed in speaking to her daily but never alone, and again assures us he was never permitted into her house. Though he did ask her numerous times to break her agreement with Lord Worcester and instead accept an agreement with him. She refuses, claiming that she could not endure a duel, and have them both killed, or Lord Worcester dying abroad while she suffered guilt over breaking his heart – wait for it – ‘I should never get over it: else, you know I am full half in love with you, and Worcester knows full well I was never, one bit, in love with him.
‘Then if you do love me,’ said Meyler, ‘I will hold myself disengaged, and wait for my chance with you, during the whole of that year you have promised to wait for Worcester’s return.’
She says she had no faith in him, but that she had no faith in herself either, and so, rather than betray Lord Worcester she makes a decision to retire to a village in the country. Saying, she owed it to Lord Worcester who had done so much for her.
On her parting with Mr Meyler, he asks if he may write, and she agrees he may, but tells him his letters can only include friendship as she shall show them to Lord Worcester. He then gives her a lock of his hair in a silver tooth pick box – I love that they used to give each other hair. I love looking at trinkets like that in historical houses, I find all that so fascinating.
Anyway, so that is where we leave Harriette for today, heading off to isolation in a village near Exeter, she says it was Charmouth…
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