Lord Nelson and His Mistress – the 18th Century Mistress Career


Perusing the Internet the other day, I came across the Daily Mail Online article entitled “Letter from Lord Nelson to his mistress Emma Hamilton written days after the birth of their secret love child expressing fears their relationship could be discovered goes on sale for £15,000,” which drew me in with curiosity about yet another clandestine long term love affair with the added delight of the phrase “secret love child.” However, like the promise of so many of these articles with impressive titles, I was not so much intrigued by Lord Nelson’s affair nor their “love child” of whom I learned nothing, but moreso the afterthought write up on the life of Ms. Emma Hamilton.
Ms. Hamilton (yes, the title is anachronistic) apparently fell into a career climb solely due to her sex–gender and activity. Her tale is reported as one of woman as object–body and womb. By virtue of her sex, she rises from poor beginnings, daughter of a blacksmith, to fodder for a “sexologist” (read: procurer of a bordello) to someone’s sole sex object to wife to mistress to abject poverty and death. The 18th Century afforded fewer other career options for a woman on the rise but sex and marriage. Her story seems to be the embodiment (pun intended) of all options exercised, what little agency I imagine she had to exercise. Of course, there is much untold in this skeletal “portrait of a mistress.”
Another noteworthy item is the scant mention of Lord Nelson’s wife, whom he appeared to love very much but was irresistibly drawn to Emma Hamilton upon meeting his future mistress. One can only surmise that the vast complexities of the motivation and underside of the players in this triangle are buried and returned to the soil from which they arose-only the letters remain from which to read between the lines.

Shadow Dancing with the Mistress Masochist

credit; http://www.zavesmith.com

I cannot face the blank page. I close my eyes, fingers frozen above the keyboard in readiness to strike the letters that form the words that fall into sentences, sentences to paragraphs, filling the blank with black. Writer’s block again. A surprise text from my beloved interrupts my agony as does the barging into my room from a disgruntled teenager who loudly complains she waited hours to no avail only to be denied the very coveted object of her desire, a new phone.

The phone rings and the voice to my ear asks me if I’m working. No, how can I? I ask where s/he is, s/he who must sneak love in a shoebox and an envelope of emailed bathroom love notes so the wife and children will not know. I love my love in so many ways: the sharp wit, keen pragmatic wisdom and common sense beyond most and all the while sentimentally apt to fall for a romantic tune and a sway dance, singing and sighing, even as s/he urges to bite and confine me with the unparalleled force of painful passion, the one s/he loves, destroy and own me. S/he is almost home, so s/he whispers a quick “I love you” and s/he is gone. The silent space fills the room. The laughter in the next room disrupts the delightful pain of longing. My life as me is a rocket ride of amazing torment and painful contentment.

The life of a mistress is one of denial, of empty space to be filled with fantasy of future memory. Her profile reveals a deep desire for punishment and deferred pleasure. She is judged and typecast as the scorpion fly, the Lilith of Eve’s prize, ever in human consciousness, but in reality, she is as fluid as the stories she floats in and out of, the ever flux of human flesh yearning for more in the quest for meaning. She provides links, fills hollow caves with patches of light, just enough to see the illusion of shadows. To judge is to play the fool.

Joyce Carol Oates in her essay, “They All Just Went Away” ponders the tendency of women to hurt themselves, to give up their space in deference to others. Each time I read this essay in preparation for class, I sink into her words.

Above all, the real is arbitrary. For to be a realist (in art or in life) is to acknowledge that all things might be other than they are. That there is no design, no intention, no aesthetic or moral or teleological imprimatur but, rather, the equivalent of Darwin’s great vision of a blind, purposeless, ceaseless evolutionary process that yields no ‘products’–only temporary strategies against extinction.

I think of humans coupling for love, marriage and children as survivalist needs for safety, security and self-perpetuation. Passion, however, is relegated to the realm of possibility and unpredictability. Sacrificing security is painful but paramount for passion, sometimes a worthwhile tradeoff. The mistress seeks and provides pleasure where safety breeds contemptuous boredom and the cancerous kill of the fire of desire, but there is a cost.

As a woman and as a writer, I have long wondered at the well-springs of female masochism. Or what, in despair of a more subtle, less reductive phrase we can call the congeries of predilections toward self-hurt, self-erasure, self-repudiation in women.

While the empowered mistress writes her role as protagonist and antagonist, hero and villain, and sadist and masochist as she loves with abandon and shadows love, aches in abandon, the nature of the mistress is often one of self abnegation and longing desire; threadbare hope and the coat of imagery warm the space, but the intangible is the self-inflicted torture, passion without presence, longing. She waits alone. This masochism is also the source of creativity of the writer. She, an other in self abnegating aloneness, borrows mystical moments of self-evisceration–the awe and radiance of others’ pain and joy–to disappear in their destruction and reappear in their resurrection Phoenix-like from the fire since passion burns born in torment. She is both agency and objectification, the meta-narrative of reading the reader reading the writer.

The writer is a mistress, with her drive toward self-punishment, in writing absolution and taking on the sins of others; she creates in hardship and pain, in triumph and longing desire, her shadowy figures tasked with completing the possibilities of the what if and should not. She is judged and critiqued. Her life drawings show us who we are. Sometimes she shows us what we don’t care to see or even dream. S/he tails the taboo.

Yet what could possibly be the evolutionary advantage of self-hurt in the female? Abnegation in the face of another’s cruelty? Acquiescence to another’s will? This loathsome secret that women do not care to speak of, or even acknowledge.

I don’t know. I won’t be judged. The mistress and the writer are independent and free to choose their stories, write them with the beginning unknown, the ending imagined and the middle lived suspended in the shadow of the snip of the scissors’ ever-so-slowly closing blades.

Shadow Dancing

Your silhouette twirls me in a pony skirt umbrella.
I falter and still to take my bow to your dark smile.
My fingers fondle high cheek bones of ionic spin.
They poke through to the wall behind you in jest.
I stroke you yet thumbing the thin strands of hair.
You hover in my chest and feet dancing me witty.
Though silence spaces the crackled sonic voice.
It fills dark deep dread of distant lost connection.
So electrifyingly fill my ear in warm static breath.
Sigh trigger heat-pour down from my neck to toe.
Body-sense wisps of thin caress a sweet timbre.
A hand in tones transmitted in aural wood chime.
Shade palms settle upon the dip of my shoulders.
They soft sweep across the bones tracing burden.
Feather touched windless air drifts across my face.
I fall back into the deep curtsy of a shadow dance.
The song circulates my bloodless fill of time spent.
Memory kissed moth flutters of your lullaby sweet.
Twenty moons shine liquid ether ossify you to me.

Guest Post – On Orientalism

The Belle Jar

By Israa Nasir

It was around 10pm on a summer night, a few years ago. I was waiting on Queen West for a friend. We were going to head out to a party like any other twenty-something on a weekend. A man approached me and asked if I worked in the ‘entertainment industry’. When I said no, he told me that I had a “really good look for this stuff”. He introduced himself as a film-producer and continued to tell me that his next project was looking for exotic, middle-eastern-looking women and that the pay would be really good (side note: I’m not middle-eastern). As I began to walk away while refusing his offer, he shoved a card into my hand and told me to think about it. I turned the card in my hands and saw that he was indeed a film-producer; he produced pornography, specializing in ‘oriental and…

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Prison of Names

Credit: http://www.sightswithin.com – Evelyn De Morgan “Hope in the Prison of Despair”

How does it feel to be stuffed in a box
un-Houdini-like in chain-full eye locks?
How does it feel when you try to get out,
to be sealed up despite all your shouts?
How do you see shred of light in a crack
when dignity shards slice into your back?

For pain is a powerful dictator and names
are but words with swords slain too true.

How does it feel to be told to be enough,
to be more so you become the right stuff?
How does it feel to be typecast as a “girl”
when desire opens as ship sails unfurled?
How does it feel to be set up in the scene,
your role cast as the naif of ever green?

For prison is the picture someone holds
whether true or false that can’t be denied.

How does it feel to forfeit claim to the self,
your skin adorn-worn like an animal pelt?
How does it feel to be stripped naked down,
a number-tattoo name on all that you own?
How does it feel to be absorbed in an idea
not who you are nor what you hold dear?

For murder is the mayhem of false claims
and stolen names and imagery of a body.

How does it feel? How can you feel? How?

Mr. Mafioso’s Madcap Mistress Myth


Two plus two always equals four, right? Well, except when things don’t add up. Take, for instance, an article I read the other day. I am aware that Mr. Mafioso, on a website entitled askmen.com, writes “Get Yourself a Sexy Mistress” half in jest. I get that the article is meant for entertainment–and it is entertaining–for savvy readers who recognize farce or irony. The caricature of a mafioso with his Italian/Sicilian Brooklynese appears in words like “dames” and “goomas” and his over the top machismo is both amusing and revealing that this author does not wholeheartedly advocate what he advises–to get a mistress with all boobs and no brains who poses no threats. Or does he? Of course, the writer knows that he is endorsing an “illicit” and “immoral” relationship without compunction and one with the criteria that the woman or women, as he recommends a circle of mistresses, be the receptacle of every man’s desires: to be used and disrespected willingly, i.e., cum on face, thrown money at for sex and secrecy, though not too expensive to thumb her nose at cheap motels and backs of Cadillacs. He depends on the everyman’s dream to have a beautiful woman with big boobs and no self respect to make the proposition.

Mr. Mafioso does not really mean it. The exaggerated caricature combined with his manifesto and disclaimer about his own lack of credibility–a convicted criminal–coupled with his good grammar and writing skills clearly show that he is not who he claims to be. He is not seriously a mafioso, a criminal nor an insecure man that needs to demean women to make himself feel better about himself, to make himself feel like a man. No, he is a writer utilizing a persona clearly satiric to pose behaviors that are recognizably socially unacceptable in the guise of a familiar reprehensible figure. He knows that all men are not that extremely macho type, but most men are in some part. There is partial truth that some men are excessively insecure about their manhood and need a certain type of woman, submissive with lower self esteem than he has, to make such a man feel whole, to give him an ego adjustment. To have that beautiful woman on his arm, one desired by other men, allows him to think he impresses as a big man, lover, and spender. How else could he get the girl? And if others perceive that, it makes it true. He works the outside appearance in hopes of installing some inside assurance of adequacy, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Mr. Mafioso works the stereotypes well. I read an article today on Mayor Betsy Hodge’s (Minneapolis) blog that stated this about stereotyping: it “blunts the humanity of the person making the judgment and creates unnecessary separation between two people in a world where more, rather than less, human connection is needed for us to move forward as a community.” She was referring to the unfounded accusation by some political figures that she was using gang signs in a photo that captured her and an African American get-out-the-vote street stomper pointing at each other, in an article satirically called “Pointergate.” She thought African Americans were being stereotyped in assuming the pointing was a gang sign.

I “point” this out not to get sensitive and politically correct minded about those who are stereotyped in Mr. Mafioso’s article–bimbos, machismos and mistresses–but to point to the truth about how we fall into stereotypes, not just make them. Stereotypes exist for reason of people practicing patterned behaviors over time, generations. If people are overexposed through media or in lived experience to African Americans making gang signs or being in gangs, they will use that patterned behavior to make conclusions about all African Americans. Not only that, they will look for confirmation that those behaviors exist even when they don’t just to make the stereotype true. It’s human nature.

Stereotypes are assigned by gender, ethnicity, race and age, mostly. While they are shortcuts that help in certain situations, to avoid dangerous people or for police investigative work, for example, they are so subtly a part of us that they are imperceptibly abusive. Stereotypes tap into the familiar, something most are drawn to like promise of the pillow and sleep. We want to be as comfortable as the somnambulant. It is difficult to take things not at face value but at examined value, actually having to pay attention, look closely, and withhold judgment until enough facts or evidence is present to make a determination after assessment of worth, trust, and/or truth. The sheer thought of the endeavor to be open and informed and equanimous is overwhelming. That’s why people are not so, generally. That’s why we rather stereotype. It’s the lazy person’s way of handling people and appeases our yearning for order and familiarity, for our egos. “See, I told you he was an asshole.” Stereotyping also makes for good jokes.

But let’s be good readers. Mr. Mafioso wants us to see that his persona is a jerk, that men should not merely use women as human toilets to cum into or for the sad scaffolding of their own nearly absent thin, weak egos. However, he is also showing us that his satire would not work if not based on certain truths about the human condition: there are men and women who treat each other the way he describes–using each other for sex, money and status–and we recognize and relate or recognize and hate that kind of behavior or both. Mr. Mafioso starts off with accepted notions of the mistress–having one is wrong/immoral–and builds on that idea that so long as you are going down the road of socially unacceptable behaviors, let’s go all the way. Here are some things that respectable citizens would not approve of: men who use women as their sperm banks and credit them with no self-respect and esteem and women who fuck for money and status and like those guys.

We laugh at ourselves. A friend texts me the other day with a screen shot of a man-filled sports bar with a dozen or so television screens transporting live or prerecorded football games, maybe a half dozen or more of them, where women with serving wench boob-filled bustiers serve the ever flowing beer. I text back, “When men fall lovingly into the arms of their mistresses–their own self-caricatures meta narratively.” He was mocking his own stereotypical picture of himself doing something he loves to do–watch a ton of football on a Sunday with a buddy in a boob bar. He is both amused at himself enjoying the actual entertainment and the entertainment of himself as stereotypically enjoying what men are stereotyped to like. I suppose I could counter with a snapshot of my teenaged daughters and I at the nail shop getting mani-pedis or our brows threaded. Except, we don’t do that. My daughters are smelly athletes with neglected nails, as am I. Perhaps we are stereotypes of the anti-stereotypical females.

Judith Butler tells us we should fight stereotypes with anti-stereotypes. I say, “Help! We cannot get out of the stereotype game!!” Because aren’t we merely instating new stereotypes that way? The anti-femme type becomes the stereotype of the butch type, even if only exercising a modicum of “boy-ish” behavior because just a hint will do for eager minds and attitudes. There is no way to escape that binary that stereotyping forces.

I am neither a psychologist nor a sociologist. I claim my stake as a close observer of human behavior and a superior note taker. I say the key to breaking the mold is for people to think, to stop depending on stereotypes and do the work of patience, of having an open mind and being informed. Look at Mr. Mafioso. He is a stereotype in service of exposing stereotypical behavior. He expects the majority of his readers to sheepishly identify with or bristle at what he portrays and advises. That’s called irony.

Poor readers may not pick up on that. Un-exercised minds, ones not disciplined in the rigor of observant examination, of continual curiosity and vulnerability to wonder and awe, will lazily confirm their beliefs by the existing patterns without question–for their own security. It’s unkind as well as it deepens fear and separation as the good mayor states. Here’s a close cousin of the stereotype, a cliche: A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Here’s another: think before you leap. No, feel compassion before you “blunt the humanity” in you and imprison your victim with a stereotype. Thanks for the reminder Mr. Mafioso that we should get ourselves a sexy mistress–and she is our own beautiful human capacity and desire to love. Unfortunately, she is still just the side chick.

Love Song

credit: uploads6.wikiart.org – odd-nerdrum

Come to me
Be in me
Lie by my side
Thumbnail my spine
Soft-brush my face
Look in my eyes
Finger-loop my curls
Ear-breathe my sighs
Toe-touch my heels
Elbow my side
Arm-snuggle my neck
Chest pound my breath
Come to me
Be in me
Lie by my side

Guest Post by L.C. Miller: “Mistress to the Show”

The concept of “Mistress” is interesting to me because even though I’m a faithfully married woman, I am one. It’s not that my relationship with my husband is unsatisfying. It’s not that we’ve lost interest in each other or that the intimacy between us has tarnished over the last 16 years. I haven’t even fallen into the arms of another as a means of escape to a place where I feel desirable, sexy… wanted.

Nevertheless, when I chose to be with my husband, I don’t think I fully realized that I wouldn’t just be taking on the role of partner, wife, mother, or caretaker, but the primary role I would play when I said ‘I do’ was that of mistress.

Everybody knows the famous expression, ‘the show must go on’. No matter what happens, the show will take priority. The people need their entertainment. You will find even movie theaters are open 365 days a year. I am mistress to the show.

Before I met Mike, I too worked in entertainment. I played keyboards in a band but I was no musician. I sang backup but I was no singer. I pushed paper at various record labels and management companies, which is how I met my husband when he was carrying on his love affair with the show. A road guy for the likes of Metallica and Queensryche, he was a metal head now in charge of the latest and greatest grunge band my company discovered during the high surf of the Seattle sound. And even though they couldn’t survive the first tour of the show, Mike and I bonded by speaking over the telephone every day while he was on the road. We laughed and joked and I enjoyed flirting with him during innocent business conversations; and he was drawn to me the same way a man who’s spoken for is lured by the mere dulcet tones of a woman’s voice. He enjoyed escaping into something new but he was obviously in a committed relationship with the show.

Years later, after wanting more from my personal connection with her, I thought perhaps if I moved from Los Angeles to New York, we could take it to the next level and get closer than we ever had. My friend Andrea was relating a funny story how our friend Mike had gotten off the rock tour and was now the sound designer for this show all about tango now on Broadway. I couldn’t help but laugh, imagining him being in such a long committed relationship with a long haired, head banging wife to something much more seductive, classic, lusty. Boy, did his relationship with the show change! I decided to call him and ask if it was okay to stay with him while I tried to relocate, setting up interviews to continue pushing paper for ‘my girl’. Unfortunately, I was just pursuing the same bitch on a different coast.

Mike was all alone in New York, only having to deal with his wife three hours a day, with matinees Wednesday afternoons and weekends. I was attracted to him, but I tried to tell myself he was already committed. He invited me to meet his wife, and something totally unexpected happened. I fell in love with her too.

I no longer cared about my own wife. All she ever did was cross T’s and dot I’s in the name of pop music. She wasn’t very interesting. But this lady my husband was with; she was a knock out. I could see during the show that Mike acted just like a complacent husband with her. I gasped at her every touch, her dress and her shoes as she ran them up and down the back of that handsome dancer’s leg, beckoning me to watch, to follow. I was mesmerized by the show and so was every other ticket holder. But Mike was already more than comfortable with her because when two ladies came up after the curtain dropped and commented how one dancer whipped her hair around so much, his response was, “That’s so you won’t notice how fat she is.”

I didn’t care. It was love at first sight.

I started sleeping with Mike and going to the show every night. Just to watch. He would ask me, “Don’t you ever get tired of seeing this over and over again?” And my answer was always, “Hell no!”

I think this is when Mike fell in love with me; because I loved the show… maybe more than he did… and it seemed my passion for her renewed his interest in their marriage. He took it as a sign that I could handle his commitment and be okay waiting in the side wings until their time together was over. Clearly I was very happy being the voyeur to their romance and I did love every minute of it.

We were married right after the show left Broadway and started a world tour. We spent more than a year in this blissful triangle, experiencing the world, life and love together. And like any mistress, I relished our private time and began to resent the demands of his wife more and more. Here he seemed interested in me and bored with her, but he’d never leave her. He looked at me with love and desire and her with disinterest. Sometimes I thought, “She could do better. She should be with someone who’s really in love with her.” But she doesn’t want anyone else either.

While we were on tour, my mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer and needed me to come back to Southern California to take care of her. I wanted my husband to come with me, but I had to accept he was already married and no matter what happened, the curtain would always rise and fall on his first wife first.

I buried my mother alone, without either love by my side. I was able to share my grief with my husband over the telephone during a layover at Heathrow Airport on his way from Portugal to South Korea. He was very sorry but he and his wife couldn’t chat. After all, she must go on, right?

Two years later, my husband’s marriage would change and for a while they would stay together at the House of Blues in Anaheim so I could be near family to have Mike’s baby. I still wore a ring on my finger, but while I went back to work in a law office, my husband split his time trading child care responsibilities with me and then would run off to be with her all night, having fun, dancing to Etta James and bringing me home bootleg recordings of their torrid evening together.

For years we still went wherever Mike’s first wife took us, but we finally settled down in Seattle to raise our child all together; Mike, me, our son and the show. Again, Mike and I became lovers who passed in the night. I would fall asleep and he would wake me. He would do and say all the right things, sending me back to a blissful sleep, only to wake again to an empty bed. Was it all a dream? Whatever it was, I knew what he was doing. He was dressing her up in something new. My husband was off creating his love into something special for all to see, leaving me to raise our boy on my own.

She beckoned. She demanded. She must go on.

I would start to hate her and tell Mike I’ve had enough. I wanted to threaten him by demanding he choose between us, but I was too afraid of his choice. And at my breaking point, he would bring me to see her in her new outfit, dressed up in Hairspray, Young Frankenstein, Shrek, Memphis, Aladdin… the list goes on. Every time I’d show up resentful, the show would seductively lift her curtain, share her magic and leave me swooning. Can you deny a relationship that has thousands of people moved to a standing ovation night after night? How can I not stand and clap too? I love her every time and it makes me look at Mike and admire his commitment. Sure he looks tired and maybe he might look bored, but the love he has for what he does shows in every performance. I can’t break them up.

I surrender.

I know my husband loves me and our son, but he is still fully committed to his first wife. She puts a roof over our heads. She makes our son and I laugh, cry and experience wonder while Mike merely looks like a dutiful husband, holding his wife’s purse and twisting her knobs in the back of the room, so everyone can hear how beautiful or funny or sad she is. Whether she’s Beauty and the Beast, Miss Saigon or the Phantom of the Opera, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter what she puts on, there I am, fully in love with her from the twenty second row.

As long as I’m married, I’m mistress to the show.

Mistress: Woman or Whore?

Alexander Buxton of The New Statesman discusses and excerpts Dr. Amy Erickson’s history of the title mistress in a September, 2014 article entitled Mistress, Miss, Mrs. or Ms: untangling the shifting of women’s titles. A fascinating and quick read, Buxton’s article manages to tease out the gist of Erickson’s work: that women were once mistresses of their own domain…until they weren’t.

The author gives a brief history of the term Mistress, Mrs. and Miss, citing Samuel Johnson, known writer and author of an early English language dictionary, who provides the following 18th Century definition of the term Mistress:

Neither “mistress” nor “Mrs” bore any marital connotation whatsoever for Dr Johnson. When in 1784 he wrote about having dinner with his friends “Mrs Carter, Miss Hannah More and Miss Fanny Burney”, all three women were unmarried. Elizabeth Carter, a distinguished scholar and lifelong friend of Johnson’s, was his own age and was invariably known as Mrs Carter; Hannah More and Fanny Burney were much younger and used the new style Miss.

Citing Erickson, Buxton writes that the title Mrs. and Miss contain the word Mistress and Mrs. was the female equivalent of Master, merely a term of address that delineated class or profession and not marital status. A woman of status or business profession was a Mrs. whereas a scullery maid was addressed by her first name or some man’s wife. How the term Mrs. became a distinction from Miss and the advent of Ms. are not covered in depth, but I suppose the more curious of us will have to peruse Dr. Erickson’s “Misresses and Marriage” in the autumn edition of the History Workshop Journal to find out.