The Smart is a true drama of eighteenth-century life with a mercurial, mysterious heroine. Caroline is a young Irishwoman who runs off to marry a soldier, comes to London and slides into a glamorous life as a high-class prostitute, a great risk-taker, possessing a mesmerising appeal. In the early 1770s, she becomes involved with the intriguing Perreau twins, identical in lThe Smart is a true drama of eighteenth-century life with a mercurial, mysterious heroine. Caroline is a young Irishwoman who runs off to marry a soldier, comes to London and slides into a glamorous life as a high-class prostitute, a great risk-taker, possessing a mesmerising appeal. In the early 1770s, she becomes involved with the intriguing Perreau twins, identical in looks but opposite in character, one a sober merchant, the other a raffish gambler. They begin forging bonds, living in increasing luxury until everything collapses like a house of cards - and forgery is a capital offence. A brilliantly researched and marvellously evocative history, The Smart is full of the life of London streets and shots through with enduring themes - sex, money, death and fame. It bridges the gap between aristocracy and underworld as eighteenth-century society is drawn into the most scandalous financial sting of the age....
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The Smart Reviews
I am amazed that Sarah Bakewell isn’t more widely known. So far this year I have been utterly enchanted by her ‘At the Existentialist Café’, an account of the conversion to existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and their circle, and ‘How to Live’, her biography of Michel de Montaigne and exegesis of his ‘Essays’. She has that happy gift of writing books that are both highly informative and deeply researched yet also immediately accessible and entertaining.Her first book, ‘The Smart’, is just as accomplished as those others, and recounts the life of an extraordinary woman about whom, I am now ashamed to confess, I previously knew nothing. Margaret Caroline Rudd was an adventuress of particular acclaim. Having been born in modest circumstances in eighteenth century Ireland, and orphaned early in life, she escaped penury through marriage and concerted opportunism, coming to establish herself on the social scene in Georgian London.Living on her wits (and not reluctant to deploy her considerable physical and social charms), and associating herself in turn with a succession of morally dubious men, she managed to survive in London. At hew lowest ebb she turned to street prostitution, but was able to pull herself up and establish herself as a highly desirable courtesan, in which role she derived considerable fortunes from vulnerable and naïve gentlemen associates.Such a career might not distinguish her from many other ambitious and resourceful women who had to make their way in a life that was so iniquitously designed in men’s favour. Her claim to fame, or rather infamy, rests in her skill as a forger and her imaginative exploitation of the men with whom she lived, and her ability to capitalise on loopholes in the newly established system of financial bonds and promissory notes. With her confederates in this ploy, the identical Perreau twins, Robert and Daniel (the latter of whom was her common-law husband), she devised a means of living in extraordinary luxury, though the fragility of this wealth would eventually emerge, with the three of them continually having to pass off new bonds to pay off the approaching debts of previous ones. They were, in effect employing an early iteration of a Ponzi scheme, founded on forged certificates, that snowballed beyond their control. It became merely a question of when, rather than if, they would be exposed.But when disaster struck, and they were called to account for the validity or otherwise of the bonds they had passed, the story goes off on a wholly new tangent, with Ms Rudd demonstrating further depth of resource and spirit. The book reads almost like a detective story, offering fascinating insights into the financial and social history of the late eighteenth century. Bakewell writes with great clarity, captivating the reader from the opening paragraphs. I feel that there is a television adaptation simply crying out to be made from this book.
Margaret Caroline Rudd was, I suspect, a woman that I would loathe. She would definitely loathe me, she seemed to have no time for other women at all. Men, she seemed to have been excellent at manipulating, and she certainly took a great many of them as lovers/protectors/husbands, including James Boswell, but whether she actually liked any of them is a different matter. Nearly all her published writing (and there was a great deal) is either defending herself or attacking someone else. She doesn't even seem to have had much affection for her three children.Mrs Rudd (the most-used of her many pseudonyms) was most famous for having escaped the gallows when accused of forging and attempting to cash a bond. She proved herself in court an innocent dupe of the Perreau twins, one of whom was her common-law husband, and both of whom hanged for the crime. It was widely believed after the fact that she was the guilty one, and that they were the dupes - too late for the Perreaus. As a result, Caroline became persona non grata in society, living on an ever-decreasingly-wealthy selection of lovers until she eventually, probably, died in Newgate. She's a fascinating study because she's so coldly calculating. She had a terrible early life, and was badly beaten by her first (probably only legal) husband. She was a prostitute, of the lowest kind at times, of the highest at others. She was profligate, she didn't give a damn about who she owed money too even if it left them in dire straits, as long as she didn't suffer. And she was a ruthless liar. The ins and outs of the fraud case are fascinating because there's so many inter-twined stories that it's impossible to see the truth. Caroline herself is an enigma in many ways, as Sarah Bakewell pointed out, a woman intent on obscuring every fact about herself. I don't normally enjoy biographies about dislikeable people with few endearing features, but I did enjoy this one. A lot.
The criminal schemes of 18th-century London are brought to live in this book examining the case of Margaret Caroline Rudd and the Perreau brothers. Rudd was essentially a high-class prostitute and one of her lovers was Daniel Perreau, who along with his twin brother Robert, was exposed for a forgery scam in 1775. This book examines the evidence - Rudd was most certainly involved with the scam - and recounts how the brothers were convicted and executed for the crime, while Rudd won an acquittal and her freedom. Through this case, a new picture of 18th-century England emerges - a place with new rules for credit and plenty of ruthless people willing to bend the rules for their own benefit.
A rollicking courtroom read, about a case of forgery that happened in the 1700s. Who was the real victim? As the 3 accused turn on each other, it's hard to tell who is being "had".