The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of a Legendary Victorian

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9780767906357: The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of a Legendary Victorian
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Born to fanatically snobbish Victorian parents, Georgina Weldon grew up to wreak havoc on almost everyone she met. She was supposed to marry well and restore the family fortune, but soon proved to have other ideas. Her scandalous affair with a married man and her defiant marriage to the less-than-prosperous young hussar officer Harry Weldon were just the first signs that she was no ordinary girl. In a plot that could have been constructed by Dickens himself, Georgina acquired a string of lovers, was stung by con artists, betrayed by her parents, and narrowly escaped being committed to a mental institution. She rose to the challenge and became one of the first Victorian women to represent herself in court and later helped to overturn England’s infamous Lunacy Laws. Like the best Victorian novels, The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon marries the adventures of an intrepid protagonist with delightfully revealing glimpses of Victorian society. A tale of sex and scandal, bravado and bravery, Mrs. Weldon’s life is wild, wicked, and totally irresistible.

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Review:

Disastrous is precisely the right adjective to apply to Georgina Weldon (1837-1914), who caused trouble for everyone her path crossed, but most especially for herself. Yet the catalog of calamities that constitutes this eccentric Englishwoman's life is vastly entertaining to read, thanks to Brian Thompson's smooth prose and keen sense of the absurd. You can't help but laugh at poor Georgina, so sublimely self-absorbed and so pathetically inept at getting what she wants. There's something magnificent about the whirlwind way she pursues crackpot ventures, from establishing a "singing academy" (no one came to the concerts) to running a chaotic orphanage whose charges ran wild in her London home. Her behavior was so outrageous that she narrowly escaped being committed to an asylum by her infuriated husband. Indeed, Weldon's one claim to historical fame comes from her pioneering use of the 1882 Married Women's Property Act to sue the doctors who tried to put her away; the resulting court cases made public the arbitrary, often vindictive nature of England's lunacy laws. But Thompson, a novelist and scriptwriter who turned to biography after reading Weldon's over-the-top memoirs, is less interested in her lawsuits than in her turbulent affair with French composer Charles Gounod, her tangled relations with a pair of French con artists, and her overall inability to lead anything resembling a normal life. No need to feel guilty about enjoying her tale of woe, since Georgina seems never to have doubted herself and always to have blamed other people. It's all great fun, and it really ought to be made into an opera. --Wendy Smith

From the Back Cover:

“[Mrs. Weldon’s] story is so fantastically melodramatic that it might have been penned by one of the sensationalist novelists so popular among her Victorian contemporaries.” –Publishers Weekly

“Elegant in style, at once sensational and substantial in content, this book is a surprise and a delight.”
–Lucy Hughes-Hallet, London Sunday Times

“If it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at Mrs. Weldon’s disastrous career, it is impossible not to admire the splendor of her ambitions and the sheer hubris of a woman who could bring twenty-five cases to court in a single year and represent herself in twenty-two of them.”
–Miranda Seymour, London Times Literary Supplement

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