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on 11 April 2005
I'll confess I would never have looked at this book if it hadn't been for the fact that I decided to read the 10 nominations for Richard and Judy's Best Read 2005.This book has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the lot,because, to be honest, I was not really looking forward to it.
How wrong could I be ? This is a dazzling story of a fascinating woman. I am afraid to say the other biography in the Richard and Judy list,"Feel" by Chris Heath comes off a very poor second when compared to this volume. Sadly of course there's no doubt which book will sell more.I wish all Robbie Williams fans would read this book and find out that maybe their hero's exploits are not so special when compared to what the heroine of this biography got up to.
Mary Robinson, whose nickname was Perdita, was married at 15 and her marriage was something of a disaster and included spending some time in prison with her husband. She then made herself into one of London's most celebrated actresses and was a friend of the outstanding theatrical figures of the day.She became a leading figure in the glamorous high society of the city, reputedly being the most beautiful woman in Britain.She voluntarily gave up her theatrical career to become the mistress of the Prince of Wales, thus heightening her celebrity even further. Reading about this time of her life it appears that she was just as famous or infamous as any contemporary celebrity.Maybe more so.There are many obvious similarities.
In the second half of the book the plot changes almost completely as Mary, after being ditched by her royal lover, re-invents herself as a writer. She is so successful in this enterprise that she becomes one of the leading lady literary figures of the era. She is primarily a poetess, but also writes plays, novels and political tracts and she becomes friendly with both leading political and cultural figures.
It is an absolutely fascinating tale, made more moving perhaps by the fact that she was not lucky in love, suffered a debilitating illness for many years and finally died young at the age of 43.
All this is retold in an easy and entertaining way by Paula Byrne and I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone.Thank you Richard and Judy !
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on 14 June 2005
A fascinating study of the life of Mary Robinson, who achieved success in the second half of the 18th century as a novelist and poet, contemporary with Coleridge and Wordsworth. She championed the cause of women's education, knew Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. However, her career began as an actress and willing mistress to the great and (not so) good, particularly the Prince of Wales, later George IV, from whom she demanded a pension because she gave up her acting livelihood to be his mistress. Her treatment by the press of the day was as vitriolic if not worse than the way some celebrities are treated today. This is a really good read.
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on 13 July 2005
This book goes in waves - the first third and the last third are very gripping, but the middle section can be repetitive. However, it is a thorough, detailed and gripping look at the fluidity of late Georgian society. Mary Robinson was clearly a fascinating and talented woman whose travails did not really stand in her way. It was sad to see her end so quietly, who had created such a bang throughout the early part of her life, but her correspondence and acquaintance were fascinating.
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on 20 October 2014
I bought this book because of my interest in Col. Bannistre Tarleton and so didn't expect to enjoy the whole book. As it turned out I had no difficulty reading it from cover to cover as Mary Robinson is an interesting enough character herself.
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Prior to reading this, I had just finished Claire Tomalin's Mrs Jordan's Profession, and it was an interesting contrast. Both biographies are about Regency actresses who became royal mistresses, Mary Robinson to the Prince of Wales, subsequently George IV, and Dora Jordan to the Duke of Clarence, later William IV. Both women left the stage for their royal lovers, who subsequently abandoned them; although Dora Jordan's abandonment after twenty years contrasts strongly with Mary Robinson's fling of less than a year, and Dora returned to the stage numerous times through her relationship with Clarence.

So there are strong similarities between the books, and yet whilst I could not put Claire Tomalin's down and felt real affection for Dora Jordan, I can't say the same for this book. Whether that's down to the author or the subject I cannot tell. Certainly, on the surface Mary Robinson is far more an interesting figure than Dora Jordan, who effectively settled down to domesticity and her large brood of children. Whereas to dismiss Mary Robinson as an actress and royal mistress is to do her a disservice: whilst she too was a celebrity, both in the Regency and modern sense of the word, she reinvented herself after a serious accident all but crippled her and was in her later years a notable and lauded literary figure, a writer of poems, plays, farces, operettas, essays, who moved in the same circles as William Goodwin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary Wollstonecraft, among others. She also became a radical and an early feminist.

And yet somehow this book never gelled for me - I never felt wholly absorbed in Mary's life, I never came to care for her, in the way that the best biographies can make you thoroughly partisan on the side of the subject. I was almost bored, to be honest. Part of that could have been the over-abundance of quotation of Mary's poetry - melodramatic purple 'Romantic' poetry has never been my taste - and part perhaps is the fact that I could never quite believe Mary herself. So often a biography comes to life through the subject's own words, but with Mary Robinson I could never shake the feeling that mentally she never left the stage, that she was always playing a part. And whether that role was actress, society belle, fashion innovator, woman of letters, radical or feminist, I never once felt that Paula Byrne had managed to penetrate to the real heart of Mary Robinson. Again, that could be a failing of either author or subject, I don't know. But it meant that for me this biography only painted a picture of Perdita, much as Reynolds, Gainsborough and others painted her, that it never really captured her.
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on 10 February 2013
I was really looking forward to reading this as Mary Robinson was an interesting person but although the book is very well researched and full of information it drags on and on and I gave up in the end and just skim read it. A really heavy dull book to read and disappointing as it started off so well.
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on 22 August 2005
What a shame!!This book could have been so gripping and so interesting. Mary Robinson was obviously a very colourful figure with an amazing life (She achieved more than we mere mortals can even dream of!) But (the big BUT) the author (Paula Byrne) just does not have a grip on how to keep a reader interested. She drags on, she repeats herself, she makes a great character a complete bore!! I gave up half way through and so did my village book group we all agreed this really was a drag. Instead read Georgina:Duchess of Devonshire, that is a delight and does the woman justice.
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on 15 May 2013
Too long, print too s,all. Excellent research has been done. Not my kind of book. Nothing much else to say
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on 1 June 2005
I started reading the book as Mary Robinson, known as Perdita, because of her role on the stage, was a contemporary of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
I thought the beginning was great, her silly marriage, her part in leading the Ton, her seduction of the Prince Regent and so on. This section was scimmed over though.
I found that the book was too concerned with quotes, which interrupted the narrative. I aso thought the last quater was really slow and got dull to read.
An interesting book, about an interesting lady non-the-less.
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