This week’s Victorian character impresses as more than just colorful. Madame Rachel, notorious con artist and flamboyant celebrity, made a fortune off the vanity and gullibility of high society. She may have been an actual madam as well. If she lived today she might well be found as a purveyor of health and beauty products to the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
At the height of her fame, Madame Rachel served clients from a salon on Bond Street, where she welcomed countesses and the wives of wealthy businessmen. She also attracted the lonely and the desperate. Her precipitous fall, when it came, exposed her clients as fools even as it exposed the ugly anti-Semitic undercurrents prevalent in England.
Madame didn’t start out in high society. Born Sarah Rachel Russell in London in 1814, she grew up the hard way in London’s East End. She worked as a seller…
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