Being both in the grip of a current obsession for consuming everything I can about England in the 18th century and also being a huge gossip, The Scandalous Lady W seemed almost tailor made for me. I found this book after inhaling the first two seasons of the Harlots TV series and noticing it was written by Rubenhold – I’ve since bought just a few more from her based on how much I enjoyed this.
The Scandalous Lady W deals with the headline making divorce in Georgian England of Lady Worsley. Having brought a sizable dowry in the tens of thousands (apparently equivalent to millions today) marrying her helped her ambitious husband up the ladder of society and government. Having his own penchant for voyeurism, throughout their marriage he’d encouraged her to not just flirt but to engage in affairs with his friends but when Lady W decided to actually leave her husband for his friend and subordinate, George Bisset, the shit really hit the fan.
With women in Georgian society being the property of their husbands, Mr W decided to sue Bisset for ‘damages’ to his property, the value of his wife apparently deprecating through Bisset’s ‘use’ of her. Unable in law to even speak for herself in court, Lady W hit upon a rather marvellous and badass plan – to absolutely trash her own name by parading as many of her lovers as she could through court, spilling as many secrets about Mr W’s encouragement of her ‘lowering’ of character along the way in order to ensure that her lover wasn’t bankrupted by her husband’s case.
As well as giving us the details of the Worsley’s marriage as seen through court testimony, Rubenfold also goes into their lives after the case and I found the whole concept of the demimonde that she now moved through, peopled by those to whom scandal had also been attached, absolutely fascinating. Mr W’s travels simply highlighted what an awful git he already was.
As a glimpse into 18th century English society and its hypocrisies as well as into the marriage of some interesting characters, this was both funny and fascinating and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.