I am slipping backwards in Harriette’s story today. What I didn’t share, because I didn’t want to break up the elements of her story with Meyler and their inconstancy agreement; was that before Harriette headed off to Paris, her sister had a disappointment that delayed Harriette’s journey…
But before I tell you Fanny’s story, as always, here’s the quick recap of the history of this series of posts for anyone joining today. If you’ve already read it, then 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’s favourite sister, Fanny, had been in a relationship with Colonel Parker for years. She’d borne him one child, and gone by the name Mrs Parker for a very a long time, as he had supported her even when he was abroad for months at a time, fighting during the Peninsular War. But now the Peninsular War was over, and Colonel Parker had been back in England for a few weeks, living with Fanny.
‘Colonel Parker, being one of those sort of animals whose constitution requires variety, had been, of late, cooling towards Fanny, his amiable, and I will swear, most faithful companion, the mother of his child, too, and merely because he had been in possession of her person too many months for his habit of variety.’
He told Fanny he was going to visit a female cousin, and Harriette says that Fanny joked, ‘he should not make love to her…’
‘Love to her!’ exclaimed Parker, ‘she is the greatest fright imaginable. I wish you could once see her. It would set your mind at rest for the remainder of your life, on that head at least.’
Colonel Parker promised to return to Fanny in a week, but two weeks passed and he did not return, and nor did she hear anything. Fanny grew more and more concerned as each day passed and she heard nothing. Then… ‘somebody told her that he was in town, and residing at a hotel in Vere Street. Fanny set off that very instant, by herself, and on foot, to the hotel, declaring her conviction of its utter impossibility.’
But he was there…
Fanny, ‘met Parker on the steps of the hotel, and placed her hand upon his arm, absolutely breathless and speechless.
‘Fanny,’ said Parker, ‘you are, no doubt, surprised that I did not either go to you, or inform you of my arrival in town… but’ continued Parker—and he hesitated.
‘Pray, speak,’ said Fanny.’ She was feeling ill.
‘I have bad news for you,’ said Parker, rather confused than agitated. ‘I am going to be married,’ he continued, observing that Fanny could not speak.
Fanny was so shocked by the news, that Colonel Parker, finally expressed some concern for her, and hired a Hackney to bring her home, accompanying her on the journey.
Harriette claims she was calling on her friend Julia, who Fanny was sharing a house with at the time, when Fanny and Colonel Parker returned home.
‘The little sitting-room, which Fanny had furnished and fitted up for herself, was a back parlour, looking into the garden. Her veil was down, when she descended from the coach, and, though we expected they would have come upstairs (sitting-rooms were more often upstairs in the regency period) Julia and I determined not to interrupt them. I was to pass the day with Julia: and, when the dinner was on the table, the servant was desired to knock at Fanny’s door, and inform Colonel and Mrs Parker, that we were waiting. The servant brought us word that they must beg to be excused. I became uneasy, and, without knocking, or any further ceremony, entered the room. Fanny was sitting on the sofa, with her head reclined on the pillow. She was not in tears, and did not appear to have been shedding any; but her face, ears, and throat were visibly swollen, and her whole appearance so changed that I was frightened.
‘My dear, Fanny, what is the matter?’
Fanny did not even lift her eyes from their fixed gaze on the ground.
‘Colonel Parker,’ said I, ‘for God’s sake, tell me what has happened.’
‘She heard some unpleasant news, too abruptly,’ said Colonel Parker (so caring )
‘I implore you not to inquire,’ said Fanny, speaking with evident difficulty. ‘I would not be left alone, this night, and I have been on my knees, to entreat Parker to remain with me. He refuses.’
‘Surely you do not mean to leave her in this state!’ said I, addressing Parker.
‘I can do her no good. It is all too late: since my word is passed, and, in ten days, I shall be the husband of another. My presence only irritates her, and does her harm.’
‘Fanny, my dear, Fanny,’ said I, ‘can you make yourself so completely wretched, for a man who acts without common humanity towards you?’
‘Pray, pray, never expect to console me, in this way,’ said Fanny impatiently, ‘I derive no consolation from thinking ill of the father of my dear child.’
‘Come to bed, dear Fanny,’ said I, taking hold of her burning hand.
‘Yes, I shall be better in bed.’
Harriette and Parker helped her upstairs, and then at one o’clock, Parker left.
Harriettes says, that Fanny was stupefied by her loss and sadness, she could not cry, but she stayed in bed to mourn her lover for two days. Then on the third when she rose she said, ‘All I entreat of you, is to keep secret from me the day of their marriage, and everything connected with it.’
Unfortunately for Fanny, as she tried to return to a life of merriment to hide her pain, a man she had rejected in favour of Colonel Parker in the past, was not going to respect her desire to think nothing more of Colonel Parker. He not only told her the day and hour, and place, of Colonel Parker’s wedding, he brought Fanny as piece of Colonel Parker’s wedding cake.
Again, Fanny retired to her room, to deal with her pain. But after a day, she came out and continued on with her life, having lost the stable relationship she’d had for years, and thought would last… Harriette says, after this Fanny was much altered. She was ill often, and changed, ‘from gay to serious.’
So many of the courtesan’s had sad heartbroken endings, as the men they’d committed to walked away from them to continue a respectable life, or a new relationship with a younger, prettier, or just different lover. When the courtesan’s were young and at their peak, they must have felt that all the power was in their hands as they picked out the men they favoured, and absorbed all the courtship and adoration, but then… When they grew older… They were left alone with very few choices of how they could live…
Back to Harriette’s story next week…
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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.
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