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Memoirs of Harriette Wilson. Vol. 1 of 4
image id: ps_cps_cd4_057

Harriette Wilson (1786–1846)
Memoirs of Harriette Wilson. Vol. 1 of 4
London: Printed and Published by J. J. Stockdale …, 1825
NYPL, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle

Usually attached to one man from whom they often received a fixed allowance, courtesans were not merely prostitutes. They made aristocratic men comfortable with refined social skills, but enjoyed sex shamelessly in an age when shame had begun to be the mark of a lady. The courtesan Harriette Wilson blackmailed former lovers—many of them rich and respectable—withholding their names from her 1825 Memoirs if they paid up. The book was issued in monthly installments, giving her time to negotiate. Even when she named names, however, Wilson was suggestive, never graphic. As soon as the publication was complete, the printing pirates leapt on it, since works like hers could not claim copyright protection; in these pirated editions, such as The Courtezan, illustrators compensated for her taste with racy pictures.

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