Well, this is a romp — a right rollicking ride through the 18th-century world of courtesans, harlots, bigamists, rapists, pimps, brothels, bagnios, profligates and narcissists. Along the way we meet myriad crooks and celebrities: Kitty Fisher, Lavinia Fenton, Nelly O’Brien, Casanova, Charteris, the Hanoverians and their hangers-on and many more.
Although he is excellent at weaving in historical context, Rendell has wisely focused on the stories and therefore allowed the human frailty of his subjects to show through. His easy-to-read style makes the book highly accessible; even those without a declared interest in history should find it interesting.
It’s clear that those at the top did what they wanted to do and those at the bottom did was they needed to do. Those in the middle tried to tell everyone else what to do. Perhaps nothing has changed. Rendell himself avoids imposing 21st-century moral values on lives lived 300 years ago.
This handsomely produced large format paperback has 69 colour illustrations — an appropriate number I would say.
Pen & Sword History, 2016