A few years ago, I read a fascinating account of her notorious marriage and divorce to Lord Colin Campbell, the second son of the Duke of Argyll: Victorian 'Sex Goddess.' Lady Colin Campbell and the sensational divorce case of 1886 by G. H. Flemming. This very public divorce case enthralled the country and filled the pages of newspapers with salacious detail, containing as it did all the elements of a good scandal - sexually transmitted disease (syphilis), various infidelities, allegations of cruelty and endless other examples of the upper classes behaving badly.
Her husband accused Lady Colin of conducting affairs with some of the most eminent men in Victorian society, including George Spencer-Churchill and Captain Eyre Massey Shaw, Chief of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. Although found not guilty on these counts, she was nonetheless a intelligent and attractive woman who attracted many notable men, including George Bernard Shaw (who described her as a 'goddess') and the artist Whistler.
Born Gertrude Blood, Lady Colin stands out for many reasons unrelated to her sensational divorce. Her first article was published at the age of 14. Her first work of fiction (published when she was 21) went through seven printings. She was a singer who often gave recitals and her art was frequently exhibited. After her separation from Lord Colin (she was not granted a divorce, though it was accepted her husband had given her syphilis), Lady Colin survived on the proceeds of her writing, principally for newspaper articles and journals. She contributed to the Saturday Review and eventually became one of the first female editors of a London paper that was not for women (World).
Although I can't find any reference to it just now, I think she also wrote an impassioned defense of smoking, which is also kind of cool.
An astonishing, unconventional woman brought to life through a series of newspaper articles, transcripts, letters and reminiscences. In the words of one journalist, she posessed -
the unbridled lust of Messalina and the indelicate readiness of a common harlot.
I prefer to think of her as the kind of kick-ass Victorian I would like to see between the covers of more historicals, a bright, intelligent, unconventional figure who is no less admirable for all her flaws and foibles.