That, my friends, is the amazing, the illustrious, the incredible Nell Gwyn.
Since most of you have probably never studied drama during the English Restoration, I’ve gone ahead and linked to the Wikipedia article up there. But for those of you who are only interested in hearing my motives to stick her picture at the top of my blog, I’ll give you a brief background: before the restoration of King Charles II to the English throne, there were no actresses on stage in England (and during Cromwell’s brief rule, there were no people on stage at all. But that’s another story). But apparently, in 1660, female impersonators just didn’t cut it any more, and it became only minimally scandalous for women to perform on stage. Actually, I’m sure that’s not quite correct: rather, after too many years of Puritanical rule, restoration audiences really enjoyed a scandal.
And what an excellent scandal Nell Gwyn was! Born in a brothel, and first in the vicinity of the theatre to sell oranges to audience members, she shortly became one of the most celebrated actresses on the restoration stage. Known for her wit as well as her beauty, she caught King Charles’ eye, and soon had his son. In spite of being a royal mistress (and thereby being financially accommodated for the rest of her life) and the mother of a duke, she still performed on stage when she wanted to.
Now, if you read through my essay and are still with me at this point, you might well be thinking, ‘you still haven’t told us why you chose her.’ While I don’t claim to know the intimate details of her mindset, it sure as hell looks to me like her life philosophy was, ‘I’m gonna do what I wanna.’ Born into prostitution and illiterate her whole life, there was no precedent for any girl like her to ever become anything more than a whore. Instead, she was very nearly a queen (with apologies, I’m sure, to the real queen). She created her role in life. She wasn’t held back by the fact that no one had ever done it before her. And, of course, she was a crashing success, on the stage, in her social circle, in the bedroom, and in people’s hearts to this day.
And if I’ve ever needed a role model, I sure as hell wouldn’t mind living up to her.