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Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire Paperback – 1 Mar 2004
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Georgiana Spencer was, in a sense, an 18th-century "It Girl". She came from one of England's richest and most landed families, and married into another. She was, beautiful, sensitive and extravagant. Acquainted fairly young with Charles James Fox, her move from parties to Parties led her to become the intimate of ministers and princes, and she canvassed assiduously for the Whig cause, most famously in the Westminster election of 1784. By turns she was caricatured and fawned on by the press, and she provided the inspiration for Lady Teazle in Sheridan's School For Scandal. But, luckily for her biographer, she also had weaknesses that were to taint her life. As gin gripped the masses, so gambling enthralled the aristocracy. By 1784 Georgiana owed "many, many, many thousands", and the creditors she acquired dogged her until her death, but the sterility of her marriage meant that she never came close to disclosing the magnitude of her debts. Amanda Foreman describes astutely the mess that was personal relationships for the aristocratic subculture (Georgiana and the Duke engaged for many years in a ménage à trois with Lady Elizabeth Fraser, who inveigled her way into his bed and her heart). She is, by her own admission, a little in love with her subject, which can lead to occasional lapses of perspective, but generally it adds zest to a narrative built on, rather than burdened by, scholarship, that is at once accessible and learned. An impressive debut, in every sense. --David Vincent
Antonia Fraser, Literary Review
‘Well-written, extensively researched and highly readable… Gripping’
Stella Tillyard, Mail on Sunday
‘An outstanding debut by a young biographer fully in control of her sources, and with an easy and elegant writing style’
Roy Strong, Sunday Times
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The writing style renders this book captivating, rather than a drudge to read. It flows beautifully and I really felt a lot closer to Georgiana, the real person and her suffering, than I did previously. I enjoyed the contextual narrative which is essential if the reader wishes to understand the motives and actions of the subject. I understand much more about the volatile times she lived in, both home and abroad, in a very human context; much more than cold, historical facts manage to convey.
Georgiana has been likened to Princess Diana. Although there are a few minor similarities, (not just the family connection), I do not believe that their characters or circumstances are very much alike. However, I recommend that you read this book and decide for yourself!
In her earlier married years she became the leading society hostess and setter of fashion and became involved in politics, a most unusual thing in those times. Supporting not the Tories as one might think, she spoke for the Whigs at the hustings. Her Picadilly home in London became a meeting place for the Whig heirarcy frequented by the likes of Fox, and Sheridan. In her later years she even helped in forming their policies.
However this lady was flawed : she was a compulsive gambler. Always debt ridden to an astronomical amount she would borrow more with which not to pay her earlier creditors but to yet again gamble away.
Her private life was somewhat unusual to say the least, being for the most part a menage a trois: her intimate friend being that of her husband's too! She became rather too involved with Charles Fox and becoming pregnant the Duke forced her into a three year exile in dangerous France.
This remarkable woman lived through the times of mad King George and his ever hopeful son, the French Revolution and the loss of the American colonies.
The similarity between the two modern Royals (I don't need to mention names) ends there.
Georgiana was very unhappy, however, at the time she lived being a Duchess was far preferable to being a commoner. She gambled thousands away and it sounds like she was an alcoholic. If she had been discreet her husband would have accepted she had taken a lover but she flaunted it so he insisted she end her affair. Who knows, he may even have allowed her to keep her child and raise it as his own.
It is a good read, a book I enjoyed.
Having said that, as a biography it is an excellent and detailed account of the Duchess' life. As a frequent visitor to Chatsworth House I could envisage the House and some of the people described from portraits at the House. I did, however, find it a little dry and must admit to skipping a few pages when the writer went into detailed descriptions of the politics and the Whigs. I am, I confess, one of those people that prefer a riproaring read to factual novels (after reading legal documents all day) and this I did find a little dry in places.
This book is great and I have learnt so much about her.
I was interested in finding out more about this Diana-like creature and so bought this book.
Unfortunately for me, it's written more as an historical piece of work whereas I was hoping for a more novel-like approach.
My fault for not researching fully.
Sadly - it has gone, unread, to the charity shop.
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