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What do Nell Gwynn, Marilyn Monroe, Emma Bovary and Camilla Parker-Bowles have in common? Desired and despised in equal measure, the ‘other’ woman enters a shadowy world of secret assignations and fear of discovery. This compelling study examines the role of the mistress throughout history, from Chinese concubines to European royal favourites, in life and literature. It examines the reasons why women become mistresses, the subversive threat they pose to the established order, and the eternal fascination they exert.