Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Harriette Wilson on virtue

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Loretta reports:

The Regency era courtesan Harriette Wilson belonged to the sorority called Girls Just Want To Have Fun.  Here’s her take on virtue:
~~~
There certainly was much aggravation of sin, in my projected criminal intercourse with the Marquis of Worcester.  Many women, very hard pressed par la belle nature, intrigue because they see no prospect nor hopes of getting husbands; but I, who might, as everybody told me, and were incessantly reminding me, have, at this period, smuggled myself into the Beaufort family, by merely declaring to Lord Worcester, with my finger pointed towards the North—that way leads to Harriette Wilson’s bedchamber; yet so perverse was my conscience, so hardened by what Fred Bentinck calls, my perseverance in loose morality, that I scorned the idea of taking such an advantage of the passion I had inspired, in what I believed to be a generous breast, as might, hereafter, cause unhappiness to himself, while it would embitter the peace of his parents.

Seriously I have but a very confused idea of what virtue really is, or what it would be at.  For my part, all the virtue I ever practised, or desire to learn, was such as my heart and conscience dictated.

Now the English Protestant ladies’ virtue is chastity!  There are but two classes of women among them.  She is a bad woman the moment she has committed fornication; be she generous, charitable, just , clever, domestic, affectionate, and ever ready to sacrifice her own good to serve and benefit those she loves, still her rank in society is with the lowest hired prostitute.  Each is indiscriminately avoided, and each is denominated the same—bad woman, while all are virtuous who are chaste.

…The soldier’s virtue lies in murdering as many fellow creatures as possible, at the command of any man, virtuous or vicious, who may happen to be his chief, no matter why or wherefore.

The French ladies’ virtue is, generally speaking, all comprised and summed up in one single word and article—bienséance!*

*propriety
~~~
Excerpt from The Memoirs Of Harriette Wilson, which were first published in 1825.
You can read the first two volumes from the 1909 edition online here.    And for further insight into this fascinating woman, you might want to look into The Courtesan’s Revenge: The Life of Harriette Wilson, the Woman Who Blackmailed the King.

5 comments:

Ellen M said...

Are we quite certain, dear Loretta, that Harriet wrote these words 185 years ago? They are unfortunately very pertinent today!Thank you for sharing.

LorettaChase said...

I have the same feeling when reading her memoirs. It's my sense that, because she was a courtesan, and an unrepentant one, she was liberated as few women were in her time. Her frankness—on so many subjects—gives her an immediacy that few other voices from the past offer. Byron's voice sounds modern, too, but he was an aristocratic male, secure in his power and position. I love that Harriette so cheerfully defies convention!

Anonymous said...

I will be reading her full memoirs in the new year,really interesting.Merry Christmas to all.Ellen M.

Carey said...

Oo another book to add to my pile for this year!

Charles said...

I have a Folio Society edition of this book, and it is a pleasure to read it in such a nice form.

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