This is the way of the adulteress: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, ‘I have done no wrong.’ (Proverbs 30:20)
If you’ve done any amount of Regency fiction reading, you’ll have run across references to Harriette Wilson, demi-monde extraordinaire. From all accounts, a hardened prostitute, she climbed to fame and notoriety during the Regency. Her memoirs, though chronicling a disreputable life, are considered to be a serious historical document.
Later in life, while writing her memoirs, she expressed no regrets for her ill-spent life. She frankly admitted to being a blackmailer of her former paramours. Her attempt to extort from the Duke of Wellington stands as one of her failures. He famously responded, “Publish and be damned.”
Regency euphemisms for the word prostitute include: the fashionable impure, lightskirt, barque of frailty, lady-bird, of the muslin company, or Cyprian. They took on specific colorful nicknames such as The Venus Mendicant, The Mocking Bird, The White Doe, or Brazen Bellona. Harriette Wilson’s nicknames included Queen of Tarts, Harry, or The Little Fellow.
She is said to have been hard as nails, more matey than romantic, frank and familiar. Not staggeringly beautiful, but with an alluring figure, fine coloring, and abundant vitality. She took up with a succession of noble lords and was established in a series of elegant apartments at their expense.
We know that this kind of life leads to destruction and is not to be admired in any way. What is interesting is that out of all the regency courtesans that must have existed, only Harriette Wilson is remembered and mentioned. Do you think her continued notoriety is attributable to her having written a book?
Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:27)