In forgery and perjury owned such art,
She palmed the Gold, while others paid the smart.
– William Combe, The Diabo-Lady (1777).
The Smart is a true eighteenth-century crime drama centering on a dangeorus, charismatic heroine. Margaret Caroline Rudd was a young Irishwoman who ran off to marry a soldier, came to London, and began a glamorous life as a high-class courtesan.
In the early 1770s, she became involved with the Perreau twins, identical in looks but opposite in character. One was a sober pharmacist, the other a raffish gambler and dandy – a “macaroni”, in the slang of the time. The trio began forging promissory bonds or credit notes, living in luxury on the proceeds until the bubble burst and they were caught. They were charged with forgery – a capital offence.
The Smart uses this incident to explore the world of eighteenth-century London. The story of Margaret Caroline Rudd and the Perreau brothers is profoundly of its period, and also makes for a wild ride through the universal themes of sex, money, death and fame. It bridges the gap between aristocracy and underworld, as all levels of society became drawn into one of the greatest scandals of the age.
Chatto & Windus 2001, Vintage paperback 2002.
Available in paperback from Amazon (U.K.) here.
Available as a Kindle e-book here (U.K.) or here (U.S.)
“Elegantly written, with a wry, deft touch, The Smart is the best kind of narrative history, broadly illuminating the period while it holds up a spotlight to the life of its enigmatic, seductive subject.” – The Sunday Times.
“A fair and often funny account of a charming lady criminal and her two unlucky sidekicks.” – The Daily Telegraph.
“Until Bakewell began her investigations, Caroline Rudd was a forgotten figure. Now she has become a vivid and immediate presence … The Smart is a historically measured narrative, full of sharp pen-portraits, lively asides and quirky details.” – The Independent.