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Five scandalous women worth reading about

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When was the last time you heard of someone being ruined by scandal (speaking only of our rich Western nations, I hasten to say)? Unless a conservative institution - say, a bank, or the British Royal Family - is involved, the transgressor is more likely offered a book contract or a reality TV show.

Is that why scandals, and the scandalous, are so boring these days compared to those of previous eras? Because so little is at stake?

How much more interesting are the stories of scandalous behaviour of times past, the desperate need to escape the "boredom of convention", or to transgress a repressive code of conduct, and nearly always paid dearly. Small wonder too, speaking of repression, that it was practically always women who were scandalous. Men who caused public outrage became notorious, from the Latin notus, "known", but women who did the same were scandalous, from the Latin scandalum, "cause of offence".

Here are a few of my favourites among history'…