London: Edward Bull, 1831. First edition. Unsophisticated and bound in original publisher's quarter brown paper over drab boards with paper labels to spines. Measuring 220 x 140mm and collating complete including half titles to both, frontis to volume I, folding frontis to volume II, and adverts to rear of volume II: , xv, [1, blank], 368; , xiv, 364, [4, adverts]. Spines rubbed with chipping to paper labels and loss to extremities; outer joints cracked but holding well. Boards somewhat rubbed to volume I with some sunning to front board of volume II. Internally pleasing with volume I surprisingly fresh and unmarked; occasional scattered foxing to volume II. 1" closed tear and small paper loss to upper corner of folding frontis in volume II with no text loss. The only copy on the market in original boards of this stunning memoir of the life of courtesan and theatrical "comic muse" Dorothea "Dora" Jordan.
Born to an actress mother, Dorothea Jordan made her own stage debut in 1777 at the age of 16. Soon after, she began taking comic roles at the Smock Alley Theatre; the decision would put her under the control of manager Richard Daly, whose assault left her pregnant in 1782. Like so many women before her, Dora's entrance to the sex trade was a result of patriarchal violence -- the abandonment by her father that left her family in financial straights, and an assault by an older man that ruined her chances on the traditional marriage market. Fortunately for Dora, she had a supportive maternal influence. "Eager to help Dora escape from the abusive Daly, [her mother] took the family to Leeds, where her sister was an actress in Tate Wilkinson's Yorkshire company" (Regency History). Now visibly pregnant, she adopted the name Mrs. Jordan for respectability and to liken her own escape to the Israelites crossing the River Jordan.
As the present memoir shows, early theatrical success and a position as a well known courtesan and mistress provided only an unstable life by the 19th century. As the era of London's Great Impures faded and the Georgian era gave way to the Regency, sex workers lost the rich and supportive community as well as the sparkling fame they once enjoyed. Dora became the mistress of increasingly more wealthy men -- moving up the ranks from Richard Ford, a theatre investor and Parliamentary hopeful, to William, Duke of Clarence who would become King William IV. Together the couple lived at Bushy House with their children, which would ultimately include ten of their own. During this period Dora founded a free school for girls, the Female Friendly Society, as well as ensuring substantial dowries for her daughters in an attempt to ensure bright futures (Regency History). But time, age, and finances would eventually shift her life again. On the Duke's decision to pursue marriage, Dora found herself without a patron and confronted with "a financial settlement...laying out what Dora would get for herself and the children, part of which was dependent on her not returning to the stage" (Regency History). Insufficient to support her long term, Dora instead opted to leave her children in the Duke's care and return to the stage. Burdened with debts and suffering from bad press after years of being sustained by the Duke, Dora fled to France where she died in poverty. (Item #5101)