Harlots: A Proper Minx

Margaret’s got a lot of balls in the air, figuratively speaking.

First: There’s Lucy’s virginity, which everyone thinks has already been sacrificed to George. Except somehow, Margaret double sold it. We’re about five minutes in and already I’m confused. How did she manage that? It’s not as if it was some sort of secret that George offered to double the winning bid–Margaret basically announced it in front of a crowd at the playhouse. Surely the winning bidder would have overheard, or heard about it after? And even if he didn’t, how was Lucy supposed to play this off? Faking her virginity? How? This seems like an incredibly poor move on Margaret’s part. She risks humiliating and therefore enraging the very sort of customer she hopes to attract to her new premises.

(Those new premises might not be happening after all, it seems, which also makes no sense. One of her current customers offered £50 for Lucy, so it stands to reason that when the bidding began, it would have gone higher than that, and even if it didn’t, surely she’d have told George the charge was £100? And that’s the fine covered right there, so why can she suddenly not afford this house?)

Anyway, Margaret seems to me to be playing a dangerous game. She needs to learn how to keep these powerful men sweet, so she can call on them, when necessary, as Quigley can.

Oh, Quigley. This week, we learn just how far she’ll go to keep those men on her side. A high-powered justice, the same one who tried Margaret last week, comes to Quigley with a request for a girl. But not that kind of girl–he has a ‘friend’ who likes ’em pure. And that friend is very highly placed and would be super grateful if she pulled this off. So, despite the fact this could get her hanged, Quigley heads to the 18th century version of a Jobcentre, grabs some poor young woman looking for work as a maid, and hands her over to the justice. We only see the aftermath–with the tragic girl tied to a bed, weeping and begging to be released from this nightmare. Quigley then passes her on to some woman who, we can assume, is a low-class madam. Yikes.

Back in Margaret’s world: William warns her that going to war with Quigley is dangerous, considering all her powerful friends, but Margaret’s determined. She turns to her friend Nancy (who is awesome, by the way, and seems like the kind of person you’d want to get drunk with, because I’ll bet she’s loads of fun), who has a plan. She sends two of her own girls out to locate Mary Cooper, a former Quigley girl who’s fallen on hard times.

Very hard times. The woman has French pox, better known now as syphilis, and it seems pretty advanced. She’s literally carried back to Margaret’s and put in a bed. Margaret summons one of her regulars, a journalist, shows him Mary and has him write a really searing piece about how Mary caught this from a customer at Quigley’s and was then turned out to starve and die in the streets. Even though Quigley isn’t precisely named, it’s so obvious that the article is about her, all of her customers give her place a very wide berth.

Margaret’s got another iron in the fire: a former lover of hers, Lennox, has just returned from America, having grown rich and married a black woman. His wife’s interesting–dignified, prepared to take exactly zero shit, but also wise to her husband’s proclivities and, apparently, fine with them. Or, at least, willing to accept them. To Margaret’s credit, she treats Mrs Lennox with complete respect and even tries to extend a hand of friendship by telling the woman she has a son ‘just like’ Mrs Lennox’s children. That’s not something every, or even many, white women of that time would have done. Though it is worth noting that Margaret has some ulterior motives. She’s hoping Lennox will invest in her business, so she can finally move to Greek Street.

Lennox swings by Margaret’s house, bringing his eldest son (from another mother, it seems). The young man’s an asshole, throwing around insults left and right, until finally Lennox sends him away. Lennox then makes it clear what he wants: Margaret. She tells William about it, and apparently he gives her the OK to go ahead and sleep with Lennox, but just as she’s getting around to asking him for an investment, Mary Cooper bursts in, drunk and raving and demanding gin and opium. That kind of kills the mood, and Lennox stomps off.

Meanwhile, in a better part of town, Charlotte is receiving apologies from George, who literally grovels at her feet, apologising for having slept with her sister. She extracts some bling and the promise he’ll pay her gambling debts before she forgives him. George passes the promissory notes along to Haxby, his manservant/manager. Haxby, who HATES Charlotte and clearly disapproves of everything about her, is aghast at the amounts. He’s even more dismayed when George, having to leave town for a family funeral, orders Haxby to keep a close watch on Charlotte, whose friendship with Marney, the Irish male prostitute, is getting a bit too chummy for his comfort.

Charlotte takes Haxby to her mother’s place, where Margaret puts Charlotte in charge of keeping an eye on Mary Cooper. Charlotte and Haxby are, therefore, the last people at Mary’s side as she expires.

Quigley’s running around, trying to do damage control. She summons Florence Scanwell and tells her to step up her actions against Margaret. She also visits the justice and demands he do something about this libelous article. He refuses to help her, so it looks like her virgin procuring was for nothing.

Everyone’s wondering what the deal is between Quigley and Margaret anyway. When pressed by her son, Charles, Quigley tells him she took Margaret in and treated her well, only for Margaret to make an untrue accusation against Quigley, claiming she’d been kidnapped by the madam. Hmmm. Was it really untrue? We know Quigley’s not above that sort of thing. Was Margaret an earlier version of that unfortunate maid?

Margaret and the rest of the district give Mary Cooper one hell of a wake. There’s dancing and drinking and joy and Marney showing his bum, so it’s all good. Lucy has apparently seduced some stablehand she’s been eyeing all episode, and gives the two coins he gave her on Mary’s eyes in tribute. Lennox shows up, apologising for having stomped off earlier, and agrees to invest in Margaret’s business. Haxby yells at Charlotte for getting drunk, and she retaliates by vomiting into his hat. Heh. They finish up the night by carrying Mary’s body to Quigley’s and laying it on her doorstep. Damn, ladies.



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