A courageous woman: A review of Mistress of My Fate

Mistress of My Fate: Book One of the Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot by Hallie Rubenhold

Mistress of My Fate is the first book in a series of memoirs, narrated by Henrietta Lightfoot, and set in Georgian England, 1789. When her mother abandons her, Henrietta was raised by her uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Stavourley along with her cousins, Lady Catherine, Lord Dennington, and Master Edwin. At the age of sixteen, Henrietta falls in love with the dashing Lord Allenham, who is, however, betrothed to Lady Catherine. One week before her wedding, Lady Catherine becomes ill and dies. Everyone blames Henrietta for her death.  As the household mourns, Lord Stavourley reveals to Henrietta that she is his illegitimate daughter, and that because she has no dowry, she must marry the boring Reverend John Pease.

But Henrietta does not accept this fate and she flees her Melmouth home with her essential possessions and a few coins to Lord Allenham’s estate. After a blissful and short period of enjoying their forbidden love, Lord Allenham leaves Henrietta for unknown reasons. In a desperate quest to find him, Henrietta embarks on a long trip, and she becomes a courtesan to support herself and her unborn child, while all along, she plans her courageous escape from her keepers. Along the way, she makes valuable female friendships who teach her how to survive.

The story is told from Henrietta’s point of view who wishes her readers to know the truth about her life, and not believe all the public accusations they hear. In her era, men monopolize the government and the law, and women have no individual rights, no property of their own, no financial independence. They are literally property of men. In order to survive and to secure wealth and independence, Henrietta has to use her feminine charms, even steal and lie, and enter into sexual relationships with Sir John St. John and Philip Quindell. She lives comfortably, she has servants, she possesses a rich wardrobe and expensive jewelry (which later she will trade for money), she owns a carriage, and all her material needs are satisfied. She also makes good friendships with other courtesans who care for her and guide her through her problems.

By the end of the story, Henrietta is no longer the innocent teenager who fled her home penniless, but a courageous, strong young woman who has learned from her mistakes and who has compromised her moral codes to find true happiness. She finally reunites with her beloved Allenham in Calais, in north France. What happens after that is the subject of the second novel in the series. Funs of historical fiction will love this novel.

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