Risky Regencies

Interview with Pam Rosenthal

We welcome–or rather, welcome back, since she’s a frequent visitor to the Riskies–Pam Rosenthal, acclaimed author of Almost a Gentleman and The Bookseller’s Daughter, whose next book THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION comes out this week.

Enter your comment or question for Pam (an intelligent, relevant one, please!) by Sunday, September 10 for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Slightest Provocation (winner to be chosen by the Riskies).

Pam Rosenthal’s writing is extraordinary. Fans of Laura Kinsale and Julia Ross will adore Rosenthal’s ability to humanize her characters–to render their emotions and reactions realistic to a fault, while maintaining a warmth that makes them sympathetic. Kit and Mary breathe. Louisa White, Fresh Fiction

Thoroughly grounded in history and threaded through with breathtaking sensuality, this intelligent, well-crafted romance takes readers on a fascinating journey and will appeal to those who appreciate a bit more history with an erotic, literary touch. Library Journal

Rosenthal crafts a tantalizing tale about a fiery love/hate relationship that defies the boundaries of love. Her strong characters’ fierce desires will leave readers panting. FOUR STARS Kathe Robin, Romantic Times

Pam, congratulations on the great reviews. Tell us what The Slightest Provocation is about.
It’s about a pair of lovers who eloped and then separated, when they were too young and feckless to know how to handle their youth, passions, and conflicting values. Since then, Mary has lived an independent life among poets and reformers, while Kit has learned discipline and responsibility in the army. Now that the war with Napoleon is over, they find themselves thrust back together.
The thrusting part (no surprise) works quite as well as it ever did. But the two of them still can’t agree on much else, especially disagreeing about the current political situation. The turning point is their discovery of a secret government plot, which forces them to question what’s truly important and to rethink their places in the world and with each other. The government plot really happened, by the way, and I find it quite fascinating.
So it’s about the varieties of power–erotic and otherwise. And also about love and the effects of time (inevitable, I suppose, since I’m not getting any younger myself).

What inspired you to write it?
First off, there was my curiosity–the urge that I share with you Riskies, to peek beyond the gates of the landed estate or the boundaries of Mayfair and St. James, to see what else was going on. And what I found, in the years after 1815, was a British Home Office most vexed by the parliamentary reform societies springing up throughout the country. The government responded to the situation by suspending habeas corpus, limiting the right to assemble, and sending a shady agent provocateur to foment rebellion and thus discredit the reformers. You can see it happening, if you read the Home Office correspondence in the British National Archives.
Added to which there’s my continuing interest, as an erotic writer, with point of view and the power of looking–which in this case led to a fascination with espionage. What’s wonderful to me is that while many things changed in the writing of this book, the founding image remains just as I first conceived it: an Englishman hidden in shadow, watching an Englishwoman, rather the worse for a hard day of travel, stepping out of a coach into an inn yard at Calais. I wondered if this was an image of the man’s power as a viewer, or of his powerlessness to stop looking. I was enthralled by the ambiguity, and what it implied for the volatility of an erotic relationship. And I think I must have gotten something of my obsession across, though, because an early reviewer (Historical Romance Writers–read the full review here) has said that she felt like a voyeur at Mary and Kit’s clandestine meetings.

Describe the challenge of using all that historical actuality, as you call it.
Whew! Well, besides getting it all right, you mean? (I’m adding an errata section to my web page, to deal with my errors as they’re revealed, by the way). But the ongoing problem was that I committed to following the true day-to-day chronology of events. Which meant I had to engineer the unfolding of the erotic connection to make sense in the context of Mary and Kit’s discoveries and varying interpretations. Since pacing is so critical in erotic writing, this set some serious constraints on what I could do. On the other hand, constraint, secrecy, and the nuances of understanding can be very sexy. One makes do.

Tell us a bit about the historical background/research you did.
Well, there were three parts to it. The early, difficult part was simply to unravel an intrigue that might have been hatched by Scooter Libbey, only in 1817. My husband Michael did yeoman labor in helping me put the pieces together, trucking home books from several libraries, finding the references to the Home Office documents, getting us permits to use the British Library and National Archives… but I did write the book, I promise.

The fun part was going to the Derbyshire countryside, where the agent provocateur made the most trouble–and where Mary and Kit grew up together. We spent a week tramping through fields and forests (my couple has lots of clandestine forest meetings)–I know, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. It’s a lovely area; we stayed at the village of Youlgrave (left), which is very near Chatsworth, and I highly recommend it. We got lost on our way to Pentrich, some twenty miles away, where some of the events would have happened. Which incident became story fodder–well, have you ever met a married couple who didn’t quarrel under such circumstances, especially if the guy refuses to ask directions?
But in some ways the most thrilling part was spent in the British Library and especially the National Archives, where we saw the correspondence between the Home Office, its agents and the magistrates. We were scared that we wouldn’t be able to decipher the old handwriting (though we didn’t admit that to each other until we were seated in front of the microfiche machines). But we could–not every word, but lots. And there it was, Lord Sidmouth, the Home Office Secretary, telling the magistrates not to arrest the provocateur. “A smoking gun,” Michael whispered.

How does this book take risks?
I don’t tell the erotic love story through a completely straightforward chronology. Kit and Mary’s earlier relationship–childhood, impetuous adolescence, elopement, early marriage, indiscretions, and betrayals–are rendered through memory fragments, breaking the surface of consciousness in that weird way that memory has. Which means that sometimes an incident will be told twice, from he says/she says contrasting points of view, and that events aren’t always recounted in chronological order. So I was concerned that I was asking a lot of my readers, to put it all together–though I do think there’s a coherent, compelling story to be found (and one that demands some compassion: this is a pair of lovers who hurt each other deeply when they were young and out of control). On the other hand, I’m a firm believer that a book comes alive through a reader’s active involvement in it. And since the story the reader has to piece together is a sexy, passionate one, I hoped that would be a motivation, and ultimately its own reward. And I think I might have pulled it off.

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16 years ago

I admit that I am not very knowledgable when it comes to historical events from years ago. Will my lack of knowledge affect my enjoyment of your book? I do enjoy a book where the hero and heroine know each other already and have a history together.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

That’s a great question, Maureen. No, I don’t think your lack of historical knowledge will interfere.

I enjoy the prettiness and elegance of the Regency world as much as anyone else — and I enjoy writing about it. In fact it makes it more interesting to me, when you see all that glitter in its true context, of a larger nation of Britons who thought that it might be nice for more than a small percentage of men to vote for the country’s parliament.

If you don’t find me an awful party pooper for bringing up the subject in the first place, Mary and Kit will present the facts of the matter for you.

The challenge for me was to present the facts in the midst of a passionate relationship. Of course in some way Mary speaks for our modern, egalitarian sentiment. But Kit’s not a dope or a prig — as Mary has admit, more than once, and not always willingly.

I tried to show a couple rediscovering themselves — because I think that you fall in love twice, first with the surface and then with the substance– as they discover the truth of their world.

Cynthia Lea Clark
16 years ago

Hi, Pam. As PLAYBOY has chosen as one of their best erotic writers (I may have altered the title slightly, but you get the drift), do you think THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION, may also excite PLALYBOY — no pun intended. I wish you great success and many more sales!

Colleen Gleason
16 years ago

Hi Pam! It was so fun to meet you in Atlanta and I loved being one of the first to touch your lovely new book. Beautiful cover!

Thanks for the great interview. Very interesting.

Karin Tabke
16 years ago

Wonderful interview, Pam. Can’t wait to pick up your book.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

That would be so cool, Cynthia, if Playboy picked up on a Regency-set historical. And since their list of 25 sexiest books is very idiocyncratic, to say the least (Lolita? Judy Blume?), who can say? (The list, btw, is at http://www.playboy.com/features/features/25novels — and I’m Molly Weatherfield there, rather than Pam Rosenthal).

And speaking of glossy magazines, Karin Tabke is in Cosmo this month. How cool is that?

Oh, and thanks, Colleen, for mentioning how beautiful my cover is. It’s got the title in SHINY RAISED LAVENDER lettering, everybody. Which brought me to paroxysms of delight, a deep new understanding of my essential inner shallowness, and a profound New York neurotic terror that NAL couldn’t possibly sell enough copies to pay for all that foil.

Please help prove me wrong on the last part — the NY neuroses are terminal, I’m afraid.

Elena Greene
16 years ago

I’m looking forward to this book, Pam. Kudos for exploring less well known aspects of the English Regency!

Jo Manning
16 years ago

Hello, Pam! It was wonderful to meet you (and Janet, too) in Atlanta.

I think we are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to writing Regency novels. With no disrespect whatsoever to Jane Austen — whom I believe was a genius — she addressed only certain aspects of her society. She addressed these aspects brilliantly, but ignored others.

A case in point — and I brought this up in my Beau Monde presentation in Atlanta — is the courtesan issue. One could not open a magazine or read a newspaper without coming upon the antics of these ladies; they were very much in the public eye. Whether their antics were discussed over genteel teas, of course, or with one’s mother, is another thing altogether, but a girl really had to have blinders on not to know these women existed.

Why do you think most Regency fiction has ignored these fabulous ladies of the Cyprian Corps?
Jo Manning

Keziah Hill
16 years ago

Hi Pam, great to meet you at Atlanta. I like your comments about looking and the research you did for this book sounds fascinating. And I can’t wait to see the lavender foil! Cool!

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Thanks, Elena, and kudos to you as well re the foundlings (LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE having recently made it from my to-be-bought list to my someday soon shelf).

And I’m fascinated by Jo’s comment — it speaks for the strength of a genre if we can see new things in it as we discover new concerns of our own. I think we write about our own freedoms and the lack of them when we write about the freedoms and the lack of them that our counterparts encountered in the past (all right, our richer counterparts, when it comes to the Regency).

My friend and onetime editor at Salon.com, Laura Miller, once wrote a terrific piece about historical fiction — she saw it as escapist because it’s about battles that have already been won and historical stories that in some way we know the end of.

And she’s right — it’s comforting to know that certain rights have been won and certain wrongs righted, especially because we’re so clueless about our own day-to-day problems. But I think there might be another side to it — I think that when we rethink an old genre convention it might be because we’re doing some problem-solving in our own world…

Adding sex to Regencies is an obvious example. Going beyond the last decade of obligato-sex-in-the-penultimate-chapter-now-that -we’re-really-really-sure-they-love-each-other may be another.

While the day-to-day notoriety of Regency courtesans, as Jo points out, also tells us something about the cult of celebrity. Then, and perhaps now.

And btw, Jo knows of what she speaks — she’s written a smart and hihgly-recommended book called MY LADY SCANDALOUS: THE AMAZING LIFE AND OUTRAGEOUS TIMES OF GRACE DALRYMPLE ELLIOTT, ROYAL COURTESAN.

Janet Mullany
16 years ago

I think we are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to writing Regency novels.

Oh, BRAVA, Jo. I couldn’t agree more.
As to why romance hasn’t had more courtesan heroines, I think that’s changing, as the genre is changing and readers, or editors, or whoever it is makes the decisions is more accepting of heroines who enjoy sex and may have enjoyed it with someone other than the hero (I mean, how does this work? Do they have editorial meetings where the CEO picks a piece of paper out of a bucket and announces that yes, this year we will buy Scottish historicals where everyone wears a skirt and the heroine is allowed to have had up to 1.8 previous lovers and .75 orgasms, total, in her whole life?).
But I digress.
Nice to have met you too, Jo.
Congrats again on the lavender foil, and, oh yes, the book itself, Pam.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Hi Keziah, it was great meeting you too. And Jo. And Colleen.

Check out the book cover that Keziah uses for her avator, folks. Isn’t it pretty? And so different from an erotic romance cover — because it comes from a different neck of the woods, the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. I think it’s important to point out that there are different necks to these woods — cause my Carrie books never would have made it in a big-sales, rule-bound world.

About which more later, re Janet’s comments.

Megan Frampton
16 years ago

Shoot, I forgot to order your book when I was spending birthday money at Amazon! I finally got Molly Weatherfield’s, though.

Pam, you write smart, erotic fiction. Very few authors manage to do both; which others do you think do it also?

Candice Hern
16 years ago

I don’t read much erotic fiction as a rule, but I’m a huge fan of Pam’s work. It is nothing to do with the erotic aspects, which are beautifully done wihtout being the least gratuitous, and everything to do with the writing. Pam’s prose is simply lucious. Reading her books is pure pleasure, and I can’t wait to read the new one!

And I love that Pam respects the history. What a potent combination: elegant prose, accurate and atmospheric history, and raw sensualtiy. Kudos, Pam!

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Colette is way smart and sexy — though in a very elusive and not very explicit way. I’ve been wasting a whole lot of time trying to find an essay Dominique Aury wrote about her. But the book seems to have disappeared, so I’ll have to quote my own paraphrase:

Colette never neglects to describe her heroines’ meals or the comforts, grand or shabby, of their bedrooms and bathrooms. Her interiors have the plenitude of gardens, and she writes magnificently of food, flowers and animals — not analytically but, as [Colette’s biographer Judith] Thurman says, “from the point of view … of the child first ‘sorting out’ her paradoxical instincts and experience.”

So first of all Colette . But Colette, though incredibly smart, was very anti-intellectual, as Thurman points out. And I’m kind of a groupie for explicit, pushy braininess. So really my inspiration is always Dominique Aury, the woman who wrote STORY OF O (a book that I read so thoroughly that I had to attempt to rewrite it, in CARRIE’S STORY).

I also love SPENDING, by Mary Gordon. It’s about a 50-year-old female painter who meets a rich cute guy who says he loves her work and wants to be her patron: he’ll support her in style to paint whatever she wants. And he means it. It’s a total wish fantasy and it’s also a thought experiment — about getting everything you wished for and doing whatever you wanted. Somehow it’s not kvetchy or chick-lit-ish, It’s thoughtful and really hot and full of great clothes and nobody’s smarter than Mary Gordon.

And I also think Janet Mullany’s a pretty darn smart and sexy writer.

And I don’t know what to say to Candice’s compliments except to go all mushy and blushy. Gosh thanks.

Janet Mullany
16 years ago

Oh, gosh, Pam (wriggles with self-consciousness). Just dropping in to say that one of the things I love about Colette is that she said there is as much craft in well-written page is in a pair of well-made shoes (paraphrasing badly)–something that’s resonated with me for years, well before I started writing.

Cara King
16 years ago

I’m not Pam (yeah, I know, none of you thought I was), 🙂 but I thought I’d address Jo Manning’s question, anyway…which was:

Why do you think most Regency fiction has ignored these fabulous ladies of the Cyprian Corps?

My first response was that I don’t think it has — from Heyer on, there’ve been plenty of courtesans in Regencies. But then it occurred to me that perhaps Jo meant courtesans as heroines….who, I do not argue, are rarely the heroines of Regency-set romances. (I suspect slightly more often of non-romance stories, such as Regency-set mysteries…)

I think the reason may be that, well, to be blunt, courtesans were really one form of prostitute. Yes, I know, there were many differences…courtesans were generally with one man at a time, often for long periods, and they chose who they went with, and sometimes had many children and very domestic home lives — so it can be argued that a courtesan was a bit like a serial monogamist, just without any wedding licenses…

But from what I’ve read (and I’m sure I’ve read a lot less than Pam or Jo, so I hope they correct me if I’m wrong), even the most elegant and choosy courtesan frequently slipped into outright prostitution eventually, when times were tough and her looks and popularity weren’t what they’d once been. And Harriet Wilson certainly took some men just for the money, and also cheated on her protectors (or so she claims)… And even if these women did choose who they went with, the ones we hear about did not choose poor men. (Fred Lamb, after all, was very early in Harriet Wilson’s career, before she was famous…) So — yes, doing it for the money.

(Of course, one could argue that many marriages were entered into for money, but in our modern Regency romances — as also in the novels by Austen, the Brontes, etc — the heroines don’t.)

So…back to my original argument….I think readers see courtesans as basically a form of prostitute, and romance readers are rarely interested in having such as a heroine. (Of course, there are exceptions.) I think romance readers can really be very demanding (and sometimes narrow-minded) in what they require hero and heroine to be.

Anyway, that’s my take on it.

BTW, loved the interview, Pam! The book sounds really interesting — it’s now on my list. 🙂


Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Actually, I’m going to duck Janet’s question about courtesans, since I’ve just begun to think about it.

But a full response would certainly take into account what we really mean by a HEA ending. Was it a HEA ending for Charles James Fox to marry his mistress, the courtesan Mrs. Armistead? They loved each other deeply and lived together happily — and almost no women of Fox’s social status would receive her. Is that a “romantic” ending? Could it be? I’ve always suspected that the historical romance reconciles h&h with their society as much as it does with each other. It’s part of our “having it all” fantasy. But those of you who know the canon better than I (you couldn’t know it more slightly), probably have a lot more of interest to say about this.

Love the shoes quote, Janet (and sounds like there’s a chicklit connection somewhere)

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Oh, and thanks for the kind words about the interview, Cara.

Keziah Hill
16 years ago

Aussie romance writer Anna Campbell’s first book (and Golden Heart finalist) Claiming the Courtesan will be out via Avon next year. I’ve read bits – it should be great.

Janet Mullany
16 years ago

About courtesans as heroines…I think you’re partly right, Cara, and it’s one of those frustrating questions of how much history you can use while satisfying the expectations of the romance reader. The conventions of romance demanded for so long that the hero be the heroine’s first, one, and only–or she’d better have good reasons–and this is still something that haunts us. The pattern for most courtesans was that they entered the profession at a very young age, 14 or so, and probably not always unwillingly, and that’s something an editor probably won’t touch with a bargepole, even if it’s the hero’s bargepole.

As Jo showed in her wonderful presentation at Atlanta, tho, courtesans were probably the *only* women in the period who had any sort of sexual or reproductive choice; some of them died in poverty and isolation, which probably was a great consolation to moralists, but others did very nicely for themselves.

I find it interesting that romance, which purports to be about love and passion, so often seems to be a bit preachy: abstinence until the right man comes along is rewarded with the white picket fence and multiple orgasms. Are we still really that uncomfortable about female sexuality? It’s very ironic when the editors urge us to write hot and hotter, b/c apparently that’s what the readers want.

Me, I’d far rather write about the bad girls.

16 years ago

Mazel tov Pam!

I remember meeting you at your first RWA meeting, when your books were just in the idea stage.


Elena Greene
16 years ago

Julia Ross’s GAMES OF PLEASURE has a courtesan heroine and it’s a great read.

In response to what Janet said about trends in romance, I think the tide is turning. A editor recently suggested to me that I write a courtesan heroine. This was not because a courtesan might be interesting (as she would) but so the sex could get going sooner in the book (which it certainly can).

We could get a spate of courtesan heroines because that’s what *they* think readers want now. The sexually experienced heroine could become the new stereotype.

It bothers me because I’d rather stories started with unique characters and the sex move at the pace that’s right for those characters rather than some editor-specified sex-by-chapter-2 requirement.

But I do trust authors like Pam and Janet to give us deep characterization as well as heat.
Looking forward to more of your stories!

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

(Elena slipped in before I could post this)

HEY Joy thanks for coming by. Are you also the Joy who had to live through my misery at RWA 2004 when I was sure this book was tanking? (As did Janet and a host of wonderful supportive folks).

And Keziah,I suspect that we will see more courtesan books, partly thanks to Jo Manning’s work and also Katie Hickman’s COURTESANS.

My own unproven theory of Regency (and perhaps most historical) romance, is that the payoff is not just the h&h getting each other, but them jointly assuming a place of moral centrality among the other characters and in their world. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and EMMA are clear exemplars of this — with all due respect and adoration for their respective spouses, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and Mr. and Mrs. Knightley will administer justice and right example from their (really rather feudal) positions in their complexly structured worlds as Jane Austen conceives them. (As will Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey). It is a profoundly attractive fantasy of a juster world than ours, ruled by an ideal male/female combo. (And I’m hardly dissing it — it was there in spades in my own ALMOST A GENTLEMAN)

The exception to this that I know about was Connie Brockway’s ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. And Nita Abrams’ Courier novels, which draw on the lives of the Rothschilds, who of course, as Jews, could not assume positions of real moral or even governmental centrality in their country. And of course Carla Kelly wrote about non-ton figures of moral authority. Candice Hern wrote about some reforming journalists in her Cabinet Series.

Once again, I’d like to hear about counter-examples.

Courtesans are fascinating to me as persons who were close to the centers of power but a million miles away from the accepted centers of moral authority — if we really want to sail into such troubled waters (yes, I know YOU do, Janet) and accept a HEA in a troubled world. If we really want a world that’s a little bit more elliptical than the one we’ve been visiting.

I hope to be exploring this a little in my current w-i-questionable-p, which does have a courtesan figure, though not the heroine.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Thanks for mentioning the editorially-mandated sex-in-chapter-two, Elena. It’s the new sex-in-the-penultimate-chapter, isn’t it?

And btw, Susie Bright has some interesting comments about this at her blog – http://susiebright.blogs.com/susie_brights_journal_/
– with some angry remarks about the worst elements of romance in its recent sexed-up incarnations. Susie has never been a friend of romance, but I still think she’s indispensible. It’s the August 29 entry, don’t remember the title… Cassandra something…

Elena Greene
16 years ago

That Susie Bright journal is interesting if depressing. I’m not sure I go to the same conclusions. I think there’ll always be readers for good stories regardless of sensuality level.

I haven’t seen sex-in-the-penultimate-chapter as typical of historical romances, though I’ve seen it in traditional Regencies (in some of mine, too, I’ll admit!)

Mostly I’ve seen a buildup of sexual tension towards consummation somewhere in the middle of the book. From a
Writing Geek point of view, this matches up with the Hero’s Journey phase of Seizing the Sword. Um, no pun intended there!

In erotic romance, I think the author needs to be very creative to keep the story going so it doesn’t fizzle out after Chapter 2 or wherever.

Thoughts on how you do that, Pam?

Elena, who already knows Pam is very creative 🙂

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Well, I could certainly be wrong about that penultimate chapter business (or did I say antepenultimate?) but I know I’ve read 5 or 6 Regency-set historicals where it happened, so I assumed it was a convention for passion as the ratification for marriage (and a sort of implicit reply to an supposed earlier notion its being the other way around). The question that always bugs me, though perhaps not a whole lot of readers, is how passionate can passion be when captured in formal convention?

(One answer is that it can’t — another I’ve been playing with lately is that it can if your h&h share a passionate concern for formality.)

As for sex in the second chapter: I’ve always wanted to pull it off (an early draft of my current effort has it in the first). But I can’t seem to do it in romance — am waiting for Janet to show me how. SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION manages chapter 3.

Whereas CARRIE’S STORY begins so up front and personal on page 1 that the narrator can hardly breathe, no less narrate. But since I wasn’t writing it for anyone but myself I just amused myself with the ironies.

Jo Manning
16 years ago

I sent a very long message in regards to some of the comments about courtesans as heroines, but it apparently got digested in cyberspace 

I said that I’d been inspired by two novels of Mary Balogh, one in which a woman worked at a brothel and the other in which a young woman down on her luck solicits a gentleman on the street. I thought it was daring and great of Mary to do so, because these women existed, prostitutes/streetwalkers and high-end courtesans, and it would have been hard for a lady with any intelligence at all not to know of their existence.

They were written about endlessly in the newspapers and the magazines; the print-shops displayed cartoons seen by all; and they frequented the busier streets around the theatres and shops.

As to their ends, bad or good, this is a mixed bag. Scadenfreude demands bad, sad, endings to the life stories of these women – who were generally acknowledged to lead immoral lives – but it sure did not always turn out that way! Some of them made out very well, indeed, marrying into the aristocracy and seeing their children doing the same.

Mrs. Armistead, the queen of annuity collection (annuities were the payments agreed upon by the high-end courtesans and their protectors-to-be, legal documents drawn up in solicitors’ offices), managed to marry Charles James Fox, the prominent Whig statesman of good family (though it was one of those secret marriages) and lead a very comfortable old age in her gracious home at St. Anne’s Hill. Mrs. Armistead (there was never a Mister A., and her real name may have been Bridget Foster Cane, but who knows for sure?)

Maria Foote is another of my favorites. An actress, she sued one of her lovers for breach-of-promise when he reneged on his offer of marriage, was kept in style by another, a duke, no less, and finally also married into the aristocracy, though she and her lover had to wait until his father passed away.

Kitty Fisher, a very beautiful courtesan, was much sought after. (She’s the one in the nursery rhyme: Lucy Locket lost her pocket… She apparently made a love match with an M.P. and became known for her many charitable acts, but she died young of ceruse poisoning (white lead in her makeup), or perhaps smallpox. Whatever the cause, a horrible death, when she’d finally achieved a modicum of respectability.

Elizabeth/Eliza Farren, also an actress, married the Earl of Derby after a long, long courtship. (They had to wait for his countess to die – the s.o.b. would not give her a divorce so she could marry her lover.) She became the Countess of Derby, snubbed all her old theatre buddies, and had three children with the earl.

Then there were those whose lives did not turn out so well.

Hoity-toity Eliza was not one of my favorites, but I am fond of Dora Jordan, who was somewhat of a rival of Farren’s on the stage. (Jordan excelled in trouser roles – and the audiences loved her because she apparently had a nice booty – Farren soon gave up the trouser roles – in part because maybe the audiences did not enjoy looking at her bony behind and let her know it?) Jordan had a long, long relationship with the Duke of Clarence, Prinny’s younger brother. They had ten children (Jordan had had 3 children previously with 2 ex-lovers), called the FitzClarences. The actress actually supported the royal duke with her stage earnings – she was really very good and commanded an excellent salary – but she was dumped via letter (the equivalent of today’s dumping by text message on cell phones?) when George IV decreed that his brother had to marry to provide an heir for the throne. (That’s a whole other story and pretty funny, in that no one particularly wanted to marry him until a German princess cousin took pity.) Once the royal favor was withdrawn, Jordan had to flee to France to escape her creditors – the Duke would not honor her bills – and she died there, alone and poor.

Alone and poor was also the fate of Harriette Wilson, who had to importune former lovers to pay for her funeral expenses. Wilson eschewed annuities, and the blackmail money from her Memoirs soon ran out, thanks to her young gambler lover. Her youngest sister Sophia, however, married into the aristocracy. (Her husband, Baron Berwick, was old and smelly, but had a bona fide title.) Sophia Baddley, a beautiful performer (a better singer than she was an actress), was the mistress of Lord Melbourne, who lavished her with money and jewelry. She would have been a very wealthy woman if she’d saved just 5% of what he gave her, but she was not very bright and a laudanum addict as well.

The subject of My Lady Scandalous, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, had at least three annuities, but her wealthiest protector had his head lopped off during the Reign of Terror before he could safeguard what he had in trust for her. Grace, after surviving the Terror herself, lived in much reduced circumstances in France, hoping for a handout from Old Q, but it never came to pass. Lord Cholmondeley, her longtime paramour, paid her last dressmaker’s bill and her funeral expenses.

Lots more, but I fear I may have bored you already!

Elena Greene
16 years ago

Jo, this is fascinating. I think some people think social barriers in the Regency were completely insurmountable. It’s interesting to know that marriages something like that in Julia Ross’s GAMES OF PLEASURE really happened.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

And there’s even, perhaps, a connection between our interest in courtesans and our interest (or mine, at any rate) in the secret plotting of the Home Office at the time. Because the fascination of Regency Society (or perhaps any society, for historical novelists) is the possibility for meetings of different worlds — the Beau Monde and the demi-monde for example, the seedy parts of London Pierce Egan’s Tom and Jerry traverse.

One of the hottest scenes in THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION, imo, is Kit’s memory of cutting Mary’s hair, so she could dress up as a boy and he could show her some of his favorite disreputable haunts. I believe that men in our period were particularly excited by opportunities to pass between social worlds — for women, it would have been more complicated and difficult.

Jo Manning
16 years ago

Those social barriers were rigid, I agree, but, you’re right, not insurmountable, as witness those numerous courtesan-aristocrat alliances. I prefer to think of it as hybrid vigor, mingling that blue blood with the not-so-blue — though some courtesans were from the aristocratic families as well. It’s so hard to say all courtesans are… There are so many exceptions to who they were and from where in the social strata they came and how they wound up in the grand hierarchy.

I didn’t mention another one of my favorites, Mary Anne Clark, a lively and resourceful girl from the poorest segment of the working class, who became the mistress of the grand old duke of York and involved in the scandal of the sale of army commissions. Her blood ran in the veins of our sister-writer, Daphne du Maurier (author of Rebecca, among other wonderful books), who wrote all about her notorious great-great-grandmother in the historical novel Mary Anne.

Mary Anne Clarke was another who came to a not-so-good end, being imprisoned for libel (on another issue) and then going to France, where she died. (So many courtesans die in France…something to ponder.) Her daughter who was the direct ancestor of Daphne du Maurier married respectably, though not wealthily, and the family gained status in the late 19th-early 20th centuries.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

But could a woman of the Beau Monde have a public friendship with one of the demi-monde?

Jo Manning
16 years ago

Pam, only if the woman of the Beau Monde was a demi-rep herself, like Lady Seymour Dorothy Worsley or Grosvenor’s wife (Harriet Vernon?) who had the affair with one of King George III’s brothers, was this possible, I think.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Yeah, that’s what I thought. So I’m working on a secret friendship between women from separate worlds, as one of the axes upon which to build my next book.

Janet Mullany
16 years ago

Pam/Jo, I think a friendship between someone in the Beau Monde and the demi-mondaine (tho I think Dumas was the first to use that term but it’s SO useful) might depend upon when it took place. There was quite a shift in morality between the turn of the century and the next decade or so. Harriet Smith, for example, was accepted in society because she was so fashionable in her heyday; but by the time she wrote her memoirs mores had changed. It was actually to her financial advantage, because there were fewer old-school ex-lovers who would tell her to publish and be damned.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

Harriet Wilson, right? Not the girl from EMMA? And thanks for the tip re demi-monde (the word); you’re right about Dumas, Janet, according to my OED (online for members of the San Francisco public library, bless their souls). I don’t know why I always write about the post-Waterloo period, when the clothes were so much worse — but I do. And so I think it would be a very daring relationship betwen women.

Pam Rosenthal
16 years ago

And just one more farewell comment from me. To thank the Riskies for having me this week. It was fun.

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