WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Peculiar

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Peculiar

It is speculated that William Hogarth named Moll Hackabout in A Harlot’s Progress after Daniel Dafoe’s Moll Flanders, notorious prostitute Kate Hackabout, or the Virgin Mary; each one of these presents intriguing possibilities.

Moll Flanders was published anonymously as an autobiography in 1722, and told the story of the life of Moll from birth to old age. The book was not attributed to Defoe until after his death in 1731, because he had met a criminal named Moll King during multiple visits to Newgate Prison. The birth to old age angle dovetails nicely with Hogarth’s Moll Hackabout.

Prostitute Kate Hackabout (who was also the sister of highwayman Francis Hackabout) could possibly be the inspiration for Hogarth’s Moll as she was convicted of keeping a “disorderly house” (i.e., brothel) after having been arrested by one Westminster Magistrate by the name of Sir John Gonson. Gonson’s efforts and exploits to clean up brothels and street prostitution kept his name in the papers, and eventually in the fourth and fifth plates of A Harlot’s Progress.

I understand the Virgin Mary parallel in so far as Moll’s arrival in London as a country innocent, but for the life of me I can’t fathom a further comparison. This one fizzles for me.

Anyway, this week brings about Plate 2: Moll as a Mistress. We are witnesses to the pinnacle of Moll’s career, as it were.


A mistress.

A Harlot’s Progress – Plate 2 – Moll as a Mistress, by Willliam Hogarth, 1732, Public Domain.

From the Wikipedia description:

Moll is now the mistress of a wealthy Jewish merchant, as is confirmed by the Old Testament paintings in the background which have been considered to be prophetic of how the merchant will treat Moll in between this plate and the third plate. She has numerous affectations of dress and accompaniment, as she keeps a West Indian serving boy and a monkey. The boy and the young female servant, as well as the monkey, may be provided by the businessman. The presence of the servant, the monkey and the mahogany table of tea things all suggest a colonial source for the merchant’s wealth. She has jars of cosmetics, a mask from masquerades, and her apartment is decorated with paintings illustrating her sexually promiscuous and morally precarious state. She pushes over a table to distract the merchant’s attention as a second lover tiptoes out.


Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Wife in Water Colours

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Wife in Water Colours

They are often written as a foil to the heroine: vain, overblown, and vengeful. They often have some skeevy characteristic such as malice, possessiveness, or extreme avarice that only manifests itself (or seems unattractive and potentially problematic) to the hero after he meets and/or falls for the heroine. In nearly half the novels in which they make an appearance, they don’t take dismissal by the hero with a thank you, but rather use it as kindling in the formation of a plot to harm the heroine.

Beware the ides of Mistress.

The Amorous Courtesan by Pierre Subleyras, 1735, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Wife in Water Colours (noun)

A mistress, or concubine; water colours being, like their engagements, easily effaced, or dissolved.

I know many Regency gentlemen kept mistresses, and I have no problem reading of their accounts in contemporaneous resources and historical texts. I don’t, however, want to read about them in flagrante delicto with the hero in my historical romance. The hero may visit her off-page, give her her congé, or even offer assistance toward a more respectable direction; I don’t want to read about them engaging in energetic discourse of a horizontal nature.

The Jersey Smuggler Detected; – or – Good cause for (separation) Discontent by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 24 May 1796.

Once a male character in a novel becomes clearly identifiable as the hero, I want him to remain committed to the heroine. He may fight with her and against his attraction for three-fourths of the story, but he may not visit another’s bed. Author Susana Ellis wrote several posts about what she called “Historical Romance Deal Breakers,” and adultery was number two. I concur.

Now, turn the mistress into the heroine … well, I’m all for that. I like a good underdog story.


  • Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
  • Want to learn more about courtesans and mistresses in Regency England? Head to The Culture Concept Circle.
  • Someone else agrees with me about adultery being a no-no in historical romance. Read what Susana Ellis has to say about it.