Book Review: Kitty Fisher, The First Female Celebrity

We know some of the eighteenth century's famous figures such as Casanova, Joshua Reynolds and George II, along with notable earls and lords that wined, dined and did business in London. But there was one woman in the shadows, that would become as well known as any of them, in her time: Kitty Fisher. 

Nathaniel Hone the Elder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When I was asked to take part in the Instagram tour of Joanne Major's book, Kitty Fisher - The First Female Celebrity, I was intrigued. The name rang a bell, but a distant one, and I was curious to find out more about her life at the centre of London's society. 

Joanne has done a great job piecing together the events of Kitty's life, from her humble beginnings to her rise as a socialite under the reign of George II and George III. Kitty lived among men as their mistress and gained properties, jewels, money and social status as a result. But it was interesting to see Kitty as a more three-dimensional person as Major attempts to pick apart her personality and motivation in achieving a place in the upper classes of society. 

The discussion of the public interest in Kitty was really interesting - she was gawped at while walking in gardens and had pamphlets, ballads and articles written about her. I loved the analysis of the paintings of Kitty, one showing a reflection in a fishbowl of crowds clamouring to see her at her window. We are lucky that a number of paintings of Kitty survive, so we can see what she would have looked like, and of course, how she herself wanted to be portrayed. 

The book details much of Kitty's life and gives us an insight into a woman's perspective of eighteenth century London, which is really brought to life. Not only do we meet philandering lords and their antics but we also see public spats between Kitty and her lovers' wives, criticism of her in the press and Kitty's attempts at defending herself from the (then primitive) concept of celebrity and its associated public relations. It also deals with rumours, including the identity of the famous Lucy Lockett in the rhyme associated with Kitty, the legend that she ate a £100 banknote in a sandwich and the claims that she once had a passionate clinch with Casanova himself. The author gives evidence for and against these and more, putting Kitty's life on the record at length for the first time. Her final years and tragic, early death are also discussed. 

A great book, and one for any lover of women's history or anyone interested in the eighteenth century as a whole. Go grab your copy at the Pen and Sword website

Liked this? You might also like London's Historic Coffee Houses of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, a Review of the Book Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know and Charles II's Favourite Mistress

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