Wilson, Harriette (Introduction by Lesley Blanch, ed.)
- Harriette Wilson's Memoirs - Folio Society edition
The Folio Society, London, 1964.
First printing. Octavo; hardcover, 378pp., monochrome illustrations. Owner's name. Mauve cloth boards with gilt decoration and titling. Browned and spotted text block edges with brown mark on lower edge; foxing to pastedowns and endpapers with random spotting on preliminaries and title page; front board slightly bowed. Very good. No slipcase. "Harriette Wilson liked to insult her suitors. Early on in her career she discovered the fastest way to get a man on his knees was to show him how little he could succeed the first go around. Courtesans, of course, were famous for this. For a certain calibre of female, hardships birth wit, and to the gentleman trapped in a stratum of dull, mannered ladies, wit was an aphrodisiac.... sauciness inspired the ardour of many influential men during her reign, including the Duke of Wellington, the Marquess of Worcester, the Duke of Argyll, and Lord Melbourne's son, the Honorable Frederick Lamb. One can scarcely leave out her first lover, the Earl of Craven. At the age of 15, Craven introduced her to the pursuits of pleasure, but she was no more enamoured of him than of his cocoa trees from the West Indies. By her own account, he would amuse her by drawing pictures of his 'fellows' along with the dreaded trees, a practice Harriette called a 'dead bore.' It didn't help that she despaired of his cotton night cap. 'Surely,' (she) would say, 'all men do not wear those shocking nightcaps; else all women's illusions had been destroyed on the first night of their marriage.' Harriette Wilson's dismal opinion of marriage was borne from early experience:". . .my dear mother's marriage had proved to me so forcibly the miseries of two people of contrary opinions and character torturing each other to the end of their natural lives, that, before I was ten years old, I decided in my own mind to live free as air from any restraint but that of my own conscience." Although Harriette forbore blaming her parent's marriage, and indeed stressed that her dear mother did not influence her choice in profession, an unhappy home life seemed to affect the family at large. Among her sisters, three of them turned Cyprian - Amy, Sophia, and Fanny. The closest in age, Harriette and Amy spent their careers competing for affections with the latter sister stealing lovers from the former.... Although a well-known courtesan in Regency times, we have Harriette's memoirs to thank for her enduring legacy in ours. The memoirs were published in 1825, a move she describes as a 'desperate effort to live by my wits.' This is a marked contrast from the manner in which she formerly earned her living. The memoirs gained her a reputation far exceeding that of a demimondaine. Rather than earning admiration for her enterprise in a sticky situation, she was scorned by her methods. Harriette was nearing old age, 'in truth, her thirties', when her protectors decided she wasn't worth the jangle in their pockets. Denied the annuity promised by the Duke of Bedford upon her agreement to forsake his heir, the Marquess of Worcester, Harriette was left penniless. Her beauty diminishing along with her funds, the woman who later wrote, 'I will be the mere instrument of pleasure to no man. He must make a friend and companion of me, or he will lose me,' dared blackmail the feckless gentlemen who had thrown her off. The famous reply by the Duke of Wellington, 'publish, and be damned,' arises from Harriette's request for funds in exchange to leave his name out of her memoirs. Regardless of who paid up, the surprisingly tasteful history of her love life earned her a small fortune. Her publisher, John Stockdale, was forced to queue the crowds that stormed his shop upon the latest print instalments. This nail-biting manoeuvre served Harriette well. The instalments tested the nerves of her former lovers while they awaited the appearance of their names in the next issue. How many cried off at the last minute, we can only imagine. From the date of their publication, her memoirs increased in notoriety and exceeded Harriette's hope of twenty editions - reaching thirty in its first year as well as the six volume French version. Even today they are great reading. Harriette may have resorted to blackmailing and thereby acquired a reputation for unreliability, but she has an intelligent wit. She vilified some of her lovers, yes, but treated others with a fair pen. And she did not always spare herself in the telling.' - Susan Ardelie.
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