Apropos my October 29, 2012 post regarding the portrait of Mrs. Bingley, here is a response
from Nancy Mayer, and my response to her, in Janeites, which flowed from that post:
Nancy: "The index of [Harriette Wilson's] memoirs doesn't list [the Prince Regent], though it does list his brother the Duke of York. Also, I think the timing is incorrect for your interpretation."
Nancy, I was merely quoting from the Memoirs of Harriette Wilson herself (describing events during 1802, when she was still a "precocious" teenager!):
"I wonder, thought I, what sort of a nightcap the Prince of Wales wears? Then I went on to wonder whether the Prince of Wales would think me as beautiful as Frederick Lamb did? Next I reflected that Frederick Lamb was younger than the Prince; but then again, a Prince of Wales ! I was undecided: my heart began to soften. I thought of my dear mother and I wished I had never left her. It was too late, however, now. My father would not suffer me to return, and, as to passing my life, or any more of it, with Craven, cotton night-cap and all, it was death ! He never once made me laugh, nor said anything to please me. Thus musing, I listlessly turned over my writing book, half in the humour to address the Prince of Wales ! A sheet of paper, covered with Lord Craven's cocoa trees, decided me, and I wrote the following letter, which I addressed to the Prince:
'BRIGHTON I am told that I am very beautiful, so perhaps you would like to see me; and I wish that, since so many are disposed to love me, one, for in the humility of my heart I should be quite satisfied with one, would be at the pains to make me love him. In the meantime, this is all very dull work, Sir, and worse even than being at home with my father: so, if you pity me, and believe you could make me in love with you, write to me, and direct to the post office here.'
By return of post, I received an answer nearly to this effect: I believe from Colonel Thomas. "Miss Wilson's letter has been received by the noble individual to whom it was addressed. If Miss Wilson will come to town, she may have an interview, by directing her letter as before." I answered this note directly, addressing my letter to the Prince of Wales.
'SIR, To travel fifty-two miles this bad weather, merely to see a man, with only the given number of legs, arms, fingers, &c., would, you must admit, be madness in a girl like myself, surrounded by humble admirers who are ever ready to travel any distance for the honour of kissing the tip of her little finger ; but, if you can prove to me that you are one bit better than any man who may be ready to attend my bidding, I'll e'en start for London directly. So, if you can do anything better in the way of pleasing a lady than ordinary men, write directly : if not, adieu, Monsieur le Prince.' " END QUOTE
And to the above I add that Saul David, in his influential bio of the Prince, _The Prince of Pleasure_, comments on the above passage in Wilson's Memoirs as follows, at P. 286:
"And there the matter ended--or so Harriette Wilson would have us believe. A more likely scenario is that she did indeed have an affair with the Prince, but kept it quiet when he duly paid up in 1825. Why
else would he tell his Private Secretary, Sir William Knighton, in January, 1828, that Wilson's intention to publish further revelations "has entirely knocked me up and destroyed almost all the little amount
of strength I had."
And I found several other sources online which, without further comment or explanation, refer to the Prince having been one of Harriette Wilson's clients. So, at the very least, whether it was factually
accurate, there can be little doubt that Jane Austen would have been well aware, during the last decade of her life, of persistent public rumors about Harriet Wilson, the most notorious courtesan of the era,
and the Prince, the most notorious whoremonger of the era.
And...isn't it curious that Harriette Wilson, in the above excerpt, published 4 years after JA's death, sounds _so_ brash, so overly-self-assured, just like Lydia Bennet---but a smarter, wittier
Lydia--when Harriette writes about how dull it was being at home with her father and her many sisters?
And isn't there an even _more_ striking parallelism between Harriette's "TO TRAVEL FIFTY-TWO MILES this bad weather, merely TO SEE a man, with only the given number of LEGS, ARMS, fingers, &c...." on the one hand, and the following passages in Northanger Abbey, on the other:
"Blaize Castle!" cried Catherine. "What is that'?" "The finest place in England—WORTH GOING FIFTY MILES AT ANY TIME TO SEE." "What, is it really a castle, an old castle?" "The oldest in the kingdom." [and remember the exotic, extravagant "castle" that the Prince built for himself in Brighton; and…
"A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and ARMS and LEGS enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word...."
It all makes me think of General Tilney as yet another Austenian representation of the Prince Regent, with NORTHanger Abbey pointing, as I have noted previously in the semantic "direction" of the very regal WESTminster Abbey; and with Catherine as a parody of the young "innocent" Harriette Wilson unwittingly traveling many miles to enter the foreboding lair of her much older, Montoni-like _suitor_, the General himself!
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P.S.: Nancy also wrote: "has anyone researched and found some likely candidates for the portrait?"
Le Faye's footnote #4 is the starting point, but I have taken the excellent and totally necessary groundwork by Martha Rainbolt much much further than she herself realized it was pointing, and the trail leads right back to the Prince Regent and Harriette Wilson, as I will spell out in my book!