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Passion & Principle: The Loves and Lives of…

Passion & Principle: The Loves and Lives of Regency Women

by Jane Aiken Hodge

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Don't mix up Regency women with their more uptight Victorian descendants. This book tells us about some of the outrageous, infamous and intellectual women of this period. ( )
  maz111 | Jun 27, 2008 |
I don't necessarily fault books that are based on secondary research - there can be great value in pulling scattered material together, and in such cases, there is no need for the author to come up with new theories. The urge to claim a novelty has produced a lot of bad books.

Unfortunately, almost everything here is covered adequately in other, better books, and this superficial assemblage has little to recommend it, unless the reader wants the scandal without having to plow through other, more significant historical information. I was excited to find this book and terribly disappointed by the time I finished it.

Most of this book is narrowly focused on the love lives of two sisters, Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire and Henrietta (Harriet) Spencer, Countess of Bessborough. Hodge apparently feels that real measure of female liberation is the ability to engage in extra-marital sex, as opposed to trivialities like education, choosing one's own spouse, financial independence, etc., so she finds it terribly exciting and important that these two sisters managed to have out-of-wedlock children without being divorced. This approach seriously scants both the period and the lives of these two women.

Having read Amanda Foreman's Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire I find Hodge's treatment of the Spencer sisters superficial and trivializing. The sisters were very active and influential in politics, actually canvassing voters and appearing in public, scandalizing the Tories. If you are interested in their lives, I'd read Amanda Foreman and skip this.

Even if one considers their extra-marital affairs to be terribly important, two woman do not make a convincing study of the period, not even of the aristocratic class. Their license is rather offset by the cloistering of the royal princesses. One is left not knowing whether this events are the result of social trends or individual decisions. Certainly the Duke of Devonshire's family did not take Georgiana's conduct lightly and urged him to divorce her. Would the entire position of women in this period have been revolutionized if one man had decided on a divorce? Henrietta Spencer's husband began divorce proceedings against her in 1788, after learning of her affair with Sheridan, but was persuaded by family pressure to drop them. Elizabeth Vassell, Lady Webster, was divorced in 1797. Hodge doesn't really canvas the era and contrast it with others to make a convincing case.

Toward the end of the book, Hodge deals with female authors - this section is actually interesting. Here Hodge argues that during this period, woman were more likely to wrote under their own names, not concealing their gender under masculine or gender-neutral names as the Brontes later would. Of course, this is probably much better covered in literary histories of the period.

I recommend this only to people who want to be sure they have read everything on this period. I wouldn't recommend it as an introduction to the period in general or the lives and status of women. A very interesting book which overlaps the beginning of the era and actually provided a much more acute look at women's lives is Brian Dolan's Ladies of the Grand Tour: British Women in Pursuit of Enlightenment and Adventure in Eighteenth-Century Europe. ( )
  juglicerr | Oct 6, 2007 |
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