From her luxurious mansion in St James’s, London, Milady looks back through the years – to hear the church bells ringing in celebration of Wellington’s great victory at Waterloo, at the time when she left clacking tongues behind her in the Sussex village of Alfriston for adventure and employment in fashionable Brighton, the ‘second capital of England’. There as the seventeen-year-old Sary Snudden, with her reputation already ruined, she becomes a prostitute, the ‘Painted Lady’ of the title. Yet even Regency conventions are to prove too narrow for a girl of Sary’s flamboyant character. Caught up in a passionate affair with young David Stanville, heir to Lord Southbourne’s great estate of Hadderton, she and her lover cross the Alps on a perilous journey by coach and sled to the excitement of a popular revolution in Turin and an erotically charged idyll in the Italian lakes. But the question of how she’ll cross the greater gulf, which lies between her humble origins and the noble status David seeks for her, remains the central problem of Milady’s life. Moving from the great military encampments of Napoleonic Sussex to the pleasure grounds of nineteenth century Europe, from the practical routines of a well-run brothel, to the elegant manners of St James’s, Painted Lady spans a colourful half-century of European history. A delightful, romping adventure, the novel introduces an unforgettable new heroine to historical fiction.
Painted Lady is another amazing piece of the 'history of Hadderton' books by author Richard Masefield. This book is set in the Regency Era and follows the life of young Sary Snudden. I am more impressed than ever with the author's ability to paint the scene of this time so well that we can almost 'jump into' the picture to be in the thick of things.
Sary is certainly a woman who knows how to make lemonade - because life gave her one lemon after another. Born to a woman who had been seduced and abandoned by one of a 'better class' (*takes out a hankie to wipe up the dripping sarcasm*), Sary's mother has little choice but to 'use what her mama gave her' and become the mistress of a succession of soldierly types.
When Sary's mother dies, Sary sets out on her own, choosing the seaside city of Brighton as her destination. When faced with the choice of working in service or at a pub (with unholy long hours of back-breaking work and the disadvantage of all kinds of people using her at their will) with working in a bordello (in the *ahem* entertainment division), the choice was probably simple. By joining the house, Sary lived in a much more comfortable and protected way.
If there's one thing that bothered me somewhat about the book, it was Sary's cavalier attitude toward sex. Certainly once she became a 'professional', sex was business ... with the possible exception of her relationship with David Stanville. I don't fault her for it, much, but from the relative safety of my time and place, it is an attitude that is somewhat hard to understand.
Given Sary's profession, there are more sexual situations and more sexual activity in Painted Lady than in your average book, and if that kind of thing bothers you, I would suggest one of this author's other books.
I read the book for the historical information and the descriptions of the surroundings. It reminded me of Pretty Woman' - just set in Regency England. The valuing of form and propriety over money certainly made for a different outcome.
Decision time? The book is well-written and the story well-constructed. Unless you prefer your book romances with less heat, put Painted Lady on your shelf to be read.
MEET THE AUTHOR
It took years of hard work before Richard could realise his dream, and in fact his first published novel was written while milking a herd of Friesian cows. He still lives on his farm in Sussex with his wife Lee and together they spend as much time as possible with their large family of children and grandchildren.
You can visit Richard’s website at www.richardmasefield.co.uk.
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(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.)