This week Harriette starts her piece by saying ‘Meyler led me but an unhappy life, during the first year of our living together.’
I find the words Harriette uses in this part of her memoirs so different. When she describes relationships previously she used romantic words or at least words which expressed thought and obligation, but her relationship with Mr Meyler, seems much baser – living together – it was love and lust and battles without any rose-tinted vision. But before I go on to tell you this chapter in Harriette’s life, for anyone joining the blog today, here’s the background to this series of posts. As usual if you’ve read this before just skip to what Harriette has to say.
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 says, ‘His jealousy was downright selfish; for he would be jealous of my pianoforte, if that instrument amused me. He was in fact, always jealous, unless I was counting the minutes of his absence.’ And not only was he jealous, he was the controlling type, ‘If I procured a private box, to witness a play, tête-a-tête with my sister Fanny, he would send a note, by his coachman, this effect: Dearest Harriette, I send a carriage to convey you to the play, to prove my wish to put no restraint on your wishes; but if, for my sake, you would stay at home, I should be both grateful and happy, and will return to you as soon as possible.’
But Harriette’s jealousy was just as bad, ‘He often left me to pass a week at the Beauforts at Badminton, (the family of Harriette’s ex-lover who had tricked her out of her final settlement when she’d been cast off). And this never failed to render me completely wretched. ‘My God.’ Said Meyler, one day, striking his head with his hand, ‘What am I to do? I would rather blow my brains out, than be thus the slave of any woman. Mine is not the passion of a day, or a year. I shall never cease to love you; but I must enjoy a little liberty.’
Harriette admits she was moved by such a passionate declaration, even if that passion was anger, and she compares it to her former lover’s declarations which were sweet, whining and unending, until his affection seemed to die overnight. ‘and Meyler is so rich! so very, very beautiful, and it would be so shocking to lose him altogether.’ So she made a choice to ‘put up with him’ and accept him, ‘in his own way’ for as long as he proved constant, and she declared she knew half the women in London would gladly take over her position as his lover if they could pry him away.
But when Harriette then decides to reject her jealously and abide by him regardless; she asked him to dinner the night before he was to leave for Badminton. He arrived expecting her to be fretting and crying, ‘as usual’, but instead she played ‘his favourite airs on the pianoforte, gave him an excellent dinner, and drank my proper allowance of champagne, with spirit’ then obligingly wished him a pleasant week in Badminton, and said she would bide her time while he was gone with books and music. Meyler’s response – He could neither eat nor drink, he was not in the mood. ‘What is the matter I asked.’ ‘He only sighed!’
‘Do, my pretty, little Meyler, tell me what you would be at?’
‘It would be impossible for you to keep such delightful spirits knowing I am about to visit a fine woman, if you loved me.’
Harriette reassured him, and told him he had merely convinced her of his faithfulness, and admitted that she did not want to be a dull jealous woman, because jealously was so unattractive.
‘I see you are delighted to be rid of me,’ said Meyler, ‘and I could never love, nor believe in the love of any woman who was not madly jealous of me. I see your affectation and therefore I hate you, Harriette, so in order to punish you, I will not go to Badminton at all.’
Harriette exclaimed. ‘Bravo! You’ll stay then with me’ and she kissed him, ‘Indeed, indeed, I but acted with indifference from dread of disgusting you.; but now since you will stay, I am so very,very, happy.’
Next, Harriette says, ‘Meyler being satisfied that it would make me miserable, set off for Badminton early next morning’…
What a relationship! Well next week you kind find out what her sister, Fanny, and her friends thought of this toxic love affair Harriette had now been pulled into, by lust.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories.
See below on 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’sFacebook 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