London: Printed and Published by the Author, 1830. First edition. Three volumes bound in one. Contemporary half calf over marbled boards, with gilt and morocco to spine. All edges speckled red. Green endpapers. Measuring 180 x 110mm and collating , civ, [2, half title], 196; , 313, [1, blank]; , 282: with half title of volume I bound out of order and without half titles to remaining volumes, else complete. A tight, square copy with a bit of shelfwear to extremities and some rubbing along rear joint. Internally with occasional marginal staining to volumes I and II; heavier staining to pages 117-21, 160-66, and 196 of volume I and to pages 20-21 of volume II with all text remaining legible. Volume III largely fresh and unmarked. A scarce book institutionally and in trade, the last copy appeared at auction nearly 70 years ago. The present is the only example on the market.
Published five years prior, Harriette Wilson's notorious memoir promised readers a controversial and unapologetic take on the famed courtesan's life. "I shall not say how and why I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven. Whether it was love...or the depravity of my own heart, or the winning arts of the noble Lord which induced me...does not now much signify," she states in her opening line. Henceforth, Wilson departed her father's household and embarked on a storied career in sex work, counting among her patrons "the most distinguished men of the day, from the Duke of Wellington to Lord Byron. She held court in a box at the opera, attended by statesmen, poets, national heroes, aristocrats, and members of the beau monde who hoped to be immortalized by her glance" (Blanch). Written and published as she began showing signs of age, and thus began a fall out of favor, Wilson used her words to remain in the public eye, reveling in the life she had built. Unrepentant, Wilson cast herself as "spirited and single-minded...ducking and diving through society, making sure, in a world heavily weighted towards men, she was always on the winning side. Her life story, although controversial, set the early nineteenth century alight by holding up a mirror to the double standards that riddled male and female behavior" (Dangerous Women Project).
Clara Gazul followed the Memoirs as a clear attempt to continue keeping her name in society. Though the majority of the work is presented as fiction, Wilson opens the introduction by connecting the two books and teasing their autobiographical contents: "Though my Memoirs have long been before the public, I have not yet explained how or why I became the mistress of Lord Craven at the age of fifteen...I am now disposed to gratify curiosity, provided the reader has the grace to "a plain and unvarnished" statement of facts." In the lengthy introduction that follows, Wilson narrates childhood abuse at the hands of her father and various boarding school mistresses, learning feminine graces and more humanistic pursuits from her eldest sister and a fascination with men and romance from the remaining four sisters. Ultimately, the relationship with Lord Craven becomes a mere afterthought in the Introduction's final pages, as he offers her an escape from loneliness and neglect. It is a sympathetic and not at all scandalous chapter, and one that Wilson strategically uses to set up her novel -- likely drawn from the famed acquaintances and scandals of her own life. (Item #4836)