‘Free as Air’ – a courtesan’s agreement of inconstancy – in denial of the feelings of her heart

Harriette_Wilson00As planned Harriette went to Paris ahead of Mr Meyler, accepting the escort of a friend Lord Frederick Bentwick, who drove her to Dover. But then she, her servant woman, as well as one of her nephews travelled on alone. She hired some ‘handsome rooms in the Rue de la Paix,’ and began sight-seeing with her nephew before Meyler came. But before I share what happened next, as always, here’s the recap on the history of this series of posts, and for those who’ve already read this, 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 had said before she left for Paris, that she and her current lover, Meyler, had not once argued before her departure, since they had agreed to not live together but just call upon one another. But when he arrived in Paris, he was in a contrary mood again.

We are free as air, you know, my dear,’ said Meyler, on the very first night of his arrival in Paris. ‘I have been most true to you for more than two years, nor am I tired of you now, in the least; but never having had an intrigue with a Frenchwoman, and being here, for the first time, of course I must try them, merely for fun, and to have something to talk about. You know a young man with thirty thousand a year must try everything, once in his life; but I shall love you the better afterwards.’

‘A delightful plan,’ said I, striving, with all the power of my mind, to conceal my rage and jealousy, ‘provided it be mutually followed up and I can conceive nothing more agreeable than our meeting about once a week or so, and passing a day together, for the sole purpose of hearing each other’s adventures.

Go Harriette! She so knew how to play the man at his own game now 🙂

But the man was not to be daunted or threatened. ‘Oh, nonsense! mere threats,’ said Meyler. ‘I don’t believe you will ever be inconstant. You are, in fact, too constant for Paris. One has enough of all that humdrum stuff, in England. I am sure I have had enough of it, for the last two years, and begin to wish there was no such thing as constancy in this dirty world.’

I could have almost murdered Meyler for this insulting speech; but pride made me force myself to seem of his way of thinking.

Where are you staying?’  I inquired with affected carelessness.

‘At the Hotel de Hollande, exactly opposite your own door,’ he replied.

‘Never mind,’ said I, ‘I shall not have time to watch you.’

‘What are you going to do this evening?’ Meyler inquired, growing uneasy and more in love , as he began to believe in my indifference.

Meyler then tried to pin her down. When Harriette said she was attending a party with a new female acquaintance, an Italian lady. He asked for an introduction. She refused him. ‘Why no, not so, that would be too cool a thing to do, till I know her better.’

‘Tomorrow morning then, I suppose, you are to be found, in case I should not otherwise be engaged, at about two.’

‘Why no, not so, for my carriage is ordered at ten in the morning, and I shall be out the whole of the day, with a French party, seeing sights.’

‘Where shall I see you then?’ said Meyler, vexed, fidgety, and almost forgetting his project of making up to Frenchwomen, since the chief enjoyment and zest of such a pursuit was expected to arise out of my jealousy.

I think Harriette is again telling the story today not me, I don’t need to add to it 🙂

‘Why, really, Meyler, this plan of as free as air, which you know you proposed, is so decidedly to my taste that I cannot sufficiently express to you my obligation. I began to wish, with you, there was no such thing as constancy in the world, particularly when I recollect how very Darby and Joan-like we lived together in London; but I dare say we shall meet at the opera, towards midnight, and if we don’t, never mind, love,’ said I, kissing my hand to him, as I went towards the door.

‘Where are you going then?’ asked Meyler.

‘To a party, in the hotel, to whom my Italian friend presented me yesterday. Au revoir, mon voisin.’ (Good-bye, my neighbour)

I had acted my part well, and satisfied my pride, but not my heart. No matter. It won’t do to play the game of hearts in Paris, and, wherever we may be, we must take the world as we find it.’

Harriette was disappointed by the French men, who favoured women under twenty, so she found no one to exact her inconstancy with there…  But the next night she met Meyler again…

‘I did not see Meyler again till the following evening at the opera, when, being both tired of shamming more indifference than we really felt, we went home together.’

More on their newly agreed inconstancy next week 😉 …

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories.

Why not also read A Lord’s Desperate Love the story of two of the characters from The Passionate Love of a rake which Jane is telling for free here, access each part on the index of posts. 

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’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

About janelarkhttps://janelark.wordpress.coma writer of compelling, passionate and emotionally charged fiction

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