Lady Vice: The Historical Scandal Behind Wendy La Capra’s Debut Novel
WELCOME TO FRIDAY ROULETTE where a variety of fabulous authors post on range of excellent LadySmut-worthy topics.
Today we welcome historical romance author Wendy La Capra. Wendy is here to share with us the infamous inspiration behind her debut novel LADY VICE.
A few years back I purchased a non-fiction book by Hallie Rubenhold called LADY WORSELY’S WHIM (later released in the USA as THE LADY IN RED). The book told the fascinating and heartbreaking story of a young woman named (oddly enough) Seymour Fleming, later Lady Worsley, who marriage to Sir Richard Worsley in the 18th century ended in scandal and divorce.
The characters are vividly rendered, and although Lady Worsley was often her own worst enemy, I found myself in sympathy with this strong-willed, highly sexual woman whose loveless marriage brought out the worst in her husband and in herself.
Seymour Dorothy Fleming inherited a fortune in land and rent that was generously augmented by her step-father at the time of her marriage. At one point she was worth 52,000 pounds (approximately 66 million today). Her prospects on the marriage mart were exceptional, but this strong-willed social butterfly chose for her husband a careful, mathematical loner primary concerned with securing the good opinion of others. They were not equal in temperament, outlook, hopes, interests or education.
In the early years of their marriage, she became a leader of high-fashion. So elevated was she in popularity, she was fictionalized by the playwright Sheridan in his hit SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL. But even as she rose in popularity, she complained she felt slighted by her husband, implying he’d left her a virgin until three months after their marriage.
Her growing sense of alienation led to mischievous behavior directed at the symbols of her husband’s interests–one of them being the military. She and two friends stole three cart-horses and went on a three day rampage around the outskirts of Leeds. The young ladies used hot pokers to break into an inn housing militia and then proceeding to set uniforms on fire. Inn innkeeper suggested the ladies urinated on the fire to put it out.
Even after this incident, Sir Richard did not figure out pissing off his wife was unwise. Things between the two seemed to settle a bit until, at the encouragement of Sir Richard, Lady Worsley took a lover. Relieved from his wife’s social and sensual needs, he gladly invited her lover, George Bisset, to live with them in Maidstone.
Unfortunately, impetuous Seymour could not, as Jane Austen said of Marianne, love by halves, and she eventually ran away with her lover, hoping for a divorce that would free her to marry.
Sir Richard was not cooperative. He sued Bisset for thousands of pounds, claiming in an 18th century tort lawsuit called a Criminal Conversation that Bisset had despoiled his wife. Proving her adultery was easy. Among other things, the housekeeper at the inn where the eloping couple stayed testified to seeing them in bed “at one o’clock in the afternoon.” *gasp*
Yet Seymour’s hatred of her husband ran as deep as her desire to protect her lover from financial harm. In a surprising turn, she wrote to the court, suggesting all her past lovers and a doctor who had treated her venereal disease come and testify. The defense was happy to fulfill her wishes and claimed her husband had not only acquiesced to her lovers, but had encouraged her behavior.
In one particularly vivid story, a maid recalled how Sir Richard hoisted Bisset up to stand on his shoulders so Bisset could get a glimpse of a naked Seymour in the bath-house. It was also implied in the testimony that Sir Richard liked to watch his wife with her lovers through the keyhole in her door. In the end, the court conceded that Bisset was guilty and awarded Sir Richard one shilling.
Following the trial, Lady Worsely refused to ‘go gently’ into exile. Instead, she defied polite society with her lover at balls and masquerades and used the press to taunt her former husband. She reveled in her place with the demimonde, reported holding conversations on the unfairness of marriage with her fallen sisters.
However, her husband had absolute control over her fortune, and when she was forced by debt to flee to France, Bisset’s affection could not withstand a lack of financial resources and the lovers parted. Her time in France started out as a reprieve but turned turbulent because of political unrest and may have included imprisonment during the terror. When she returned to London in 1797, she was more subdued. In probably the only bright point in her remaining life, she outlived Sir Richard.
Following his death, her fortune was restored and she married a Swiss musician more than twenty years her junior.
The plight of a woman trapped in a marriage to a husband who not only did not love her, but appeared to be incapable of human connection and true affection touched me deeply and was the inspiration for my debut novel LADY VICE.
The concept of fallen women banding together to survive forms the basis of this series titled THE FURIES. As it turns out, I am not the only one who was struck by the story. This year, the BBC is slated to release a BBC Drama starring Natalie Dormer titled LADY IN RED.
Thank you Wendy! Check out her novel LADY VICE. Here’s a blurb:
Not every lady plays by the rules.
Lady Lavinia Vaile knows what happens to a woman who puts her faith in society. For her, it was a disastrous marriage to a depraved man-one she threatened to shoot when she left him. Now Lavinia lives outside of society’s strict conventions, hosting private gambling parties. It’s only when her husband is shot dead that Lavinia finds herself in terrible danger…
A former judge in India’s high court, Maximilian Harrison will do anything he can to help Lavinia. In the darkest of times, he held on to thoughts of her and the love they once shared. Now he risks his own position in society―along with his ambitions―in order to clear her name. Yet as desire reignites between them, Lavinia remains caught up in secrets and shame. Her only salvation is to do the unthinkable…and trust in both Maximilian and love.
Find out more about Wendy La Capra by visiting her website HERE.
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