Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

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9780006550167: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Sex, intrigue and adultery in the world of high politics and huge wealth in late eighteenth-century England. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was one of the most flamboyant and influential women of the eighteenth century. The great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales, she was variously a compulsive gambler, a political savante and operator of the highest order, a drug addict, an adulteress and the darling of the common people. This authoritative, utterly absorbing book presents a mesmerizing picture of a fascinating world of political and sexual intrigues, grand houses, huge parties, glamour and great wealth - always on the edge of being squandered by the excesses and scandals of individuals.

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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 (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

From the Inside Flap:

The winner of Britain's prestigious Whitbread Prize and a bestseller there for months, this wonderfully readable biography offers a rich, rollicking picture of late-eighteenth-century British aristocracy and the intimate story of a woman who for a time was its   undisputed leader. 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, at the age of seventeen, Georgiana achieved immediate celebrity by marrying one of England's richest and most influential aristocrats, the Duke of Devonshire. Launched into a world of wealth and power, she quickly became the queen of fashionable society, adored by the Prince of Wales, a dear friend of Marie-Antoinette, and leader of the most important salon of her time. Not content with the role of society hostess, she used her connections to enter politics, eventually becoming more influential than most of the men who held office.

        Her good works and social exploits made her loved by the multitudes, but Georgiana's public success, like Diana's, concealed a personal life that was fraught with suffering. The Duke of Devonshire was unimpressed by his wife's legendary charms, preferring instead those of her closest friend, a woman with whom Georgiana herself was rumored to be on intimate terms. For over twenty years, the three lived together in a jealous and uneasy ménage à trois, during which time both women bore the Duke's children--as well as those of other men.

Foreman's descriptions of Georgiana's uncontrollable gambling, all- night drinking, drug taking, and love affairs with the leading politicians of the day give us  fascinating insight into the lives of the British aristocracy in the era of the madness of King George III, the American and French revolutions, and the defeat of Napoleon.

        A gifted young historian whom critics are already likening to Antonia Fraser, Amanda Foreman draws on a wealth of fresh research and writes colorfully and penetratingly about the fascinating Georgiana, 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.

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