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The Life Writing of Late Eighteenth-Century and Regency Courtesans

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British Women’s Life Writing, 1760–1840
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Abstract

Celebrated courtesans Sophia Baddeley (1745-1786), Mary Robinson (1757-1800), and Elizabeth Fox (née Armistead) (1750-1842) crossed paths in London’s fashionable social spaces, in their relationships with an aristocratic fraternity, and as celebrities of the gossip columns. Some years later, Regency courtesan Harriette Wilson (1786-1845) and her rival Julia Johnstone (1777—date unknown) would inherit their legacy and reshape the role of courtesan for the early nineteenth century. These women rejected the model of the patriarchal family and, in their life writing, they explore alternative forms of identification and connection, including friendship, maternity, patronage, widowhood, and literary and social networks. They also engage in complex identifications with the woman of fashion, which enables them to adopt aristocratic modes of literary authority in opposition to the image of the professional middle-class writer who has dominated ideas of eighteenth-century authorship. Courtesans are traditionally associated with self-vindication and the scandalous memoir, but these authors also experiment with auto/biography, the family memoir, a manuscript journal, the roman à clef, and sentimental and silver-fork fiction. The commercial and literary transactions that underpin the representations of these ‘scandalous’ lives also provide insights into print and manuscript culture and textual collaborations in the period.

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Notes

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© 2014 Amy Culley

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Culley, A. (2014). The Life Writing of Late Eighteenth-Century and Regency Courtesans. In: British Women’s Life Writing, 1760–1840. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137274229_7

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