Synopses & Reviews
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.
About the Author
Amanda Foreman, born in London in 1968, was educated at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, and Oxford University, where she received a Ph.D. in history. A freelance journalist and until recently a researcher at Oxford, she has, since the immensely successful publication of Georgiana in the United Kingdom, made numerous television and radio appearances there, including the presentation of a Channel 4 documentary on the life of her subject. Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire is her first book. She lives in New York City and London.
Reading Group Guide
1. Georgiana emerged into the world with considerable poise and charm, but she was desperately needy and easily manipulated. How much can her lack of emotional balance be attributed to her mother, Lady Spencer's, influence?
2. The Duke of Devonshire was a shy man who had hardly known his parents. He craved affection but did not know how to receive or give it. Was his marriage to Georgiana doomed from the start?
3. Georgiana clearly adored the attention of the press. How much of her celebrity was self-created and how much was foisted upon her because of her style and status?
4. Lady Elizabeth Foster was considered to be so "artificial, it almost seemed natural." Was her friendship for Georgiana pure calculation, or did she share Georgiana's feelings?
5. By 1782 Georgiana had become the most powerful woman in the Whig party. Do you think she wanted power for herself?
6. After her triumph at the Westminster election in 1784, Georgiana wrote, I hate myself " She displayed classic symptoms of bulimia; she resorted to alcohol and drugs to find relief-, and, worst of all, she became a gambling addict. Was this behavior a form of protest against her unhappy marriage, an expression of anger against a society that favored men over women, the result of childhood trauma, a demonstration of character weakness, or an amalgamation of all of these?
7. When Fanny Burney met Georgiana she assumed that blackmail had to be at the heart of Georgiana's continuing friendship with Bess. What kept the two women together by the 1790s?