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Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda…
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Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1998)

by Amanda Foreman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
This is a terrific biography of a remarkable woman. The Duchess was born Georgiana Spencer, is the great-great-great-great aunt of Princess Diana, and was just as famous in her day. She married early and unhappily, but was the standard-bearer for fashion; wrote novels, poetry, and plays; was a scholar of chemistry and mineralogy; and was the backbone of the Whig party, actively campaigning, influencing policy, and directing political strategy. Her early married life was a whirlwind of social and political activity, during which she developed a massive gambling addiction, amassed staggering debt, and sustained her breakneck lifestyle and personal woes (among them her loveless marriage and numerous miscarriages) with non-stop parties, alcohol, and laudanum. Particularly interesting is her relationship with Bess (Lady Elizabeth Foster) who enters the Devonshire household as a friend and something of a financial ward, and begins a long term affair with the Duke.

This book is a well-researched and fascinating glimpse into 18th century life, where Georgiana always seemed to be in the thick of everything, including the Regency Crisis of the late 1780s, and the French Revolution. The political history in the book was a little dense and hard-to-follow at times, but given her political influence, passion, and acumen, it is absolutely necessary to the book. The current climate of political mudslinging and celebrity worship/vitriol appeared to be no different in her day, and Georgiana was the regular target of all of it. At times it was tempting to dismiss her life of parties and gambling, yet her accomplishments are astounding for a woman of that (or any) era, and I wept at her death in 1806. Hollywood could not have scripted her life any better, and now I am keen to see The Duchess, the Keira Knightley adaptation of this book.
  AMQS | Apr 17, 2016 |
Georgiana was a wealthy, titled lady who married into an even wealthier, better titled family* and spent the remainder of her days being a leader of fashion and politics. This was an excellent biography of a notable woman. Unlike ealier time periods, this was an era of paper. All of Georgiana's friends, relatives and enemies wrote daily; the correspondance about her would alone provide material enough for a book. In addition, she was daily featured in newspapers and cartoons, novels (including her own, [book: The Sylph]), at least one play (Sheridan's "School for Scandal") and diaries; there is a glut of information about the time and Georgiana. It is mind-bending to realize that almost every day of her life could be accounted for. I'm used to time periods in which whole years are mysteries, let alone birth dates, physical appearance, or handwriting. I recommend this biography to anyone interested in the Georgian or Regency periods; it provides an excellent, behind-the-scenes idea of the politics of the time, as well as a good understanding of how the upper-class lived.

Georgiana was an international celebrity; she was a dear friend of Marie Antoinette and George IV. She led fashion and society for decades, before retiring (like many of her contemporaries) due to overwhelming debts and a personal scandal. Like her sister Harriet (mother of the infamous Caroline Lamb, who is described in Georgiana's letters as a plump, spoiled girl), she bore an illegitimate child.

I think I would have quite liked the quick-witted, rather overwrought, highly dynamic Georgiana.




*The Cavendishes, descendants of that worthy Tudor woman [book: Bess of Hardwick]. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Georgiana Spencer, born in 1757, was not your typical court lady of the time. She was seventeen when she married the 5th Duke of Devonshire, twenty years her senior. Like many men of the time, he made no pretense of being faithful, but the Duke went further than usual. He fell in love with Georgiana’s best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, and moved her into the house. The three lived together for the next 25 years. Georgiana loved Bess as much as the Duke did, so it was not the horror story that some have made of it. Whether Georgiana and Bess were lovers is not known, but they seemed satisfied with sharing the Duke.

Her living arrangements (and her own love affairs) have overshadowed the fact that Georgiana was very politically active. In a time when women could not vote, Georgiana held parties to sway political affiliations and lobbied hard for the Whig contingent and was very politically influential. Living in the turbulent time that King George III was slipping in and out of madness meant various political factions were jockeying for power, and Georgiana had the ability to create a spectacle to attract people.

Georgiana was always in debt. She was a gambling addict and ran up tremendous IOUs; but she was also extremely generous with money to her friends and family. The Duke bailed her out many times and still, she died in debt. She was also an amateur scientist and a collector of mineral specimens. Her interests were far ranging.

She was a fascinating woman and a lot of correspondence was left from, to, and about, her. This helped the author, along with a huge list of books, bring the Duchess to life. Parts of the book are fast reading; the parts about politics were, to me, slow going and frankly bored me, but necessary as so much of Georgiana’s life was about politics. Not the easiest read but well worth the effort. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Sep 1, 2015 |
Very "dry" read. Way too much politics in there for my liking. ( )
  yukon92 | Jul 7, 2015 |
Amanda Foreman, using surviving correspondence from Georgiana and various other people in her life, provides a very detailed account of Georgiana's life, from her upbringing by her over-involved mother to her contributions to the Whig party and to politics in general in England. I did not really know anything about Georgiana before I started this book (I watched the movie with Keira Knightley when it first came out, and all I can remember from it is the "drunk scene"), so I was pleasantly surprised to find that she was an incredible and dynamic woman (though she did have her faults; namely gambling, her habit of not paying people back, and her dependence on Bess Foster, a scheming friend who was always jealous of Georgiana's life). While I admit that most of the political parts of the book bored me (I found it hard to keep track of who was who), I found it fascinating that she, as a woman in the 18th century, was able to get so involved in politics, and a lot of big players (the Prince of Wales, Fox, etc.) came to her for advice and to rally voters.

I was also (not entirely) surprised to discover that practically everyone had several affairs and illegitimate children as a result (including Georgiana and her husband the Duke - with the aforementioned Bess). That was also kind of hard to keep track of - all of the affairs!

I appreciate how Foreman did not shy away from Georgiana's faults and mistakes, especially when concerning Bess and her propensity to overly trust people.

Overall, a very interesting look into the life of the Duchess, and the lives of 18th-century aristocracy in general. The Duchess film is available for streaming on Netflix, so I will watch that soon to see how it compares. ( )
  kaylaraeintheway | Jan 18, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Amanda Foremanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McCaddon, WandaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I know I was handsome...and have always been fashionable, but I do assure you," Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, wrote to her daughter at the end of her life, "our negligence and omissions have been forgiven and we have been loved, more from our being free from airs than from any other circumstance."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375753834, Paperback)

Georgiana Spencer was, in a sense, an 18th-century It Girl. She came from one of England's richest and most landed families (the late Princess Diana was a Spencer too) and married into another. She was beautiful, sensitive, and extravagant--drugs, drink, high-profile love affairs, and even gambling counted among her favorite leisure-time activities. Nonetheless, she quickly moved from a world dominated by social parties to one focused on political parties. The duchess was an 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 the character of Lady Teazle in Richard Sheridan's famous play The School for Scandal. But her weaknesses marked the last part of her life. By 1784, for one, Georgiana owed "many, many, many thousands," and her creditors dogged her until her death.

Biographer Amanda Foreman describes astutely the mess that surrounded the personal relationships of 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 the duke's bed and the duchess's heart). Foreman 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, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:03 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Lady Georgiana Spencer was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales, and was nearly as famous in her day. In 1774 Georgiana achieved immediate celebrity by marrying William Cavendish, fifth duke of Devonshire, one of England's richest and most influential aristocrats. She became the queen of fashionable society and founder of the most important political salon of her time. But Georgiana's public success concealed an unhappy marriage, a gambling addiction, drinking, drug-taking, and rampant love affairs with the leading politicians of the day. With penetrating insight, Amanda Foreman reveals a fascinating woman whose struggle against her own weaknesses, whose great beauty and flamboyance, and whose determination to play a part in the affairs of the world make her a vibrant, astonishingly contemporary figure.--From publisher description.… (more)

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