Friday, November 13, 2009
Tart of the Week: Lavinia Fenton
Sometimes the best tarts are the products of tarts themselves. Lavinia Fenton was the result of her mother's late night rendezvous with a sailor. Things were rough growing up in Charing Cross in the early 1700s. Lavinia, like so many young women, turned to prostitution as a child. From there she took the usual prostitute promotion and became an actress.
Her first recorded appearances on the stage happened while she was still a teenager. It was when Lavinia joined the production at Lincoln's Inn Fields that she became noticed. Of course this could just be because she was a pretty face. Either way, people flocked to see the divine Miss Fenton on stage. One of those people was Charles, Duke of Bolton.
The Duke was in a loveless marriage and much older than Lavinia but that wouldn't stop the two from shacking up. Nor would Lavinia let shacking up get in the way of her career. It was her performance as Polly Peachum in The Beggar's Opera that earned Lavinia the most success. It also earned her a depiction in a Hogarth painting portraying the play. Now Lavinia was a full-out star: the papers followed her, prints were made of her, and she became the reason people would see the play.
After her initial success as Polly Peachum, there was a demand for Lavinia to play the character in just about any production of The Beggar's Opera. In the meantime she had three sons, all with the Duke. It wasn't until the death of his wife in 1751 that the Duke made an honest woman out of Lavinia. Nine years later, Lavinia died, having lived her celebrity life with a happier ending than its beginning.