So Much Regency Gossip, So little Time

In case you were unaware of it, I have book coming out soon that is a retelling of Mansfield Park from the anti-heroine Mary Crawford’s point of view. Inasmuch as the story is set in Regency England, the characters therein have an ABUNDANCE of scandal to communicate, considering the naughty nature of the “glittering throng” and King George III’s sons. Several of the hottest Regency scandals involved men leaving their wives for their mistress. Whether or not the men would recover socially or not revolved around their social position, wealth, who their wife was in relation to the Ton, and the kind of woman he ran off with. Here is a little excerpt from my book regarding one such scandal and it’s ramifications:

 

“Men always promise chivalry, and they sometimes are chivalrous … until they become bored with it,” Mary felt free to be as sardonic as she wanted with Henry.

“I would like to defend my sex with due indignation, but I received news while I was in Bath that makes me hesitate to do so,” Henry admitted.

“News, or gossip?” Mary asked.

“Gossip, then, to give it a true name.”

“Well, do not hesitate a moment longer! Tell me.”

“Berekley Pagent has abandoned his wife and children.”

“What?” Mary was dumbfounded. She lowered her voice, “For whom?”

“Amy Wilson.”

Mary was stupefied. Her mouth hung open while she struggled to form words. Finally she managed, “The courtesan Amy Wilson?”

“Indeed.”

“Did he not understand,” Mary recovered her equilibrium and humour, “that the whole point of a courtesan is that you do not have to leave your wife for her? You simply send round the money.”

“This nuance seems to have escaped him,” Henry said flatly.

Mary cocked her head. “Does he think he can follow his elder brother’s example, do you think?”

“He’s a fool if he does think so,” Henry said bluntly. “Anglesey’s situation was altogether different. First, Anglesey will be the Earl of Uxbridge as soon as his father pops off; what a peer can do is not what a mere ‘honourable’ younger son can do. Even then, when Anglesey divorced his wife to marry Lady Wellesley he was damn near ruined in society. If Lady Anglesey had not been having an affair with the Duke of Argyll and married him immediately after her divorce from Anglesey, then Anglesey and his new lady would have had the devil of a time of it. As it is, the whole lot of them are lucky to be received anywhere, and that’s only because Prinny is kiss-kiss with the Tories right now. Berekley Paget is a nonce if he thinks that leaving his wife for a bit o’muslin is the same thing as eloping with Lady Wellsley.”

“I confess that what is most occupying my mind right now is trying to remember which one of the ‘three Graces’ is Amy Wilson. Is she the tall one with auburn curls and alabaster complexion, or the fair one?” Mary had seen the trio of courtesans known as the three graces often in opera boxes or in the park. Like everyone else in London, Mary looked at famous courtesans as exemplars of fashion; what the modern heterae were wearing, soon everyone was wearing.

“Amy Wilson isn’t one of the three Graces,” Henry explained. That’s Harriette and Fanny Wilson and their friend Julia Johnson. Amy Wilson is, for whatever reason, not part of their little trio. Harriette calls … that is, I have heard that Harriette Wilson calls her sister Amy one of the Furies. You have seen Amy Wilson about Town and at the theatre, though. She always has the opera box next to the three graces. She is the one with the coal-black hair; it is curly and she always wears it without any adornment or ornament. There is so much of it that one could say it wears her.”

“I know the one, I think,” Mary was always quick on the uptake, but refrained from teasing Henry about his supposedly second-hand information about what Harriette Wilson said about her sister. “She favours yellow; I have seen that she wears primrose frequently. Didn’t she used to be the watercolour wife of Captain Benjamin Sydenham, who went to be minister at Lisbon a few years ago?”

“That’s the very one,” Henry confirmed.

“And what does Lady Paget think of all this?” Mary wanted to know. “Isn’t she the granddaughter of the second Viscount Grimston, and cousin of the current Viscount Grimston?”

“Quite right,” Henry smiled, seeing where his sister was going.

“Viscount Grimston, the MP who is married to the sister of our current Tory prime minister, the Earl of Liverpool?”

“Amen, dearest sister, you are singing truth like a Whitfielite Methodist.”

“So, Berkeley Paget is a Tory MP who has left the cousin of Liverpool’s wife, and has now surely offended the leader of his party and through Liverpool the entire government?”

“Got it with the first arrow.”

Mary was quiet for a moment. “What a cretin,” she finally said.

“What’s more, the fine and upstanding moralist the Duke of York refuses to receive Paget at Oatlands because of Paget’s debauchery,” Henry jeered.

“The Duke of York? The same Prince Frederick who does not live with his wife, is said to have fathered one of Lady Melbourne’s sons, and who resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the army because his mistress Mary Ann Clarke was selling commissions through him? That Duke of York?” Mary laughed at the absurdity of Prince Fredrick judging any man’s morals. “What’s next? Prinny will scold Paget for eating too much?”

“Most of Paget’s friends have cut him as well,” Henry shrugged. “It is amazing how quickly the beau monde will turn on a man.”

“But with such a fine and moral example of a royal family, what else can the beau monde do but cut Paget for doing openly what they are all doing themselves?” Mary said with a perfect imitation of servile innocence.

Henry, himself a master of saying something venomous in a sugared tone, felt that he was second best in that game to Mary. Regardless of how rancorous her words, the meanings were often hidden beneath honeyed civility. It was astonishing how many people were tricked by her tone of voice into thinking the words only the superciliousness or liveliness of a japester.

“I agree with you completely, dear sister. Ever since the Duke of Clarence left Dora Jordan and their ten natural children last year, the family has been the very embodiment of morality,” Henry said fawningly.

“The duke’s slight indiscretion can hardly be counted against him,” Mary tittered like a simpleton, “after all, he was only with her for twenty years. That is merely two decades. No time at all, really.”

Henry grinned. “By Jove, you are a convincing ingénue, Mary. Butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth.”

Her dimples made an appearance. “Butter wouldn’t melt … but cheese would. And now I must go dress for dinner.”

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