‘I consider it every girl’s duty to marry £80,000 a year,’ announced 17-year-old Alice Miles in 1868, during a break from the endless merry-go-round of balls, picnics and dinner parties that made up the Season. She was teasing one of her less wordly cousins, but there was deadly serious intent behind her words.
The Mileses, who had moved to Paris, were well-connected but financially stretched, so it was essential that their daughter snare a wealthy man. This real-life Becky Sharp hit London like a ribbonfestooned tornado, charming eligible bachelors and outraging their mothers. She recorded her adventures in a journal, which COUNTRY LIFE will be serialising for the next six months. Will our wily heroine’s hunt for a rich husband end in success, or will love cause her to neglect her duty?
Week 1: Alice Arrives
We arrived, Father and I, after the most fatiguing journey, long sea route, a bad day, an indifferent passage and every other calamity unhappy travellers are subjected to in the normal course of events, and
I wondered very much, as I curled myself comfortably up in bed in a room of decent size and in every respect different to Paris, how I shall like my stay here? I was threatened first with Dover, when Augustus Lumley interposed like some guardian angel and offered us his house for the remaining three weeks of the season.
Paris bored me to extinction, though I had everything as completely my own way as the proverbial bull in the china shop, was the acknowledged belle (I don’t see why I should pretend to ignore it vis-à-vis mon livre), and had paragraphs respecting my fair face and beautiful toilettes inserted in more newspapers than I should care to count-and yet- I was bored, wearied with it all, and cried every now and then from sheer dullness, without being in the least able to explain why; but however that doesn’t matter; being a young and pretty woman I have a perfect right to indulge in as many caprices, and be in every way as illogical as I please-with which sage reflection I think I shall go to sleep, and leave to time to prove if London gaiety suits my moral temperament.
‘Every Girl’s Duty’, edited by Maggy Parsons and published by Andre Deutsch