Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Skittles the Charmer

Hi. Before I get started on today’s blog post, I want to tell everybody that over the weekend, I enabled the set-up to allow comments from anybody. So you don’t have to have a blogger site anymore if you want to comment – and you can remain anonymous, if you prefer. I’m really curious to hear what people think about my bad girls, so I encourage comments! Then again, if what I say makes you angry, please try to control yourself and don’t swear a lot or lash out at me because I don’t deal well with anger or aggression, and I’d probably obsess over what you said all day.

OK, I keep promising to talk about charm and vanity, don’t I? Well, my bad girls had it in spades. To live happily off the generosity of men without marrying them requires an uncommon talent, and Skittles (a.k.a. Catherine Walters) had it. Skittles, remember, was Victorian London’s favourite whore. Her finest accomplishments were the men who loved her, and they included at least one nobleman, a politician and a poet. The men who knew her ended up loving her more than she loved them because she was good at creating the illusion of being a childlike, vulnerable innocent all alone in the world. As a result, quite a few gentlemen paid her a monthly income or bought property for her. Skittles was tougher than she let on—she was a barmaid in a poor part of Liverpool before earning fame and fortune as a London courtesan. But she was a skillful charmer, and this helped her enormously in life.

What exactly did she do? How was she charming? For one thing, she loved hounds, hunting and horses, and when she was a young barmaid she served the huntsmen and their grooms in her family’s inn parlor after a hunt and listened carefully to their stories. She listened, and asked questions, and showed great interest in what the men were saying. It was the perfect training for a courtesan. Not only did she share a genuine interest in the sport of gentlemen, she learned to wait on their needs and listen eagerly to their stories. I’m not necessarily suggesting that playing up to a man’s ego is what a woman should do to snag a man—I’ll leave that to the women’s magazines, which do it all the time. But let’s face it, it works. Skittles figured that out at an early age, and she used it to her advantage.

She also charmed men simply because she genuinely liked them and put them at ease. Her relationship with her father provided excellent training—they enjoyed each other’s company enormously and shared a simple view of life. Both loved a good time, both had steady and direct personalities. They didn’t shock easily and in fact liked a good joke—the dirtier the better—and getting jostled in pub brawls. Seeing her father drunk as often as she did, Skittles had no fear of outrageous behavior. When she’d had enough of his rough flamboyance, she’d slap him down with some coarse talk of her own. And the next morning all would be sunny. Skittles helps me remember that life is better and more charming when it’s uncomplicated.

In bed, Skittles wasn’t easily forgotten. She was no innocent, but she had a simple sweetness in her eyes. As much as men might tease her and talk dirty about her luscious figure and delicate features, they were powerfully attracted to her—and protective. And considering the degree to which she was comfortable in her father’s company, she knew how to make each and every man in her life feel that he was very, very special. Naturally, this would provoke jealous scenes because there were so many very special men in her life, and Skittles learned not to avoid these scenes because they revealed a man’s vulnerability and kept him—and his cash—coming back to her.

How did she ultimately become a shining prize to Victorian gentlemen? First, Skittles was very nice to look at, and once a man started looking, she started talking with an engaging combination of street wit, little stories, sudden fancies and gossip about people they both knew. It was all light and delicious, and the words flowed out of the little Cupid’s mouth of a girl with a marvelous sense of style. Skittles was never vulgar, yet her bad manners and untaught speech were apparent when she first arrived in London—but she was a great student of people and a quick learner, and within a few years she had smoothed over the roughest parts of her personality. As she made her way up the ladder of her trade, she continued to polish and refine her character, though never so much as to completely lose her natural charm. She was just rough enough to be a fun girl, but she didn’t really look or act like a whore.

And did I mention that Skittles was physically quite beautiful? I can’t say the same of all my bad girls—I’ve seen portraits of Catherine the Great, and she looks like George Washington in drag, sorry to say. But Skittles, she was a knockout. I’ve seen the pictures. She looks quite elegant, with dark eyes and a fine mouth, the trim figure and good posture of a horsewoman.

One of Skittles’ rich lovers, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, wrote a poem about her beauty and charm—a very long, Victorian poem—and here’s the part where he describes her face:

Her brow was pale, but it was lit with light,
And mirth flashed out of it, it seemed in rays.
A childish face, but wise with woman's wit
And something, too, pathetic in its gaze.

Oh, I could go on and on, but I’ve lost track of why I’m writing all this about Skittles. See, she’s charmed me, I’m thinking about her madly, and I’m in love with Skittles all over again. And all I’ve talked about was charm—I haven’t even talked about vanity yet. Though if I’m going to talk about vanity, I’m going to have to talk about Mae West next time. Watch this space….


Anonymous said...

Hi Joyce,

Who would you say 'today's' Bad Girls might be?

deb, London x

Joyce Hanson said...

Hi, Deb from London. I just came across a book, "Wacky Chicks," about wild and crazy women who are alive today. Written by Simon Doonan, a window dresser at Barneys New York. I think his chicks might count among today's bad girls. Then again, I've always looked for women with a high sexual promiscuity quotient, and I don't know if that's on Simon's list of fabulousness traits.

Anonymous said...

So who does Simon quote?

If I think about today's bad girls off the top of my head:

Sharon Osbourne
Sadie Frost
Kate Moss
Pamela Anderson

??? What do we think?

Joyce Hanson said...

It's a shame the only bad girls from today we can name off the top of our heads are actresses, models and singers. Then again, if you add in royalty, writers, and courtesans, that's who makes up my list from historical times. Nowadays, I suppose royalty would be replaced by corporate CEOs--Carly Fiorina of Hewlett Packard, for example. But we'll never hear about HER love life in detail! Now that she's left HP with millions and millions in cash, what's she gonna do with that money? Probably become CEO somewhere else or sit on the board of directors for other companies. Boring. If I had her millions, I'd buy property in, oh, three different cities/countries, and write books and travel, visit friends & family, make new friends. That's why I'll never make millions. I'm not ambitious enough.