“ Genre: History / Author: Amanda. Foreman / Paperback / Book is published 1998 by Harper Collins „
Georgiana Spencer was an ancestress of Princess Diana and after reading this book I was left with the feeling that sometimes maybe history really does repeat itself. This book is written in an easy to read style making this very much accessible history, full of colour and detail which brings not only the period to life but Georgiana herself. It recounts her many ups and downs. The triumphs and disgraces, her friends, her marriage, her children, her ménage a trois and her lovers. This is a life that was definitely lived to the full.
Amanda Foreman has a doctorate from Oxford University in Eighteenth Century History. Her book won the Whitbread Biography of the Year Award in 1998 and justifiably so. It instantly became a best seller and is still in print. New paperback copies are available from Amazon from £6.96 but there are many used copies available from 1p.
Lady Georgiana Spencer was born in 1757, the eldest child of the 1st Earl Spencer and his wife, also called Georgiana. It soon became clear that Georgiana was a beauty and that, as a consequence, a "good marriage" was on the cards and, indeed she did make what was regarded as a good marriage to the head of the Cavendish family, the 5th Duke of Devonshire but, sadly, the marriage was far from happy.
Georgiana grew up to become beautiful, intelligent and charming with more than a healthy dose of the common touch. She seemed able to relate to people on all levels of society and was very well liked, it seems, by everyone but her husband.
By contrast, the Duke of Devonshire was a reserved, cool and aloof character, similar in many ways to Georgiana's own father but unlike Earl Spencer, the Duke lacked any underlying affection for her. Georgiana was flattered that this man, nearly a decade older than herself, would offer her marriage and even fancied herself in love, more to please her parents than because she actually loved him. The Duke, on the other hand, made a cold and calculating decision to marry Georgiana because she came with a large dowry, was popular (which would be good for his political life) and she was very young and malleable. Are you beginning to notice any similarities here to Princess Diana's marriage?
On the day of the Duke and Georgiana's wedding, his mistress was giving birth to their child!
Following their marriage the Duke and his new Duchess spent the summer at Chatsworth and Georgiana began to display her charitable side, visiting tenants, setting up charity schools and generally learning how to be a duchess, something she achieved with remarkable success. And the influence of the Cavendish family was already beginning to rub off on her. Even the pronunciation of her name was changed from the softer 'Georgi-ahna' with a long "a" to 'George-ayna', something the still very young and naive Duchess went along with.
It didn't take long for Georgiana to discover that her husband had not married her for love and companionship but simply for heirs. In fairness to the Duke of Devonshire, it's made clear in the book that much of this lack of affection was due to his upbringing and that his coldness towards his new wife was because he didn't know any other way to behave. I would add here that, readers of romantic fiction, will recognise in the Duke many of the character traits often attributed to aristocratic heroes in historical romances but, unlike those fictional heroes, the Duke of Devonshire didn't find in Georgiana the love of his life and she didn't find it in him.
His desire for heirs led to Georgiana suffering several miscarriages early on in her marriage, for which she was blamed, before the birth of her first child and her health suffered somewhat because of it. The parts of the book dealing with Georgiana's parenthood show her to have been an excellent though somewhat unconventional mother, given the time in which she lived. At that time, women of the aristocracy didn't have much to do with the actually business of rearing their children. Georgiana, however, rather than pass her children to a wet nurse, insisted on breastfeeding them herself, much to the shock of her friends and relatives alike.
Through extracts from letters written by Georgiana and her contemporaries as well as other contemporary accounts from this time, the book brings the Georgian era to life and documents what was one of the most exciting period of British history. This was the Age of Enlightenment, a time full of drama, politics and social change, and often at the centre of it all walked Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Again, like her descendant, Diana, Georgiana published her story in a book, The Sylph, which although a novel was in fact a thinly disguised autobiography of her marriage. She, of course, denied being the author but it soon became common knowledge that she had written the book, something which hardly endeared her further to her already cold and distant husband.
I don't want you to think that Georgiana was perfect. She wasn't. Following the realisation that her marriage was little more than a sham, she went rather wild, mixing in fast company, becoming a leader of fashion and gathering gambling debts to make your eyes water but through it all she retained her charm and egalitarianism which proved especially useful later on when she took to the political stage like a duck to water.
From her early days as a debutante, she rapidly became a well known public figure, attractive and popular and it was said that "When she appeared, every eye was turned towards her; when absent she was the subject of universal conversation". One thing was certain, she was an icon of her day.
Georgiana's life was as full and exciting as the era in which she lived and although not entirely happy, she did find love, albeit outside her marriage, and she was loved in return, especially by her children and friends. During her eventful life she mixed with great historical and political figures of the time and, in her own small way, affected the lives of many that she came into contact with and always, I feel, for the better.
Amanda Foreman obviously liked her subject as a person and conveys a picture of Georgiana as a charming, loving woman and mother who endured an underlying unhappiness in her marriage and made the best of it. This is the story of a woman who lived out her adult life in the full glare of publicity, again like her descendant, Diana, and who suffered for it. But it's a warts-and-all picture and Ms Foreman doesn't shy away from Georgiana's flaws although, given the distance of years, they somehow make her seem simply more real and certainly more human.
Towards the end of her life, Georgiana wrote to her daughter "... our negligence and omissions have been forgiven and we have been loved, more from our being free from airs than from any other circumstance."
Anyone with an interest in social and political history, the Age of Enlightenment or even a love of historical fiction, will find this book to be a five star read. This isn't a dull and stuffy history book but the well written, very well researched and interesting account of a woman who was full of life, fully aware of her flaws and who realised that her common touch had been her saving grace and I think that, like Amanda Foreman, I would have liked Georgiana if I'd known her.
Her face stared at me. A vibrant, glowing face, it was full of presence and character. I drew closer. Ah, so this was the famous portrait by Gainsborough. “The Duchess of Devonshire”, a radiant picture of an eighteenth century lady, was displayed in one of the Chatsworth House rooms, and attracted every passer-by. Later on in the gift shop, I spotted the same picture on the front of a paperback, and discovered that this book had won a Whitbread Biography of the Year Award in 1998. I decided to buy it and find out more about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The author, Amanda Foreman, was born in London in 1968. At twenty five, she was supposed to researching for her doctorate, but during the course of her research became sidetracked by Georgiana. Her original doctorate abandoned, the next four years were spent researching and writing the book, travelling all over the country to find original sources. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was a famous person in her own time, being not only the wife of a Duke, but an important influence on political thinking. She was a supporter of the Whig party, as well as being a celebrated leader of fashion. Several biographies had been written about her, but Amanda Foreman felt none of them did her justice. There was no difficulty in finding material. In fact there was masses of it, all over the country. There were, for instance, over 1000 letters in Chatsworth House alone! One major problem was that Georgiana’s friends and descendants were heavy handed in censoring letters. Whole sections had been inked out, and many letters were completely destroyed. The extensive research which produced this book certainly shows. There are thirty pages of footnotes, and a comprehensive index, and the narrative is not light reading. But it is beautifully written, and pulls you into the story of Georgiana with ease. There are enough colour plates and illustrations to back up
the text and to bring the characters to life. How can Georgiana’s life be described? Well, it was very exciting. At a very young age she married a duke, but the marriage was loveless, the duke preferring her best friend. An inveterate gambler and a leading member of the “ton” (fashionable society in the eighteenth century), Georgiana was lampooned in all the papers of the time. Do you remember those eighteenth century cartoons of ladies with powdered hair teased into fantastic three foot high creations, complete with birds’ nests, feathers and a mouse or two? Well, they were making fun of Georgiana and her friends. Life became much more serious, and tragic, later on. She was a contemporary of many important social, royal and political figures. I don’t want to spoil the book for you by giving too many details, but I can promise you that Georgiana’s life had all the elements of the most exciting soap story! I was intrigued when reading the introduction, because Amanda Foreman describes so convincingly the difficulties a biographer faces in coming to a balanced view point about her subject. It is apparently easy to become overly sympathetic when dipping into letters and diaries because (obviously) they are written in the first person and therefore quite naturally contain an element of self-deception. She describes it as the literary equivalent of the “Stockholm Syndrome”, where hostages begin to feel sympathetic towards their captors. It is dangerous because it leads to being tempted to ignore unwelcome evidence. The Syndrome struck Amanda Foreman early on in her research and she found herself becoming furious on Georgiana’s behalf when reading a nasty letter from one of her rivals. Luckily as the research progressed, Amanda Foreman was able to become much more objective. I loved reading about how the idea for the book was born. The chapters in the book are entitled: Debutante; Politic
s; Exile; and Georgiana Redux; and cover the main periods in Georgiana’s life. Did I enjoy the book? Oh yes. It is beautifully written, in a flowing style, and a lovely meaty true story. I appreciated the illustrations and colour plates, though, just so that I could bring the characters to life in my mind. It is not a book to doze over last thing at night. On several occasions, I went up to bed for a good long read, only for my husband to find me twenty minutes later fast asleep clutching my Georgiana book, with the light still on! It actually took me several weeks to read it, in between bouts of various lightweight fiction, none of which were so satisfying. The book does not include much of what I would call domestic history, such as descriptions of meals, clothes, or what life was like for other members of the Devonshire household. It would have been six inches thick if it had. But for those of you who like medical dramas, there are one or two “Ugh, how could they?” moments. It is an enjoyable in depth study of the life of Georgiana, and has made me determined to discover more about the world of the eighteenth century. I’m now just wondering how I can stop the current vivid dreams I am having, with me as the bewigged and powdered heroine fighting off Whig gentlemen wearing extremely tight breeches! Price: £8.99 ISBN: 0-00-655016-9 Publisher: Flamingo
Winner of the Whitbread Biography Award 1998 / The story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, one of the most flamboyant women of the 18th century, and her times. Distantly related to the late Princess of Wales, she was, in turn, a compulsive gambler, political savante and operator, drug addict, adulteress and darling of the common people.