So, I have recently been writing about mistresses in the Regency Period for Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, and I thought I’d share a little bit of it with you for today’s Friday Fiction. (I continue apparently not to know what ‘fiction’ means.) Here am I wombling on about the difference between mistresses and prostitutes
In the Regency Period (and indeed in other eras) there was a definite difference between a ‘mistress’ and a ‘prostitute’. A mistress belonged to, or was ‘kept’ by, one specific man, whereas a prostitute would have sex with any man for money. Mistresses might be taken up by one man after another, and perhaps have the role of courtesan in between gentleman lovers; however, a mistress was by definition not a prostitute. Whilst it was expected that she would have sex with her lover whenever he required it, she would also be likely to have a social or emotional relationship with the man as well. For the mistress, it was not necessarily a bad choice, though it could have problematic outcomes not only for the lady herself but for her family. For a start, it would be considerably more difficult to marry after having been a mistress: if Darcy hadn’t forced Wickham to marry Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, it is very unlikely that anyone else would have married her – and the ill reputation would also have fallen upon her sisters. It also left a woman reliant on the gentleman in question: in Sense and Sensibility, we are shown the downward spiral of Eliza Brandon’s life after her first affair.