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Harriette Wilson's Memoirs: The Memoirs of the Reigning Courtesan of Regency London Paperback – 9 Jan 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; New edition edition (9 Jan. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842126326
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842126325
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 442,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From the Back Cover

Harriette Wilson's Memoirs These are the memoirs of the reigning courtesan of Regency London whose patrons included most of the distinguished men of her day, from the Duke of Wellington to Lord Byron. Hard-pressed for money in middle age, she sold her memoirs after offering to edit out any lovers who paid her the sum of 200 Publish and be damned! cried the Duke of Wellington. She did and she was. Edited and Introduced by Lesley Blanch, author of The Wilder Shores of Love.

About the Author

Lesley Blanch was born in London, England, and has travelled over most of the globe. She began her career as a painter, illustrator and theatrical designer, but in 1937 transferred her allegiance to journalism and became features editor of London VOGUE. Her essays and articles have since appeared in most of Britain's leading periodicals, including the OBSERVER and the NEW STATESMAN. Harriette Wilson (1786-1846) was one of the most glamorous and intelligent women of her age. She allowed herself to be seduced by Lord Craven at the age of 15 and rapidly acquired a string of rich and powerful lovers, chief among whom was the Duke of Wellington. After retiring from the courtesan life at the age of 35 she wrote a number of novels as well as her scandalous MEMOIRS. Lesley Blanch, the editor of the present volume, was born in London, England, and has travelled over most of the globe. Her essays and articles have appeared in most of Britain's leading periodicals, including the OBSERVER and the NEW STATESMAN. She now lives in France.


Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on 16 Oct. 2003
The introduction to the memoires gives a good overall picture of Regency life and the place of the courtesan. This is nothing however compared to the actual memoires - they are revealing, enjoyable, and rather like reading a Regency issue of a 'Hello' type magazine. Harriette is very open, rather sweet and at times just a little too humble. She paints a picture of the courtesan life which shows just how open their role was, and yet how much they lived in a parallel world to that of the real Regency folk of the Ton.
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You know when you watch a period drama and women are all fluttering eyelashes, coy looks and decorum?
The hell they were! They were a fabulously b****y bawdy sarcastic bunch.
I nearly had an attack of the vapours at some points.
I had read the biography of Harriete Wilson ' The Courtesans Revenge' and realised that the most interesting bits of that book were the extracts from Harriettes' own memoirs so I duly ordered it and I was right.
She's a joy. Sharp, funny, wicked and a contrast of ruthlessness tempered with kindness.
Men paid large sums of money not to be mentioned in her memoirs.
The one's that wouldn't cough up such as the 'Publish and be damned' Duke of Wellington make for great reading but how I wish we could read her comments on the one's that did submit to her blackmail.
They must have had an awful lot to hide.
Harriette,( who when her younger sister Sophie took up with the love of Harriettes life Lord Ponsonby) would ensure that she sat in the opera box above Sophie's ....just so she could spit on her head.
Great character!
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Harriette Wilson is notoriously the woman of pleasure who blackmailed her former lovers - if they paid up they avoided detailed mention in her memoirs. The Duke of Wellington had no truck with this - his memorable response, "Publish and be damned!" is nowadays more famous than the book and woman who inspired it.

This edition was published and edited in the late fifties and it shows. The lengthy introduction reveals quite a moralistic attitude, with no consideration of the sort a modern feminist might give, of the world of women "of that kind" and the options available to them. It also takes for granted a rather more detailed knowledge of French courtesans like La Paiva and Edwardian demi-reps than is actually likely today.

Harriette's memoirs are lively and clearly utterly unreliable, but enormous fun for anyone who knows their way round the history and literature of the period or, for that matter, is a Georgette Heyer fan! My advice is to skip the introduction and dive straight into the world of this silly, outrageous "Tart with a heart" of two centuries ago, which, as another reviewer says, could almost be culled from the pages of a modern celebrity scandal magazine.
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This is a lovely book written by a lovely, articulate woman who both took advantage of her age and was taken advantage of by it. The editor provides an insightful amount of front matter tying together some social, political and sociological information to give a setting for Harriette's story. I write Regency romances, and this material was wonderfully helpful in providing insights into the age, and particularly into the wealthy, titled men fortunate enough to thrive in it and know Harriette. The book was also an interesting portrait of the difference between a woman who was purposefully attractive on many levels--a true courtesan--and what modern women do with their gender role. It should also be noted that Harriette manages to prose on at great length without ever once lapsing into the truly intimate. She hints, she innuendos (spending time with the Duke of Wellington was described as "very uphill work,") but she never quite opens the bedroom door. A lovely, lovely book.
Grace Burrowes
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I think this is the book Thackery's Becky Sharpe would have written if she was not a fictional character. The differences between her society (and century) and ours makes her prose a little hard to follow - and you know you can't believe all she wrote. I think she didn't expect her readers to swallow it whole because 1)who would but the book if there was ho hum and little scandal in it? and 2)she was trying to extort hush money so she had to write something worth hushing up.
But she's so breezily brazen that, like Becky, you turn the page to find out if she wins or loses.
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