Monday, October 31, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency: Jane Elizabeth Harley, Countess of Oxford

This is my last posting for the Wild Women of the Regency series. Today, I’m featuring Jane Elizabeth Harley, Countess of Oxford (1772–1824).



Jane Elizabeth Scott was born in Southhampton, England to Reverend James Scott. As a vicar’s daughter, she was afforded more education than most and was schooled in French Revolutionary ideology.

At twenty-two she was forced into a marriage with a man she did not love, Edward Harley, 5th Earl of Oxford. There is even some suggestion that she was somehow blackmailed or sold into this marriage at the hands of her own brother (the particulars are sketchy).

 Lady Oxford moved among the radical Whig circles and was a close friend of the Lady Caroline Lamb (disgraced by her obsessive affair with Lord Byron) and Princess of Wales (shamed and turned out by the prince after one a year of marriage).

Notorious for having numerous lovers throughout her marriage, Lady Oxford’s first was a handsome, charming, radical reformist politician and baronet, Francis Burdett. Apparently, this well-known indiscretion occurred when Lady Oxford’s husband left her in the house alone with Burdett for over a week while he traveled for business. She later confessed her affair, and the Earl of Oxford’s response was that her “candour and frank confession were so amiable” that he could do no less than forgive her.

Her subsequent affairs were hardly surprising after such a reaction. In fact, all of her future lovers were in some way connected with Burdett. In 1812, she was Lord Byron’s lover (surprise, surprise) even though she was fourteen years older and already the mother of five children (she had six in all—all with dubious paternities). The family was often referred to by the ton as the “Harleian Miscellany” for the miscellaneous fathers who were responsible for the children’s existence. 

Byron stayed with Lord and Lady Oxford in Hertfordshire after his debacle with Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron described her as a woman “sacrificed, almost before she was a woman, to one whose mind and body were equally contemptible in the scale of creation; and on whom she bestowed a numerous family to which the law gave him the right to be called father.”* She was forty when their affair began, and Byron (always one attracted to older women) described her as “a landscape by Claude Lorraine with a setting sun, her beauties enhanced by the knowledge they were shedding their dying beams.”* She had other lovers even while she was with Byron.

As per usual with Byron, after many months he grew tired of her and did not follow the Harleys in their travels abroad. Jane was disappointed and angry, and it signaled the end of their affair.

Jane Elizabeth Harley was considered to have been intellectually brilliant, highly literate, and well-informed about political and religious issues. But she was uniformly hated by Society because of her sexual behaviors. Members of Society were not above extra-marital behaviors themselves, but her open and prolific activities were too much even for them.

Indeed, Jane Harley seems to have been in search of love that she had not received from either her father or her husband. Had she lived today, she might have been labeled a sex addict, unable to ever have enough lovers as she sought refuge from whatever plagued her mind and heart. Perhaps a loveless marriage and a romanticized and idealistic education coupled with the permissiveness allowed by the nobility contributed to her weaknesses.

I have enjoyed blogging about wild women of the Regency this month, and I hope you have enjoyed reading about them. You may have noticed that most of these ladies have some connection with Lord Byron. In my novel coming out next year, Dangerous to Know—based on the marriage of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke—I have included several of them. More information about that soon.

In many ways, people have not changed from the 1800s. Everyone still suffers from heartbreak, mental illness, and loneliness.

Do you think people were all that different in the 1800s from now? Did they have it easier? Or was their life harder?  


_____________________________________________________

*Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. Knopf. 1999.


By John Hoppner - http://theromanticqueryletter.blogspot.com/2009/11/still-more-ladies-of-regency.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9100548




Friday, October 28, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse and the Best Book(s) I Read in October




Today I’m participating in the Cephalopod Coffeehouse’s monthly blog hop to discuss the best book I’ve read this month.



                              

Well, I’ve been tearing through books this month, so I’m featuring not one, but three “best books.”



I’ll start with one for the Regency genre. Lord Fenton’s Folly by Josi S. Kilpack. I just recently learned about this author. She has several historical several titles to her name, and after reading Lord Fenton’s Folly, I can definitely say I will read another … and soon.





This novel is a romance, but its flavor is a little different from the usual fare.



Lord Fenton’s animosity toward his father makes him rebellious, and he assumes the role of a dandy, gambler, and drinker. By the time he is of age, his father threatens to disown him if Fenton does not mend his ways. One way of doing this is to find a wife and settle down. Although Fenton has no desire to marry, he figures his long-time friend Alice Stanbridge is as good as any woman. Alice has carried a torch for Fenton since she was a little girl and readily agrees. She is later devastated to learn that his intent is for a marriage of convenience. Even so, she goes through with the nuptials and tries to make the best of it. A few weeks into the marriage, she is unable to stand her husband’s antics and excessive drinking. When family secrets emerge, Fenton and Alice must decide whether their marriage will remain a sham or develop into something more meaningful.



Kilpack is a talented writer and storyteller. This is a page-turner with rich, well-developed, flawed but sympathetic characters. Lord Fenton is fascinating. He tries hard to be unlovable with his foppish behavior and dress, but somehow that makes him all the more attractive. Although I was not completely astounded by the ending, I was surprised at how the ending came about. I highly recommend this to Regency readers who are looking for a great story rather than hot and heavy romance scenes.






The Five Times I Met Myself is James L. Rubart’s seventh book (his eighth just came out a couple of months ago). I first read Rubart’s book Rooms back in 2010, and I was hooked. His books are spiritual, haunting, and life-altering. They strike at the very core of what so many of us struggle with—a desire to reclaim youth, repair mistakes.



Brock Matthews regrets some of the decisions he’s made in his life. Now his marriage and business are both falling apart, and he wishes he could have a “do-over” for the trajectory of his life. When he discovers a deep, psychological dream technique called lucid dreaming, he embraces the method, traveling back in his dreams (and in real life) to encounters with a younger version of himself. Unfortunately, changing the past has unexpected—and undesired—results. Brock must decide if he’s willing to let go of some of the most important things in his life and whether a do-over is such a great idea after all.



The tag line of this book is “What if you met your twenty-three-year-old self in a dream? What would you say?” This novel is about looking over your shoulder, wondering if you could have done it better, if you should have done it differently, and how to deal with the decisions that have been made—good or bad. Jim Rubart says this book will set you free, and I believe it. Powerful, powerful message. Thought-provoking fiction.





Always with You is Elaine Stock’s debut novel. It is a unique contemporary novel and a real page-turner! I could not put it down. I was up late into the night reading—a testament to Stock’s fabulous writing and gifted storytelling.



Isabelle and Tyler meet under dangerous circumstances, when Tyler saves Isabelle from a violent attack. Two people with unusual pasts, they are drawn to one another and quickly fall in love. Threatened by dark family secrets, a religious sect, and uncertain odds, Isabelle and Tyler forge ahead with love and marriage despite the warnings of friends and family. When physical danger threatens Isabelle and her unborn child, she must choose whether to remain with the man she loves or run in search of safety.



Part love story, part psychological thriller, Always with You spins a haunting tale of love and hate, truth and lies, good and evil, while delivering a message of the need for discernment and forgiveness in all our lives. And it's on sale for $.99 this week!



Read any good books lately? 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency Era: Claire Clairmont



This month's theme is wild women of the Regency era. This week I'm featuring Claire Clairmont (1798-1879).



 
Claire Clairmont was seventeen when she met Lord Byron. She was the stepsister of Mary Shelley, and it was through Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley that she met the famous poet. Like so many other women in England, Claire fell head-over-heels in love with Byron. With a passion bordering on obsession, Claire threw herself at him repeatedly until he finally gave in.

With her dark hair and black eyes, Claire wasn’t Byron’s type and he was never in love with her. “I never loved nor pretended to love her—but a man is a man—and if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours—there is but one way.” Claire later claimed that ten minutes of passion had ruined her life. By her own words she was confused about the demise of his affections. “The passion, God knows for what cause … disappeared, leaving no trace whatever behind it, except my heart wasted and ruined as if it had been scorched by a thousand lightnings.”

Unfortunately, Claire became pregnant with Byron’s child. Her daughter Allegra was raised in a convent and died at the age of five, having never known her father or her mother.

In her later years, Claire wrote a memoir in which she described Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley as “monsters.”

When I was young, I could be counted on to pick the bad boy and the wrong guy. It’s not uncommon for teenagers and young people to do that. A lot of young people make poor choices, but some of the choices have life-altering consequences.

Often, following our heart is the wrong course but the easier one. Involving our head in decisions of the heart is never easy.

Do you tend to follow your head or your heart?
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9


I decided to try out a video blog this month. Let me know what you think.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley


Each week during the month of October, I am featuring wild women of the Regency era. This week is the tragic tale of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851).

(from Wikipedia.com/painting in the public domain)




Mary was not born into a conventional household. She was the daughter of William Godwin, a philosopher and professed atheist, and Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist. Godwin and Wollstonecraft were philosophically opposed to marriage, but they chose to formalize their relationship in order to offer a veneer of respectability for their children.



Her mother died when she was very young, and William remarried when Mary was four years old. Mary and her stepmother didn’t get along. She was never formally educated but learned to read under the eye of her father’s tutelage and was instructed in his liberal political and social theories.



She met Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1812 when he was her father’s protégé. Shelley’s family was wealthy and he had attended Eton and Oxford before being asked to leave because of his atheistic views.



In June of 1814, when Shelley was dissatisfied with his marriage, he began dining with the Godwins every day until he finally declared his love for Mary near the end of the month.



When William Godwin discovered the truth about his daughter’s relationship, he forbade contact between the two. Initially, Mary agreed to stay away from Shelley, but when he tried to commit suicide, she was sure this was proof of his love for her.



Although Shelley was still married, on the 28th of July 1814, Shelley and Mary eloped to France accompanied by her half-sister, Claire Clairmont. Her decision separated and estranged her from her father and relegated her to a penniless, disgraced, and ostracized state in England.



They were together eight years—each one of them marked by tragedy and loss.



Mary gave birth to four children, all except one died before adulthood. She suffered a terrible miscarriage late in her fifth pregnancy which nearly killed her.



Shelley’s wife committed suicide by jumping into the Serpentine Lake in 1816 and following this news, Mary and Percy were finally married.



Due to an eruption of Mt. Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, the weather during the summer of 1816 was horrible. It was known as “the year without a summer.” Unseasonably cold and stormy, many crops failed all throughout Europe. It was that summer that the Shelleys and Claire Clairmont were joined by Lord Byron in Geneva, Switzerland where they set up house on the lake. As legend has it, people living across the lake used binoculars to spy on the wicked quartet and their licentious behavior.



It was here, over the course of several stormy nights, that Byron encouraged them all to come up with ghost stories. Mary wrote Frankenstein—a terrifying tale of a Dr. Victor Frankenstein, his God complex, and the disastrous monster that he created through heretical and morbid means. No doubt the story was spurred by a preoccupation with death, since Mary found herself surrounded by it, as well as the burgeoning industrial revolution happening all around them. Throw in the mixture of her own insecurities and grief, her philosophies on human nature, and Byron and Shelley with their sexual free-form and the tensions radiating within the house collided to produce The Modern Prometheus.



Percy Shelley drowned in 1822.



Despite other marriage offers in years to come, Mary Shelley never remarried. Often given to psychological turmoil and depression during her life, she went on to write other novellas and writings that reflected her grief and the darkness within her. She died of what was probably a brain tumor in 1851.



Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is often touted as a woman ahead of her time living in the restrictive Regency era, with free-thinking philosophies and early feminist leanings—an ingenious writer of the classic novel that is still so widely read and beloved. Even so, it strikes me that her tale of a creature so tragically formed through human hands is a reflection of Mary herself. Her life was constructed through the whims and experimentation of others’ decisions and indoctrination, and the result was tragedy, sadness, and death. Much like Victor Frankenstein’s poor creature.    



Have you read Frankenstein?





_________________________________________________________

Mary Shelley: A Biography. The National Theatre (documentary).

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Wikipedia.com

Andreas Teuber, “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.” Brandeis.edu


Monday, October 10, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency: Scandalous Harriette Wilson


During the month of October, I am featuring stories of “wild women” of the Regency era. This week, I am discussing the famous courtesan, Harriette Wilson.

Picture from Wikipedia.com




Sex scandals are nothing new.



In 1825, well-known courtesan Harriette Wilson published her memoirs in a British paper, despite the warnings of the first Duke of Wellesley: “Publish and be damned.”



Harriette was born with the last name De Bouchet, but she later assumed the surname Wilson. She was one of fifteen children of the Swiss merchant, John De Bouchet (believed to have taken the name Wilson around 1801).



You will never hear me glorify or in any way condone prostitution, so I don’t wish to mislead any readers with this post. In fact, I think Harriette’s story is as sad as any other teenager who is falsely led to believe that “high class prostitution" or "escort services” are somehow better than other types. Exploitation is exploitation no matter how it’s packaged.



In the 19th century, many men of rank and nobility regularly sought out prostitutes and courtesans (what we might today term as escorts). Courtesans were not simply for sex, although that was most certainly part of it. They were worn like an adornment—taken to parties and gambling establishments. The flipside of the illustrious parties and expensive gifts was that these women were often part of the stakes in a wager. Courtesans were educated and talents were cultivated. They were expected to play piano, sing, offer charming and interesting conversation, and endeavor to be as popular as possible. It was in this way they became “famous” or “sought after.”



Harriette Wilson’s memoir begins with the line, "I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven. Whether it was love, or the severity of my father, the depravity of my own heart, or the winning arts of the noble lord…"



Whether she allowed her seduction or was coerced, once seduced by the Earl, Harriette’s options were practically nonexistent. Courtesan was the only “career” open to women once “ruined” by a man. Nevertheless, Harriette went on to become the mistress of numerous men of nobility throughout her life, even turning down marriage proposals.   



Sadly, three of Harriette’s younger sisters also became courtesans, despite Harriette’s attempt to keep her sister Sophia from such a fate.



Today, most women “in the life” don’t make it into their thirties. And in fact, it was when Harriette began to age into her thirties that the men who had so adored her turned to younger fare.



Penniless, Harriette’s purpose for publication of the memoirs was blackmail. The men were to pay up or she would publish their names amongst her writings. Much consternation and anxiety mounted amongst the gentlemen as each week they awaited a new installment. Would their name be mentioned? John Stockdale, the publisher of her memoirs was forced to blockade against the angry gentlemen who crowded the street in front of his shop.



As is the case in any scandalous writing, the memoirs were immensely popular, and over twenty editions were printed.



In the modern world, scandals are so commonplace that they all run together. The news talks about nothing but the scandal for a few weeks, and then it's forgotten again. Remember the Hugh Grant scandal from the 1990s? No? Yeah, forgiven and forgotten.



In the Regency, however, scandals of any kind were literally that … scandals. People did not forget about them. They were outrageous and shocking. They ruined reputations, livelihoods, and lives.

  

Do you pay any attention to scandals?



----------------------------------

Ardelie, Susan. “The Magnificent Cheek of Harriette Wilson.” February 11, 2012.



Lark, Jane. “The darker side of Regency England, the story of how Harriette Wilson’s sister, Sophia, was seduced, and coerced, into the life of a courtesan.” April 21, 2013.



“Harriette Wilson.” Wikipedia.com


Monday, October 3, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency: Lady Caroline Lamb






Throughout the month of October, I will be featuring women of the Regency era who were a little … shall we say, nonconventional.

(picture from Wikipedia.com)




By today’s standards, Lady Caroline Lamb would have been labeled a stalker.


When Lord George Gordon Byron was in the throes of fame following the publication of his hit poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, Lady Caroline set her sights upon meeting him. “If he was as ugly as Aesop I must know him.” At the time she had been married for almost ten years to William Lamb (later the 2nd Viscount of Melbourne and Prime Minister).


Born Caroline Posonby, Lady Caroline was always a little off kilter. Even before she married Lamb, her wild temper tantrums and hysterics were well documented. According to family claims, doctors had been called in to calm her on more than one occasion.


When she met the famous, talented, and enigmatical Lord Byron, her first response was to turn away from him. This spurred his interest (since every other female in London was throwing herself at him and fainting in his presence). Later she wrote him a fan letter, and he visited her and brought her a rose. Byron’s initial impressions of Caroline were that she was “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago.”[i]


Byron was intrigued by Caroline’s eccentric nonconformity to the aristocratic society in which she lived. She often dressed in the clothing of a page boy, and in fact, that was how she sneaked out to visit Byron on several occasions. One occasion in particular, she arrived at his rooms in St. James’s Place under the impression that they were going to elope that night. Byron had left her with some sense of this being the case, but once she showed up he either had a change of heart or was convinced by his good friend John Hobhouse that this was a mistake.


Realizing that the elopement was not going to take place, Caroline rushed to grab Byron’s dress sword (one can only assume to threaten stabbing herself) and a struggle ensued between the trio. Amidst worry that the servants would spread rumors and great consternation as to how to remove her from the premises unseen, the men concocted a plan that involved Byron accompanying Caroline a little way down the road (to appease her). Byron would then leap from the carriage and run through Hobhouse’s open door as though he’d meant to go there all along. The plan worked.


But Caroline’s pursuit of him continued. She showed up at parties he attended and threatened to kill herself (and as the stories tell it, she did stab herself but no real harm was done). She wrote him letter upon letter, forcing him to write a scathing, insulting rejection, asking her to cease and desist with all correspondence. By this time, her reputation was ruined. She was diagnosed insane, straitjackets were considered for some of her wilder fits, and her family sent her away to Ireland where she could recover would not have access to him.


Their affair lasted a few months between 1812 and 1813, but even after that, Caroline Lamb maintained a certain level of obsession. She wrote a novel entitled Glenarvon in which the main character, Lord Ruthven, a vampire, was obviously fashioned after Byron. When this novel was published in 1816, its release galvanized her descent. People were shocked and appalled, and Caroline was shunned from all good society.


Much has been written about Lady Caroline over the years. Some stories are legend and hard to confirm, but her obsessive stalking of Byron is well chronicled. As for her writing, Glenarvon received mixed reviews--mostly ones that said the novel was melodramatic--but today it makes for an entertaining read, especially when one considers the inspiration for the main character.


Have you read Glenarvon? If so, what were your thoughts about it?



MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. Farar, Straus and Giraux. New York: 2002.