There is not all that much left of Harriette’s story now, we are drawing towards the end, but I now know several things she left out of her memoirs that I will share with you when I finish her story as she told it, but until then let’s carry on, and, as always, if you are new to this series of posts today, here’s the history behind them, and if you have read this before just skip to the words highlighted in bold.
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.
Last week, I told you, or rather Harriette told us, about Fanny’s breakup with Colonel Parker, this week, Harriette relates a letter Fanny sent to her while she was in Paris, letting her know how things went on in London.
Fanny talks about her own loss, and says that Colonel Parker has called to visit his child twice, since his marriage, and is still supporting the child. She is writing sitting on the bed in his old room, ‘Methinks the bed looks like a tomb.’ She sounds empty hearted, and she says later in her letter that another man has been making love to her… ‘The other day, he said something to me which I fancied so truly harsh, coarse, and indelicate, that it produced a violent hysterical affection, which I found it impossible to subdue.
Ward wanted me to submit to something I conceived improper. When I refused, he said, with much fierceness of manner, such as my present weak state of nerves made me ill able to bear, ‘D––––d affection’ Obviously poor Fanny, was facing a need to find another man to support her, when she did not really want to be with another man, and like Harriette she was getting older and her choice of men narrower. The nice men everyone wanted would be in the enthrall of the new women on the market, the younger courtesans.
The other third of the ‘three graces’ which is what they had been called at the height of the their fame, Julia Storer, was doing little better. The young Mr Napier, who’d fallen for her some years before was still devoted, but was tight.
‘Napier’s passion for Julie continues increase. I will not call it love or affection, else why does he, with his twenty thousand a year suffer her to be so shockingly distressed? On the very day you left England, Julia had an execution in her house and the whole of her furniture was seized. I really thought she would have destroyed herself. I insisted on her going down to Mr Napier at Melton by that very night’s mail, to whom I wrote, earnestly entreating him to receive her with tenderness, such as the wretched state of her mind required. A man of Mr Napier’s sanguine temperament was sure to receive any fine woman with rapture, who came to him at Melton Mowbray, where petticoats are so scarce and so dirty; but, if he had really loved her, he surely would have immediately paid all her debts, which do not amount to a thousand pounds, as well as, ordered her upholsterer to new-furnish her house.
Would you believe it? Julia has returned with merely cash or credit enough to procure little elegant necessaries for Napier’s dressing-room, and, for the rest, her drawing-room is covered with a piece of green baize, and, in lieu of all her beautiful knick-nacks and elegant furniture, she has two chairs, an old second-hand sofa, and a scanty yellow cotton curtain. Her own bed was not seized, it is now the only creditable piece of furniture in the house of Napier’s adored mistress, one of the richest commoners in England, who is the father of her infant.’
Their days of fame and complete adoration have truly past.
Next week, to cover her back, Harriette is caught up in a love triangle…
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romances, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.
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.
Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see 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