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!*
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.