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QUEEN OF THE COURTESANS: Fanny Murray
Bibliophile price: £1.75
Fanny was a beautiful Georgian prostitute of the 1750s, especially admired for her bosoms 'those fair hemispheres, those orbs of more than snowy whiteness, which seemed to pant for release from irksome robes'. She was adored by aristocrats and commoners alike, she was painted by artists, a muse for poets, and was fêted by princes whom she dazzled with her fashionable dresses. Almost certainly she was one of those women chosen to delight the Monks of Medmenham, members of Sir Francis Dashwood's notorious sexual Hell Fire club at West Wycombe, where they sported amongst 'obscene statuary and phallic symbols.' Born to an impoverished musician in Bath in 1729, possibly one of triplets (it is said that two died soon after birth), by the age of twelve Fanny was selling posies and trinkets around the baths and Assembly Rooms. As with so many other young girls at the time, she discovered prostitution lucrative. Amongst her amours were Beau Nash, Sir John Spencer (ancestor of Princess Diana) and Sir Richard Atkins, who, when she asked for money one day, gave her a twenty pound note. Indignant because it wasn't enough Fanny promptly 'clapped it between two pieces of bread and butter' and ate it. She reinvented herself and married Scottish actor David Ross but could not escape her past and a scurrilous poem in 1763 caused a national scandal and an infamous trial for obscene libel. From Covent Garden to sex romps and from refined drawing rooms to marital respectability in Edinburgh, this entertaining account of Georgian life and one of its most memorable of women is well-researched and full of detail. 256pp, colour and b/w illus.

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