If You Like Romances Featuring Mistress
I recently reviewed His Lordship’s Mistress by Joan Wolf. It features a young woman who, instead of marrying, decides she will try to sell herself for a short time to earn enough money to pay off the mortgage on her family home. This book prompted commenters to reminisce about their favorite books using the fallen woman, mistress, or courtesan theme. As Moth said, “I know I like it when the heroine isn’t totally squeaky clean.”
So bring on the mistress, courtesan or fallen woman recommendations. Please note if the book features a woman who pretends to be a fallen woman and is not (Bel, from The Duke, I am looking at you).
Say You Love Me by Johanna Lindsey. One of my college-time favorites.
Not a traditional mistress story, and not a historical, but LaVyrle Spencer’s Spring Fancy features a heroine who is cheating on her fiance with the hero. While she’s planning her wedding. Love that book.
Chase’s Your Scandalous Ways is another I liked.
To Beguile A Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. I loved this book, I thought Helen was a great heroine. And I can’t wait until Tuesday to get To Desire a Devil.
So, does Dearly Beloved by MaryJo Putney count or not? She’s his mistress for real, as he doesn’t know (can this even be spoiled for anyone at this late date? Well, still: SPOILER ALERT) that they’re already married. And she does all kinds of mistress-y things. Her motives are murky, and how they came to be married is pretty ugly, but I genuinely believed that he fell in love with his mistress and they had to sort that mess out before the HEA.
I know this book isn’t favored by all, and I prefer The Beast of Belleterre by a goodly margin, but I still love Dearly Beloved for the interaction of the protags while they are in the mistress-keeper relationship.
I’ve got details from other mistress books floating around in my head, and I’m clearly prematurely senile because I can’t pin them down to a title and author. Does anyone recall the one where the hero takes the heroine to meet the Lord and Lady Holland (real life Whigs, I believe) as exemplars of a social milieu in which a marriage between the protags would be permissible (she still says no)?
Oh, and a point of order: Does the mistress have to be financially benefiting from the arrangement, i.e, being unmarried or illicit lovers isn’t enough?
Ros mentioned Anya Seton’s Katherine over on the Joan Wolf thread. I purely loved that book, English history geek that I am. I also agree about Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile a Beast. Just love that series.
I think I like these books so much because they don’t fall into the romance trap of “she has to be a virgin, however ridiculous the premise.” Virgin widows (Stephanie Laurens) and improbable virgins (Zoe in Loretta Chase’s latest) kind of make me crazy. I like heroines with some knowledge of sex, even positive experience of it.
Of course in historicals, there’s a fine line to walk if the author wants a marriage at the end. I want to throw books at the wall when they gloss over the difficulty of a member of the nobility marrying a known courtesan!
MISTRESS by Amanda Quick. She thinks he’s dead and pretends in Society to be his mistress. He turns up alive at a ball, she “faints” and he wants an explanation…
@magdalen … it’s His Lordship’s Mistress — he takes Jess to meet the Hollands. That’s Philip paving the way for a way where his wife (what he wants he to be) can be part of the haute volee (I’m reading Skylark by JoBev and that phrase comes up constantly!).
@Magdalen: The only reason I bring the Bel story up is because she pretends to be this grand courtesan but she is, in fact, a virgin. It made me so frustrated.
The courtesan as a virgin thing seems to only enforce the concept of female purity as a necessary trait for heroines.
If you like dark romances, Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan and Tempt the Devil.
Of course in historicals, there's a fine line to walk if the author wants a marriage at the end. I want to throw books at the wall when they gloss over the difficulty of a member of the nobility marrying a known courtesan!
Sonomalass, I totally agree. That’s one of the reasons why I love Katherine so much, because the marriage at the end is (a) historically accurate and (b) very sweet indeed.
Personally, I’d like to read a few more book where the man is the “Mistress” like in Her Ladyship’s Companion by Evangeline Collins. Or Broken Wing by Judith James.
I’m ready for a switch in the norm.
I love Balogh’s ‘A Precious Jewel’ and thought the ending was very appropriate, acknowledging as it did that they’d have to live retired and she’d not be accepted socially, but it was nevertheless a true HEA.
So consequently, I *hated* what she did to this couple in ‘The Christmas Bride’. Not only did she negate APJ’s HEA, but it was also treacly sweet and so *wrong* (which is extra aggravating because I really enjoy the main couple in TCB). I mentally cut that part where all the earls, dukes and marquesses talk about ‘she did what she had to do and we won’t judge her for it’ when I re-read TCB.
Another one of Balogh’s I love is ‘The Secret Pearl’ and while they don’t really have an ongoing relationship, I think it qualifies.
I really enjoyed Campbell’s ‘Tempt the Devil’ and ‘Untouched’ was very interesting as well, although the latter probably doesn’t qualify because she’s not there voluntarily and he doesn’t want to sleep with her.
Oh, male ‘mistresses’. :)
Schone’s ‘Gabriel’s Woman’ and ‘The Lover’ come to mind, if you can overlook that she delights in using ‘big’ words to impress. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know what they mean most of the time, so it’s embarrassing to read her books because she’s so wrong so often.
@jane, as I said in Twitter, Bel had been raped … which meant to me that somewhat like Pris in Precious Jewel, she was on shaky status (for money reasons) within the Ton. But more importantly, Bel was a Public Mistress (contrast that to Jane, in Balogh’s More than a Mistress) … no one knew that she was Tresham’s mistress except a few friends of his that guessed.
So Bel was a mistress. Yes, she was Pure going into it but she was publically his Mistress and that’s a hard sell and corny me, I like the romantic gesture at the end.
@growlycub I frankly cannot wait for Precious Jewel to be re-released soon. Oh how the fur will fly. If you could step back for a minute from the heart-wrenching, intensely romantic ending to Precious Jewel (where he reveals he bought the special license, allowing him to marry her, BEFORE he found out she was by birth a lady), think about Edgar and Helena (the h/h of Christmas Bride). a) Helena could never be completely happy knowing she was in part responsible for Gerald’s choices b) Priss/Gerald were not living an HEA — yes they loved each other but how do you think he and she felt about the prospect of their son never being able to go away to school, their daughter never making her debut at Almacks? They were isolated and lonely — Edgar brought them back into society. Not just for them but for the love of his wife Helena who had been incredibly hurtful to Gerald and had felt guilty ever since. Yes, I’ll admit to a little Christmas treacle but seriously, if a Duke, Marquess, Earl and Duke’s son invite you to their parties, you have it made in the shade. You can rejoin society and your children’s future is assured.
Why do you think Tresham’s brother went to so much trouble to “purify” his wife to be (No Man’s Mistress)? So they, as a family, could be part of society, even though she had been a famous courtesan.
Growlycub, if you don’t want your historical mistress stories to be pure wallpaper, you have to acknowledge that it was very hard to reintregrate a former mistress into wifedom and that how that transistion was managed affected your family and your future children.
Another fave mistress stories: A Scandalous Proposal (Justiss) — no one in society “knew” she was but he, not being privy to her very high social background, didn’t feel he could marry her. WHY? It would wreck his sister’s chance of a successful marriage (only part of story).
Which is totally and absolutely unbelievable to me. It would have been one thing if she’d been Gerald’s mistress alone, but there were probably upwards of 50 guys in the ton that she slept with and whom she’d be encountering at all those ton parties the duke, marquess and earl would invite her to. There’s NO way, she could be reinstated to society that I would ever believe in the scenario and I think Balogh really messed that up by coming up with this ‘solution’. And the only reason they were ‘unhappy’ was because Balogh made them so in TCB.
I absolutely disagree with your assertions with regard to Gerald and Priscilla and in general with regard to ‘wallpaper historical’ which I think you are using in exactly the opposite way it is meant to be used. I believe there are satisfying ways to write mistress stories that do not kill the suspension of disbelief like TCB did and that keep societal rules and repercussions as we know them for the time period intact (as in Campbell’s ‘Tempt the Devil’ where they move away from London society to a different country to be together and not upset his children by his first marriage).
Games of Pleasure by Julia Ross is excellent. Courtesan heroine meets stuffed shirt hero, my favorite!
Thanks for those! I’ll see if I can snag them at them at the store. I’ll do my best to overlook. ;)
@growlycub — I can certainly see what you mean — it does defy common sense to think society would disregard all the men Priss had serviced. In a brothel.
But without Balogh’s solution, I can’t believe Edgar and Helena would have been happy either. And I adored them both. Helena would never have stopped worrying about Gerald. And I can’t also believe (remember Peter, Priss and Gerald’s lively little son) that Gerald would be happy to have his children forever cut off from the society he grew up in. Should Balogh have packed them off to the New World. Where they could start again? What I’m saying is that I found it believable that Gerald/Priss were not really living an HEA within their society. They were both so conventional — how could they want their children never to be included in the society they were both born into?
I’m guessing you didn’t care for No Man’s Mistress then — no fight and explanation and duke thrown ball would expunge the “sin” of being a high call courtesan.
Hated it, if it’s the one I’m thinking of. :) Not just because of that but because I really dislike stories where the h/h are antagonistic throughout most of the book.
The brother’s story was slightly more up my alley, but since Balogh basically plagiarized herself with it, I was rather less than enchanted by it.
I’ve read almost all of hers (except for the single titles in the 90s) and so it’s really depressing to see where she’s recycling her own material and not just once but more than that. Guess that comes with being a prolific author, but as reader I still don’t care for that.
@growlycub One more question? You and I both like Edgar and Helena and their story — could Balogh have written TCB and not included Priss and Gerald? What would have been an “authentic” way for Helena to feel forgiven for her long ago actions? If you and I could re-write TCB, is there a different way you would have played it or would you just not have talked about Gerald/Priss at all?
Could Edgar/Helena become “friends” of Gerald/Priss, rather like the earl and his countess of the book where we meet Gerald? (The one where he just marries her and she turns out to be the love of his life .. The Ideal Wife) but don’t bring societal acceptance into it? Would that have worked for you? I keep remembering Edgar saying, “Helena needs forgiveness” and saying to Helena, “If I can love you, why can’t you love and forgive yourself?”
For me, if you revisit a couple in a book, their life better be perfect (think of Laurens and all those glimpses of the Cynster couples) … if their life isn’t perfect, it had at the very least better be more than OK. Just me!
I agree, Helena needed to confront Gerald, and get his forgiveness so she could forgive herself. I just didn’t feel that ‘and now Priscilla is reinstated into society’ was necessary for that. Once Helena understood he married Priscilla because he loved her not because he wanted to punish himself for Helena’s actions, I think that should have been enough.
I think many families lived happy lives without being part of the upper echelons, the ‘ton’. I don’t see why their son couldn’t have attended a less prominent school than, say, Eton or Harrow, if they thought it would be a problem later on, especially considering that Gerald’s standing in society was not as one of the top of the trees aristocrat by birth. I just don’t think it needed to be quite as black and white as it was drawn by Balogh (total isolation vs total acceptance by the creme de la creme).
To my mind having contact with the family of Edgar and Helena (after all Edgar isn’t exactly creme de la creme himself) and also with a few select friends is entirely conceivable and authentic. But I’d think that would not include invitations to very exclusive events, more so that Priscilla would not have to encounter her ex-customers.
I think you look at it from the point of view of what would be perfect in terms of society. I’m looking more in terms of what would be perfect for Priscilla and I just cannot imagine that it would do her or Gerald any good to constantly have to face her past by being in company with those men. That would not make a happy ending for me. I think there are consequences to actions, even actions that are out of our control and that we regret, and to magically do away with all of them would send the wrong message or in other words trip my ‘no way, no how, no never’ buttons.
Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell
A lovely list can be found here: http://www.likesbooks.com/mistress.html
I love courtesan/mistress romances. And love the reverse where the male is playing the ho. Evangeline Collins did a great job, IMO, with Her Ladyship’s Companion. How can you not love everything about Derek Craven, too!!!!
Prefer the real fallen type in fiction, not so much for the virgin’s playing an adult game. I’d consider Bel in the Duke a fallen woman–at least of her time period–she was un-marriageable after what happened to her.
Totally just realized Anna Campbell isn’t on that list, WTH AAR!
Another for your list: Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson.
It doesn’t have an HEA of the traditional sort for our main character Susanna–she doesn’t marry her lover (he’s already married). But she is happy with her life and several of the secondary characters have their own HEAs. It is witty and charming and poignant and bittersweet and one of my favorites.
I’m not sure if she qualifies for “mistress” but I’m throwing her into the fray: Olivia from Jo Goodman’s THE PRICE OF DESIRE (2008). Her brother loses a bet and leaves Olivia with the owner of a gaming hell. The hero is married already but they have a relationship and he never forces her. That sounds awful but the story and the writing were so great and I just loved that book.
I’m not generally a fan of the mistress trope because, as Jane said, they so seldom are anything but squeaky clean or if they’ve fallen then they make such a leap to Society Miss that it makes me sorry I started the book.
Joanne, so how is the story resolved? Feel free to email [email protected] to avoid spoilers for others.
I just want to say that those who like the true mistress trope may want to stay away from Julia London’s book because the ending of that book is a wall banger in terms of bringing the courtesan into acceptance of society.
@GrowlyCub: The Price of Desire? The hero lives on the fringes of society already. Acceptance by society is not a big deal.
@GrowlyCub: Pay no attention to Jane, LOL, read her review here on DA because I’m pretty sure this is where I decided to purchase this and (dare I say it) Jo Goodman’s backlist.
Oh, my favorite mistress story is Sleeping Beauty by Judith Ivory. Coco is 37, chose the life, has a notorious reputation and a grown son. The hero is also a younger man. Awesome love story that explores the situation without a pat ending (no, she is never accepted back into polite society, nor does she want to be –unlike most of the others I’ve read).
@joanne Did I misremember the ending?
Sort of, but there was more and that’s without ruining the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
Thanks for linking the review by Robin (weird the link is not showing up here, but it did in the email notification I got). It does sound very interesting…
I picked that one up in the store the other day and then got a funny feeling and put it back. Glad to hear I was right.
@GrowlyCub: Yep, maybe you heard my ARGGHHHHHH! at the ending through the internet and into your subconscious.
Behold the mind power of Jane! :)
And not buying the London gives me a chance to read some of the 700+ books on my TBR, although that’s not going so well. I’ve instead re-read Hoyt’s ‘The Leopard Prince’… bad GrowlyCub
That’s part of La Traviata, aka La Dame aux Camellias! Violetta gives up Alfredo because his father says her notoriety as a high-end courtesan will ruin Alfredo’s sisters marriage into low-level gentility. Of course, it’s an opera, so no HEA, but it’s musically referenced in Pretty Woman, which is the contemporary cinematic version of the mistress story.
Oh, and another mistress story — Lynn Kerstan’s Lady in Blue. Don’t quite recall how the social solecism issue is resolved in that one.
Great If You Like …, Jane. Many thanks. So many good suggestions; it’s tough to know what to buy first!
In Balogh’s Tempting Harriet, Harriet is a widow with a young daughter (no virgin widow here) who becomes a duke’s mistress. She had spurned his advances years ago, before she was married, as recounted in Dancing with Clara. Societal acceptance is not an issue because no one else knows she is his mistress.
In Patricia Oliver’s Lord Gresham’s Lady, Sarah is also a widow with a young daughter. Unlike Harriet, she is destitute and becomes Gresham’s mistress as an alternative to the awful suitor that her husband’s brother and his wife are pressing on her. She fears they will turn her out and she and her daughter become homeless; she sees no other way out of her financial tangle.
Yes, Melissa! Another vote here for Ivory’s Sleeping Beauty. Such a gorgeous book.
Another Sleeping Beauty vote. I did think the ending was a it weak– too drawn out, but the first 3/4 of the book was very good.
OMG, Barb, thank you for bringing up MADENSKY SQUARE.
I don’t know why it didn’t leap out at me immediately when I saw the title of this post.
Maybe because it was so different from the usual mistress books. And she is not a courtesan or someone who decided to “sell” her virtue. It was a case of true love, with a man stuck in a loveless marriage. And her best friend too, is a married man’s girlfriend, and what a heartbreaking story that was.
A magnificent book.
The Stranger I Married by Sylvia Day. Not a mistress, but a widow who took lovers. The heroine did not want to remarry, and the hero wasn’t interested in marrying for romantic reasons. So they entered into a marriage of convenience to remove themselves from the marriage mart. They felt they were well suited for marriage because although they were fond of each other, they weren’t worried about either developing romantic feelings for the other. The marriage was intended to allow each to continue with their lives and their paramours. At least, that was the plan.
Another thing I liked that was out of the ordinary in a historical romance was the fact that she was older than he was. And that he was the one who had some growing up to do (which occurred between the prologue and chapter one).
Tempting Harriet totally doesn’t count … she is his lover, not his mistress. Even the two of them agree that that is the way to describe it. He is not supporting her. They are not bound to others. They decide to have a sexual relationship: he’s free, she’s a widow.
That’s my take on it.
I’m late to this party but since I love mistress stories I have a long list:
To Have and to Hold by Patricia Gaffney — This is my favorite book in the romance genre. The heroine is a convict who is about to be thrown back into prison for vagrancy when the hero (who is more of an antihero in the first half of the book), a viscount and a magistrate, offers her a position as his “housekeeper,” meaning mistress as an alternative to going back to prison. This is an amazing book with a very powerful redemption story.
Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson — Also wonderful. Set in Vienna in 1911 (which comes to life beautifully), this is the story of a woman who is in love with a man who is separated from his wife but cannot divorce her (Divorce was almost unheard of in Austria at this time). There is not a traditional HEA but the book does end on an optimistic note and there are also secondary romances where there are HEAs. Susannah (the heroine) is a wonderful character and the book is written in the form of her diary.
A Precious Jewel by Mary Balogh — The heroine in this traditional regency is a prostitute who later becomes the mistress of one of her customers. A very different kind of romance, really heartbreaking in places. I cried buckets reading it.
Lord of the Night by Susan Wiggs — This one is set in 16th century Venice and the heroine is an artist who, IIRC, plans to sell herself to support her career as an artist. The hero, who is investigating a murder, gets to know her and tries to dissuade her, and then when he can’t becomes her protector (he can’t marry her because she is not a member of the nobility). My favorite thing about this book was the depiction of the unusual setting. Not sure if you would count the heroine as a “real” fallen woman, Jane (I thought Bel in The Duke was fallen, so it’s hard for me to say) but I enjoyed the book very much.
Night in Eden by Candice Proctor — IIRC this book was set in Australia. The heroine was wrongly convicted of having murdered her husband and then transported for the crime. The baby she was carrying when she went to prison died in the penal colony, and she was then indentured to the hero, to serve as a nurse for his baby (his wife died giving birth). This is another book where the setting really comes alive. The attraction between the main characters is really potent.
A Candle in the Dark by Megan Chance — A dark, emotional redemption story. The heroine is a jaded prostitute and the hero is an alcoholic doctor, both traveling through the Panama rainforest in the 19rh century. At first there doesn’t seem to be much hope for either of them but gradually they heal each other’s hearts.
The Way Home by Linda Howard. This novella which can be found in the anthologies To Mother With Love and A Bouquet of Babies, is possibly my favorite thing by Linda Howard. The heroine has been the hero’s kept woman for three years, when she learns she’s pregnant and decides to leave him.
To list a few more I enjoyed (I’m running out of time for describing them all). For me, most of the books below fell into the like, but not love category:
His Lordship’s Mistress by Joan Wolf. Recently reviewed by Jane.
Death Angel by Linda Howard
Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase
The Wind Dancer by Iris Johansen
The Mysterious Miss M by Diane Gaston
Lastly, one of my favorite books in the world is Possession by A.S. Byatt. It is literary fiction, and pretty demanding literary fiction at that. But it has two love stories, one, set in the 1980s, is between two graduate students investigating a newly discovered Victorian era love affair between two poets, one of whom was thought to be a happily married man and the other of whom was believed to be a lesbian. As the graduate students investigate, they fall in love, too. Intertwined with the two love stories are the poems, fairy tales , diaries and letters of the Victorian poets and the people close to them. The 1980s storyline has a HEA. The 19th century romance is more bittersweet, but I still found it very satisfying.
Great list, Janine – I love a lot of those books!
One that comes to mind is an old one by Lynn Kerstan called (I think) Lady In Blue. I don’t remember a lot about it, but I remember liking it a lot when I read it – it had sort of an unusual feel. I think the heroine was another one who sold herself short-term out of necessity, and the hero is a nobleman who only takes virgins as mistresses because his father died of syphillis contracted from a whore (this detail *may* be one I’ve pulled from a different book, but I don’t think so). One thing I remember liking about Lady in Blue was that there was a lot of tension between the h/h about her inability/unwillingness to sexually respond to him – she’d “do her duty”, but when she got aroused she would feel so bad about enjoying doing this thing that was supposed to be a big sacrifice, that she would just shut down. This was enormously frustrating to the hero, especially as he came to care for her, because he wanted to give her pleasure.
I don’t think I have my copy anymore; I should probably try to get my hands on another and see how the story holds up.
Have you read Fallen from Grace by Laura Leone? The hero is a prostitute.
Or The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale? The hero is a former child prostitute. That book is just excellent.
There’s another contemporary which features a male ‘escort’. It’s a Blaze by Leslie Kelly called ‘Heated Rush’. I’m not too fond of kids and the heroine is all about babies (she has a day care), but I liked it for the guy.
I think of Bel from Foley’s The Duke as being more of a “Romance Novel Fallen Woman” than the real deal, in that her first and only costumer/protector as a prostitute/courtesan ended up being her True Love and eventual husband (more like Fleur from Balogh’s The Secret Pearl than Priss from A Precious Jewel.) The difference in Bel’s case being that she was not a virgin due to her history of being raped, and the fact that she was parading around town advertizing herself as a courtesan, something that made the couple’s HEA (clasped to the bosom of the ton) a little suspect. I still like this sort of book, because it can be a deliciously angsty set-up, but (to my mind) there is a difference between heroines like Priss (who have slept with many other men) and Bel/Fleur (who have essentially only slept with the hero despite their nominal status as prostitutes/courtesan.)
“True” Prostitute/Courtesan Heroines:
Priss from Balogh’s A Precious Jewel
Madeleine from Gaston’s The Mysterious Miss M
Coco from Ivory’s Sleeping Beauty
Francesca from Chase’s Your Scandalous Ways
Miracle from Julia Ross’ Games of Pleasure
Viola from Balogh’s No Man’s Mistress
Sarah from Lydia Joyce’s Music of the Night
Miss Myles from Pam Rosenthal’s novella A House East of Regent Street
Ayesha/Annabell from Jane Feather’s Bold Destiny (a real harem girl, for a change)
Cat from C.S. Harris’ historical mystery series featuring Sebastian St. Cyr What Angels Fear, etc.
Ghislaine from Anne Stuart’s A Rose At Midnight— this one is a borderline case, although the heroine had previously prostituted herself on a very limited basis
“Relatively Virginal” Prostitute/Courtesan Heroines:
Bel from Foley’s The Duke
Fleur from Balogh’s The Secret Pearl
Diana from Mary Jo Putney’s Dearly Beloved
Jessica from Joan Wolf’s His Lordship’s Mistress
Spy Heroines Who Put Out for God and Country:
Sylvie from Julia Ross’ The Wicked Lover
Gabrielle from Jane Feather’s Velvet
Melanie from Tracy Grant’s Daughter of the Game/Secrets of a Lady
Susanna from Eva Ibbotson’s fabulous Madensky Square
Christina from Ivory’s Starlit Surrender/Angel in A Red Dress
Harriet from Balogh’s Tempting Harriet
Moira from Madeline Hunter’s By Possession
Rachel from Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold
Jane from Balogh’s More Than A Mistress
Viviana from Liz Carlyle’s Two Little Lies
Gail from Joan Wolf’s The Arrangement
Isabella from Balogh’s Christmas Belle
Olivia from Jo Goodman’s The Price of Desire
Polly from Jane Feather’s Venus
I have a question on how we define ‘mistress’. I perceive a shift in how it’s been used in recent years. To my mind, ‘mistress’ is a woman who’s employed by one man for money (he’s her ‘protector’ for a given time), so according to my definition, Harriet would not be a mistress, but a lover of which the ton abounded if you read some of the memoirs of the time about who was sleeping with whom and whose children kids 3, 4 and 5 were.
I’ve seen several authors lately use ‘mistress’ instead of ‘lover’ and wondered at that because that seems a new definition of the term and incorrect at that. But I may be wrong, naturally.
@Elle @GrowlyCub — Agree with you about the shifting, and to my mind, somewhat inaccurate descriptions. When money isn’t involved (like Tempting Harriet), then they’re lovers — they may hide the relationship for whatever reason, but she is not his mistress, he is not her protector. Gail is not a mistress (Wolf’s The Arrangement). I’ve not even sure it’s correct to use To Have and To Hold as an example. She is his housekeeper and she shares his bed (notice how I’m deftly avoiding how she got into his bed to start with!) but she wasn’t being paid to have sex with the viscount. Moira too — wasn’t she a woman of independent means — wasn’t she supporting herself? I may be wrong — but I seem to remember them coming together out of mutual sexual interest. I’d have to check Hunter’s book. I wouldn’t call Jessica a prostitute or a courtesan. She was a mistress. To me, prostitute/courtesan implies someone is doing it professionally. More than one man, more than once. Lastly, I make a distinction between “public” mistress (Bel) and “hidden” mistress (Jane, in More than a Mistress) because the latter is much easier to shift from mistress to wife.
I know what you mean, but I tend to think of Harriet as a “mistress” versus a “lover”, even though she never was financially supported by Tenby, because there was a lot of inequality in the relationship. I think that Harriet thought of herself as his mistress (and he thought of her in the same way, as witnessed by how fluffed up he got when he mistakely believed that Harriet was deliberately trying to start an association with the women in his family.) He was also courting or planning on courting another woman for marriage while he was still involved with Harriet. Finally, there was a cold, almost business transaction-like element to their sexual relationship that seemed more mistress-y than loverish to me.
I would contrast this to a relationship like the one in Pam Rosenthal’s The Slightest Provocation in which the heroine was (I suppose) technically the hero’s mistress, but I think of her more as his lover since the relationship was relatively equal and based upon mutual pleasure without all the social inequality overlay.
Yes and no. Gail (Wolf’s The Arrangement and Harriet (Balogh’s Tempting Harriet ) both thought of themselves as mistresses, despite the fact that they never took money (although I think that it was offered by the hero in both cases.) Rachel (Gaffney’s THATH) thought of herself as a mistress (or even worse.) As I said, there was a lot of social inequality between the hero and heroine in each of these stories that colors my perception of the relationship. Certainly, these women would have been thought by society to be acting as the heroes’ mistresses. Moira (Hunter’s By Possession) was the hero’s serf/servant, and was definitely his mistress, IMHO. I included Jessica (Wolf’s His Lordship’s Mistress) as a courtesan, because she was trolling for a protector, not looking for a love affair; however, I acknowledge that she is of the virgin courtesan variety.
And I agree with your distinction between a public mistress and hidden mistress, and relative believability of the ultimate marriage being accepted by the upper echelons of society.
Janet W is correct: I wasn’t focusing on the mistress versus lover distinction so mis-classified the book.
A trad Regency that does have an honest-to-goodness mistress is Mary Chase Comstock’s Fortune’s Mistress. Marianne finds herself pregnant by her latest protector, a young man recently engaged to another, so leaves London and goes to a small village, where she tells people she is a widow. This is one of the few such books which I think portrays realistically, even if in a low key way, the impact on a young woman of good birth when she breaks Society’s rules. So many Regencies have young women miraculously avoiding ruin. In this case, one youthful misstep changed Marianne’s life forever. Her relationship to her sister is especially poignant. The two sisters love each other but cannot share their lives, as it would ruin her sister’s reputation if they did so. I read this book years ago and just reread it last year. The first time I loved the premise but felt the execution was merely mediocre; the second time I still loved the premise but graded the writing higher than I had before — not quite sure why, but it’s always a pleasant surprise to like something more rather than less than before.
I can’t believe I forgot this one! I really love it. Quite possibly my favorite thing by Rosenthal.
I just came across this passage from Night Storm by Catherine Coulter, which seemed pertinent:
“…I was wondering if that woman Eileen had been your mistress or your lover”
“I suppose she would be a lover, rich and widowed that she is. She would choose the man she wished an affaire with.”
The implication being that the difference involves choice/power as well as money.
by Elle October 26th, 2009 at 11:45 am
Yes and no. Gail (Wolf's The Arrangement and Harriet (Balogh's Tempting Harriet ) both thought of themselves as mistresses, despite the fact that they never took money (although I think that it was offered by the hero in both cases.)
Elle, as I recall, yes, initially, in Dancing w/Clara, Tenby asked Harriet, an poor companion altho a “lady”, to be his mistress and she turned him down. However, in Tempting Harriet, which takes place six years later, she is the wealthy widow of a baronet. Clearly not of his social stature (but then who is, with a duke?) but not by any means needing his money. When he ripped into her verbally for visiting his aunt at his ducal mansion, she slapped him and said don’t you dare treat me that way. I am a lady (or words to that effect) and he apologized. I agree with you about the cold, business-like way he went into the arrangement but that was because a) he was so ticked with her for “assuming” that he wanted a sexual relationship only and b) he really had promised his grandmother he would settle down. It was so painful to read: both of them denying, at least initially, how much more they wanted than just a physical arrangement. And Tenby totally gave himself away too — the way he looked at Harriet — his friend guessed, his grandmother, his aunt, Freddy: it was very hard to read but oh so satisfying at the end.
As for Gail, she was a doctor’s daughter and money was definitely tight but he didn’t offer her money, just made her accept (on her son’s behalf) the money that was due him. Gail was incredibly independent and very capable of standing on her own two feet.
@Elle, you might be right about THATH: she clearly felt powerless and empty and “knew” that more than housekeeping duties would be expected. It’s a hard one to catagorize, isn’t it?
For me the categorization of mistress can depend on the way society views it. For example Rachel in Gaffney’s THATH knew that the villagers saw her as “Lord D’Aubrey’s whore.” Some of the women in Wyckerley shunned her, partly because of her past but partly because she was thought of as Sebastian’s kept woman.
It can also depend on marital status. If they are equals in other ways but the man is married then she is his mistress, especially if the story is taking place in the historical past.
And it can depend on the feelings involved, too. Linda Howard’s “The Way Home” takes place in the present and I don’t think society would disapprove that much. They are only unequal because the heroine agreed to be “kept” since the hero insisted on this as part of his terms for the relationship. She loves him but she believes he doesn’t love her, and the reader is given reason to believe it at first, too. So I still consider it a mistress story.
For me, it can be a mistress story if the couple is unmarried and even one of these factors is present:
(1) There is social disapproval
(2) He is married to someone else
(3) He supports her financially
(4) The woman views herself as his mistress
(5) The emotions are one-sided
I stopped participating in a prehistoric discussion group (it was all done with emails; how old school) when a middle-aged guy posed a question about what to say to the host when guy sees host coming down the stairs in the middle of the night and the only thing on the third floor is the bedroom for the au pair. Most of the discussion by the group was about whether guy should have said something to his own wife, to the hostess, or to the host directly.
I was (literally!) the only person to empathize with the au pair, and was stunned that no one else cared that she was an employee. No matter her age (somewhere around 20, as I recall), she wasn’t in any position to give truly free sexual consent. She was foreign, working on a visa that relied on her job, and perhaps didn’t have a full range of options. I don’t even care if she seduced him — it’s not a relationship with sufficient parity to be sanctioned. The only difference (in my mind) between that and Polanski is the girl’s age. It’s way worse when the girl is 13, but it’s not different. (Not that Polanski’s victim was, but some girls can be seductive, usually as a result of having been abused. Does not matter, and it’s never an excuse.)
There are so many vectors in To Have and To Hold that it’s hard for me to isolate the employer/employee aspect. The heroine had been incarcerated, a circumstance that for most people is the antithesis of empowerment. (I have a client whose life completely turned around in prison — for the better — so there are exceptions.) Add to that the hero’s nihilism, the violence, their mutual healing — well, I would imagine you could use that novel to bolster almost any argument in this arena!
But until there is a degree of choice by the employee, she’s not a mistress. And I could argue that until the mistress duties are her only duties, and that’s what she’s being paid for and the only thing she’s being paid for, she’s not a mistress. She maybe isn’t being exploited, but she’s not what I would think of as a mistress.
Thanks for your long list of mistress stories.
I agree with what you said. But to me Bel is as much a courtesan as Jessica from Wolf’s His Lordship’s Mistress, the book that got us to start this topic.
I don’t fully understand why to Jane, Jessica (also a virgin at the beginning of the book, and then becomes the hero’s kept woman) is more of a real mistress than Bel (who is a virgin, then raped once by a villain, and then becomes the hero’s kept woman). To me, if Jessica is a real mistress, then Bel is too.
What if she’s married, but he’s not? Or if he’s married and she’s widowed. I don’t know that I automatically agree with ‘if he’s married’=then she’s a mistress. I think he can be married and she still his lover rather than a kept woman, which is what mistress says to me.
I re-read ‘Lord Gresham’s Lady’ and I now know why I forgot about it, even though I read it for the first time only a few months ago. That relationship is so unequal and I felt so uncomfortable with the whole thing that I sublimated it right away.
I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, but this one leaves me feeling a sense of impotent fury at the lot of women then and even today. That said, reading her again reminded me how sad I am that she died before she could write Willy’s story. I’d really have loved to read about him.
@janine — so given those 5 qualifiers, would you see Tempting Harriet as a mistress story? Because only number one seems potentially a problem — the societal disapproval — but that doesn’t put her in a mistress box for me. She was his lover — and honestly, even though his grandmother didn’t want him to look lower than the daughter of an earl, it’s not like the earth would stop turning in its tracks were they to marry.
As for Bel, I agree — she and Jessica seems very much alike: both reluctantly deciding for financial reasons to become a wealthy nobleman’s mistress and doing it publically. At least in His Lordship’s Mistress, the solution was feasible because of the support of Philip’s very well connected sister (a patroness of Almacks).
@magdalenb — thanks for sharing your thoughts on THATH — that’s what I was trying to say, not very effectively. She was an exploited employee who became someone who was very much loved. And yes, to the outside world, she was a whore altho as one reads in Book III, it’s amazing how much whitewashing is available when you’re married to a wealthy viscount.
There are a couple Mary Balogh books that come to mind — The Ideal Wife and The Temporary Wife — where the heroines had to leave their last governess posts because of sticking up for an abused and exploited chambermaid. And I can’t remember the title, but there was an In Death book where the horrid British diplomat forced his daughter’s nanny to sleep with him. He has always stood out for me as one of the creepiest villains ever.
@Janine: Wohooo, someone else who has read Lord of the Night. I thought I was the only one ^^.
I have no idea how authentic that setting was but it certainly drew me in! And the hero, basically a Venice police comissioner, if you think about it just worked. I didn’t even mind the age difference, it rang true for me because of the time it was set in. And all the intrigues!
And that the heroine is an excellent painter! I loved the idea of a woman of the times so self-possessed as to go after her dreams without thinking of the current morals.
P.S. I much prefer the older cover.
Imitation In Death — not that I’m obsessed with the series much.
She wasn’t his mistress but rather his victim, or at least that’s the way I thought of her and do think of others in her position.
I also hate to disagree with Janine but “social disapproval” wouldn’t make me consider a woman a mistress. Many of us despise my niece’s bum-boyfriend — but since he’s always out of work there is no way she’s his mistress. His idiot, maybe, but not his mistress.
I think of ‘mistress’ as a woman who exchanges ‘favors’, most specifically sex, for money. It is also almost always the men, at least in romance books, who end the relationships.
The Way Home by Linda Howard is one of only a very few favorites in this trope.
LOL! I didn’t say that social disapproval alone would always be enough to make a woman a mistress. I said that it can be enough. There’s a distinction there.
For example, take the women who slept with the popes in previous centuries and bore them children. Even if they hadn’t been financially supported, even though the popes didn’t have wives, even if there was love on both sides, I think society would have viewed such women as mistresses.
As I just said to joanne, it’s not an automatic “if…then” to me either. It’s just a circumstance that can make a woman a mistress in my mind, depending on the situation.
For example, in Eva Ibbotson’s Madensky Square the heroine is involved with a man who loves her very much, but cannot divorce his wife, whom he is already separated from. IMO that makes the heroine a mistress.
OTOH, in LaVyrle Spencer’s Bitter Sweet, the heroine is also romantically involved with a married man (the hero). Still, I didn’t see that heroine as a mistress.
Both heroines are financially independent business owners, so why the difference? Well, Madensky Square is set in 1911 Vienna, Austria, while Bitter Sweet takes place in 1990 United States. Also, the hero of Bitter Sweet can divorce his wife — it is much more commonplace in that setting. In my mind, that is enough to tip Madensky Square into the mistress story category while Bitter Sweet remains in the triangle/adultery category.
To be truthful, I didn’t finish reading Tempting Harriet, so I’m not sure my answer would be valid. However, the reason I had trouble reading it was precisely because I felt that although Harriet wanted to be Archie’s lover, and perhaps that was even what he wanted as well, he was in effect making her into his mistress, and this was the source of the angst in the story. I love many of Balogh’s regencies; they are such emotional stories, but in this case the I felt Harriet’s shame and hurt so acutely that I couldn’t keep reading.
Thanks for mentioning MÃ©lanie, Elle. She’s actually both a spy who sleeps with men in the course of her work and a former prostitute (when she was left destitute as a teenager, before she became a spy). Of course London society knows nothing of this and nor does her husband when Secrets/Daughter starts. She has to deal with knowing that a lot of the people around her would reject her in an instant if they knew the truth of her past, which is a threat that continues to hang over her and Charles.
I love mistress/courtesan/fallen women stories. The heroines tend to have complicated, interesting pasts (I love characters with pasts) and there’s wonderful tensions and conflict and angst. If a happy ending can be believably reached, it can be particularly powerful. And for me a happy ending doesn’t necessarily have to mean social acceptance. I found the ending of Madensky Square quite satisfying.
I don’t necessarily think of a mistress being a kept woman. (A courtesan, on the other hand, I think of as a woman who supports herself by being kept by a series of protectors). I’d refer to Emily Cowper being Lord Palmerston’s mistress, but he certainly wasn’t supporting her. Historically the word mistress was even sometimes used for a beloved with whom the man in question wasn’t sleeping. A sort “mistress of my heart” usage. I remember being very confused when I first read Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer” and the hero’s best friend informs the hero that their “mistresses” (meaning the well-born young women they both plan to marry) are at the inn they’re staying at. I was about ten at the time, but I knew what the word mistress usually signified. My mom and I had a talk about how it could have other usages :-).
Yes. Tenby definitely offered to make Harriet his mistress (in the kept woman sense) twice in Dancing With Clara, but despite the fact that he is not supporting her financially in Tempting Harriet, she is referred to multiple times during the story as his mistress, both by Tenby and Harriet herself.
(Harriet’s POV (thinking about her upcoming meeting with Tenby in Kew near the beginning of the book):
She was going to say yes. She was going to become his mistress. Just for a short time. Just for long enough to satisfy her curiosity and craving.
Tenby’s POV (the next day):
He had been about to offer her marriage the day before, but she had forestalled him and offered herself as his mistress instead.
Tenby’s POV (after their first sexual encounter):
No longer the pure, unattainable Harriet of his dreams. She was his mistress. She had become very thoroughly so during the past hour and a half.
Tenby (to Harriet):
“It was unspeakably improper for you, my mistress, to set foot inside my home,” he said, “and to impose your company on my unsuspecting grandmother and aunt.”
And yes, Harriet lets him have it for his arrogance in this instance, but when Tenby ultimately tells her that she is not a whore, doxy or even his mistress, since it implies a kept woman, but his lover, Harriet thinks to herself:
The word caressed her. And mocked her. They were not lovers. Lovers loved. The very word suggested that. They did not love. They merely had sexual relations.
The word “mistress” is used throughout the story, and I think that Balogh does so deliberately to establish Harriet and Tenby’s relationship as being something other than a love affair. Certainly Harriet never feels comfortable with the relationship and Tenby finds himself strangely disappointed (despite the good sex) while at the same time increasingly desperate for the relationship not to end.
I really loved this story, but I am a sucker for this type of angsty set-up with social disparity between the hero and heroine. I consider this story (and Wolf’s The Arrangement) to be mistress tales, since in each case the heroine is in love with the hero and would gladly marry him if he asked, but the hero does not (initially) offer marriage due to the inequality in their social status. But I can see why others may not agree with this interpretation.
I am not sure why that would be either. They both belong in the same bin as far as I can tell. Perhaps she meant that Bel is a faux-courtesan, not a faux-mistress. I would agree to that one.
@elle, that fits with Janine’s description: #4: she’s a mistress if she considers herself to be one. Your analysis is very thorough — and I agree, both women would have liked to be asked to get married.
oooo…somebody mentioned Julia Ross. I don’t think she gets enough notice as a romance author because she is SO different. Her books have something of a hard edge to them.
So, I always remember The Wicked Lover for a heroine that is scandalously FALLEN and really unapologetic about it.
Fallen from Grace has moved up on my “to purchase” list and ANYTHING containing the words Laura and Kinsale is immediately purchased read without delay.
Thank you, that’s two votes for the Fallen from Grace book now.
@RD: You’re welcome!
So, I just finished reading ‘The Courtesan’ by Julia Justiss. She definitely is a mistress (wouldn’t call her a courtesan, though). It’s good till the end when everything is tied up in a neat little package with social acceptance as the bow. I liked the hero much better before he involved his mamma…
I couldn’t agree more about the new Julia London book. I liked 7/8 of the book. I liked the H/H. But the ending?? Are you kidding? It was asinine in every way and amazingly unsatisfying.
Yeah. All that build up and then such a fizzling ending which wad almost a non resolution. Kind of ruins the book.
Kushiel’s Dart and the rest of the series by Jacqueline Carey if you are into a more fantasy-ish setting.
mind power somehow exists in one way or another-*’