Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire (Modern Library Paperbacks)

 
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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 m®¶nage ®§ 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.

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 m®¶nage ®§ 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

Customer Reviews:

  • Mixed reaction
    I have mixed feelings about this book. The author did an expert job researching Georgiana and the times in which she lived. (I believe this book came about as a result of her PhD work on the same subject.) It is chock full of historic and political details - which will delight some but, unfortunately, bore others to tears.

    Much of the book is about Georgiana's gambling problem, her subsequent debts (in the millions), the lengths she took to hide them from her family and how she continually borrowed money from her friends. I found the topic of her continuing debt somewhat tedious and would have put the book down early on but because I plan to see the movie, "The Duchess," I wanted to read the book first.

    Although compulsive gambling was one of Georgian's characters flaws, you have to give the woman credit because she perservered and many times transcended her flaws in pursuit of her passions - primarily politics.

    In the first part of the book, I found all the quoted passages from letters and journals distracting. Sometimes the telling of the story through the letters made the story hard to follow. Georgianna and her best friend, Bess, flitted from man to man and references to "the duke" or to "him" in their letters sometimes left you wondering which duke or which "him" they meant.

    The writing style gets better when the author gets to the Regency period because it's a more straightforward narrative and the author doesn't rely so much on letters to tell the story.

    I would have loved to have more realistic details about the emotions of the wife and mistress while coexisting in the same house and continuing to have other lovers, but maybe there just wasn't that much information to keep it historically accurate. I resented spending so much time having to read about the two women's other interests in incredible superficial subjects.

    All in all - the book has its strengths and its weakness, but I came away thinking the story could have been told better in much less time.
    ...more info
  • A fascinating women
    Before I read the biographies of Georgian and Harriet, I thought the stories of °Í50,000 gambling debts were just made up for romantic novels. Georgiana and her sister Harriet, members of the influential Spencer family, made "brilliant" marriages, set the fashion trends of their times, lived scandalous lives, and mixed with royalty in England and across Europe. Their interest and influence in politics were incredible for a time when women were still thought of as useless and frivolous creatures. This biography is well documented and gives a great introduction to late 18th Century English society though I thought it jumped around a little....more info
  • Foreman is a First-Rate Biographer
    Amanda Foreman's stunning portrayal of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire is riveting! The author's meticulous research and excellent writing bring this vibrant, fascinating woman to life. An icon of Whig politics, entertaining, fashion, science and popular literature (not to mention gambling and intriguing social escapades), Georgiana accomplished more in her short lifetime than a dozen women combined. This historical biography reads like a novel, and Foreman's lively, three-dimensional depiction of her subject will cause you to bond with Georgiana before you finish the first chapter. In addition to the wonderful insight Foreman provides on Georgian's life, the book is also an excellent source of 18th century British political and social commentary. A wonderful, informative read!...more info
  • Excellent read!
    I truly enjoyed this book! Try as I might, I couldn't put it down until I had finished the last page. It is superbly researched, with plenty of citations and hints for further reading, which I appreciated. The inclusion of excerpts from Georgiana's own letters gives the reader a strong idea of this interesting woman's personality - she still speaks to us today! I do not regret purchasing this book!...more info
  • Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire
    I found this book to be beautifully written and extremely well researched. I have read it twice cover to cover.
    ...more info
  • The Spencers-A Remarkable Family
    This was a great book. I study the British Royalty and have for years. This book interested me initially because it was about the Duchess of Devonshire and I wanted to know more. Here is the great part of it, the way it related to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. If you only look at the photographs, there is a remarkable resemblance to the current Earl Spencer, Charles, brother of Diana who spoke the words at his sister's funeral and touched the world. The gallery has paintings that go back to the 17th Century, if you look closely, the current Earl resembles that one of two centuries ago. It is very hard to put down and an enjoyable read that is true and is history....more info
  • The scandelous bio that reads like a good tabloid
    I was never a biography fan until this book. Foreman does a dazzling job of bringing Georgiana to life. I could read this book over and over again!...more info
  • A Modern Woman In The Eighteenth Century
    Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, was born in the eighteenth century and died in the early nineteenth century, but her life was very modern in many ways. She was an open activist at a time when women were supposed to stay behind the scenes, a bold and flamboyant hostess who used her social prestige to advance her political agenda, and a beautiful but ultimately self-destructive woman whose emotions helped shape British history.

    Georgiana was born into one wealthy and powerful aristocratic family and married into an even wealthier and more powerful one. The Cavendishes were bastions of the Whig oligarchy, which governed Britain almost continuously through the eighteenth century until the 1760s, when King George III forced them out of power. In opposition the Whigs became the progressives or liberals of the day, calling for curbs on the King's powers, protection for the liberties of the people, and for progress and social reform (with the ultimate aim of regaining power for themselves, of course). Georgiana was married to the Duke of Devonshire, who was retiring where she was outgoing, far more interested in living a quiet life with various mistresses than in helping to advance the Whig cause. Georgiana, frustrated with a husband who did not appreciate her, threw herself into politics, becoming a friend of Whig leaders like Charles James Fox and campaigning openly for him and others.

    Georgiana's private life was complicated. She and her husband were involved in a years long menage a trois with Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was simultaneously Georgiana's best friend and the Duke's mistress and mother of his illegitimate children. Georgiana was addicted to gambling and lost enormous sums which she feared to reveal to the Duke. Eventually Georgiana herself had a love affair which nearly caused her marriage to end and forced her temporarily out of sight. Although she returned to political life after some years, her health broke down and her influence remained diminished.

    Amanda Foreman has produced a work of great scholarship which reads like a novel. Georgiana's life is so fascinating that I've read this biography several times just to see what she would get up to next and how she would get out of one scrape after another. Foreman makes the good point that Georgiana epitomized many women of the eighteenth century, who were far more active and involved in politics than is generally supposed, as well as being a harbinger of the kind of power base to which women in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries still aspire....more info
  • Biography?
    Despite the author's meticulous documentation/footnoting and attention to detail, this book reads much more like a novel than any bio I've ever read....It's a real page-turner...I can't put it down!...more info
  • INTRICATE, INVOLVING SAGA OF A SOMETIMES DITZY LADY
    At times the cast of characters in this biography gets one slightly lost and it is good that it has a reasonably full index. There are some intriguing photos of the scandalous goings-on and it is a generally good read.

    Timothy Wingate Ottawa CANADA...more info
  • AMAZING
    Amanda Foreman is a star. She has written a perfect biography of a woman whose story captures the spirit of an age....more info
  • Compelling research and writing
    What I liked most about Foreman's book was how she transformed an immense amount of research into a very readable, very addictive book -- bringing a serious research effort into popular readership. She brings Georgiana to life through the use of her letters and I never really felt that she was extrapolating from them to reach conclusions and make the story more interesting. Foreman's book has the research depth of a PhD thesis and the ease-of-reading of a best-seller novel....more info
  • Great bio, mindnumbing details
    I purchased this book based on numerous reviews (both here and elsehwere) and while I found the story of Georgiana fascinating, the book's overwhelming political passages forced me to put it down numerous times. I eventually abandoned it about 2/3 of the way through because I found myself paging through until I was beyond sections about Georgiana's political involvements.

    The author does a wonderful job of giving us the flavor of Georgiana's life and personality. However, if you only have a passing interest/knowledge (as I do) or no knowledge of English political history, I'd say to pass this one up....more info

  • Dynasty meets the Royals 18th Century Style!
    Sex! Drama! Death! Politics! Power! Illegitimacy! Privilege!

    The life of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, reads like a movie. What a fascinating and absorbing life this woman led! To her fans and detractors, she was a beautiful, glamourous woman who exerted much power and influence. Her fashions were copied, her male friendships were gossiped about, her soirees were the parties to be seen at.

    Behind the scenes she was deeply unhappy, bulimic, a gambler, locked in a menage-a-trois with her husband. She embarked on a foolish love affair and paid dearly for it. Still, her adoring public loved her all the more.

    Parallels can (and will) be drawn to Diana, Princess of Wales, who like Georgiana came from the Spencer family. I found Foreman's book to be an interesting insight into a vanished world of privilege and wealth. If you are interested in popular history, then this is a book for you....more info

  • you might not like her, but you'll root for her
    I am currently obsessed with Jane Austen, came across a glowing review of "Georgiana: Duchess..." in the New Yorker, and couldn't resist reading this story of Regency England. Unlike Austen's heroines, the Duchess has a very dark side - she's a gambler, adulteress, liar, drug addict...I found myself wanting her to be happy (and to win against the evil Bess) in spite of (or because of?) these qualities. In the end, her charisma, beauty, fashion, gentleness, vulnerability, wit, privilege, and political engagement endear her.

    I loved the book, the story, the characters, the history, and the politics. Unlike some other reviewers, I found Foreman's writing incredibly engaging and easy to read....more info
  • PARTY LIKE STUDIO 54
    This is the damndest book I've ever read! A truly remarkable biography about a truly remarkable person. Georgianna and her posse make Steve Rubell's posse look like pikers. I mean. Running up $6 million in gambling debts! If she were alive today she would be trailed by the paparazzi. Her life reads like a recent Vanity Fair profile.
    And how in the world were all the correspondences saved?
    So good, I bought Tom Jones for another perspective on 18th century English dissipation....more info
  • my review
    I thouroughly enjoyed this biography. Not only the character that was chosen by the author, but also the time period.

    By choosing Georgian, Duchess of Devonshire, the author has capitalized not only on a very famous person in english history, but also on the family history with Diana, Princess of Wales.

    You cannot help but make the "rapprochements" between the lives of these two women. The Duchess, although she lived in a time where women where not allowed to enter politics, was successful in influencing politicians as well as the public. She saw and understood the importance of appearances with the public. The same happened with Diana, although she always fought the "paparazzi", she always knew the power they had on the general public.

    The author has written a brilliant biography. She takes you through the subject's early life but during her adult life, she strives to make you understand the complexity of the Duchess. On the one hand she was sensitive and intelligent, on the other hand she was an addict, be it to gambling or to love.

    Very good book, and if you enjoy reading about history, you will enjoy this one in particular....more info

  • awesome!
    i loved this book. i read it several years ago and thought it was very informative. i loved the political and fashion commentary - i learned a lot while being entertained. love it!...more info
  • Very Good Book
    A very good book, in dept knowledge of the author on the subject. Only one observation in that the print is a little bit small for my liking. Apart from that it's enjoyable reading.

    ...more info
  • Impossible Read
    This was a book club selection. I really, really tried to get into the book, but simply couldn't. After 100 difficult pages I just had to give up. Not even worthy of one star....more info
  • A tabloid life
    What better material can you start with than the most well-known menage a trois in English history - involving one of the wealthiest men of his age, and Duke at that, his wife the most popular and influential woman of her age, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire - and their best friend?

    With a story like this Amanda Foreman would have been hard pressed to fail in a book on Georgiana, 5th Duchess of Devonshire. But Foreman doesn't falter in the tale though, and neither does she pore with salacious enjoyment over the detail. She does a great job in presenting the Duchess throughout her life and in all her colours and shades; as a young girl, rejected wife, desperate gambler, impetuous campaigner, caring mother and always- good friend.

    Georgiana was born in 1757 and died in 1806 so this book is set against the excesses and massive changes of the latter half of the eighteenth century. The rise of the industrial revolution, the rise in England's population - and most espeically the rise in the population of England's few cities. This was also the age of enoblement with the King raising many men to new peerages in order to stack the Government in his favour. Change was rife, fashion extreme and politics were a game that many noble women could play - Georgiana led them all.

    I like the way Foreman is sparing in her conclusions but presents the detail for us to interpret. We get to see all sides of Georgiana and her life. This is truly a book about a woman and the influence she had on her era.

    There have been a number of books on her over the years, the publication of her letters to Lady Elizabeth Foster. In the last 30 years Both Arthur Calder-Marshall and Brian Masters have written good biographies of the Duchess of Devonshire also. If you are looking for further reading on Georgiana, I think Brian Masters book is excellent and still in print....more info

  • Georgiana boring or bad writing?
    I am an enthusiastic Anglophile and have read countless biographies about British nobles and royalty by a variety of authors. I hadn't heard about Amanda Foreman or Georgiana until the movie came out in the fall. I saw the movie and obtained the book shortly after.

    I tried in vain to struggle through the first 100 pages until finally giving up before reaching page 200. I kept thinking/saying to myself, "it has got to get better, there were so many good reviews! Come on, you love this kind of stuff!"

    But sadly, it didn't get better. Whether this is because Georgiana on the page was much less interesting than Georgiana on the screen or because Amanda Foreman writes well but not in an engaging way is hard to say. I lean toward the latter, as I found myself skipping pages at a time filled with anecdotes about Georgiana's peers and in particular, the political situation. I have read books on Kings (Charles II by Antonia Fraser) and even the politically turbulent reigns of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette that contained far fewer boring, verbose passages about politics.

    Ms. Foreman certainly did her research and I do not argue that the book is very detailed and no doubt thorough. Engaging? Not so much. If you are interested in Georgiana on a cursory level, see the movie and leave the book (which is something hard for me to say as I almost always enjoy the books more than movies!)...more info
  • Excellent Biography
    In short the author has managed to make the subject a person and not a chapter in the history books. She presents a balanced portrait of the Duchess, not all good and not all evil, as well as the upbringing and the society who made her what she was. Excellent Bio!...more info
  • Oversized and boring
    I started "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire" because of the movie with glamorous Keira Knightly in dazzling gowns and tall powdered headdresses. Naturally, I expected the book to be a historical costume drama. It is not and I'm quite disappointed.

    Amanda Foreman's style is insufferably dry and boring. The book is supposed to be about a "dazzling, passionate and astonishing" Duchess, but it turns to be a story of a bunch of rich, spoiled, idle and promiscuous women. They gamble away fortunes and still manage to entertain hundreds of guests at suppers and balls and remain fashion models. They give birth to children by different men, including their friends' husbands and still manage to be respectable wives. They abandon their own children and still are considered to be tender and loving mothers. They play in political games mostly by means of socializing, spending money and showing off, and are called patriots. I could not sympathize with the Duchess, mostly because I couldn't see her as a real person. Her character is very much like the real Georgiana's novel "The Sylph", which I tried to read - too many words and very little sense. Ms.Foreman's Duchess is an unhappy, constantly whining and lying person. It looks like she spends a lifetime writing long letters full of false passion and yet remains cold, detached and, worse of all, outstandingly boring. Her relationship with Bess Foster is unclear, her feelings towards the Duke are perplexing, and even her love affairs lack any hint of romance or emotion...

    But most of all, I ask myself why this biography was published in the first place? What was the reason for this long-dead woman to be brought up to light again after two hundred years of oblivion? Was it because of her grand-grand-grand-niece, who even 10 years after her death still sells anything with her name on it? Georgiana's story begins with too many "coincidental" similarities to Princess Diana's life: her being Lady Spencer before marriage, being tall and stylish and glamorous, her common touch, her being celebrity and constant subject of tabloids, even her illusions about marriage and her husband having turned out to be cold and detached, not to mention his lifelong lover and their being "three in the marriage". As it eventually turns out, the story of Georgiana Spencer has nothing in common with that of Diana Spencer, except for the name, which is apparently a high-quality brand that can sell just anything, even an oversized and very boring biography.
    ...more info
  • Awesome!
    This is one of the best books I've read in ages. I totally loved the way Ms Foreman manages to make the period come alive and it reads like a modern story with a completely authentic old feel. I'd much rather read this lively, energetic and amusing writing than the strangely successful Angelas Ashes...more info
  • Difficult Read
    With all the "sexy" things that happened to the subject, this could have been much more interesting. Perhaps the author was showing restraint in not ascribing perceived emotions, reactions, etc. Foreman's research is amazing and she deserves credit for her hard work. However, the book is somewhat dry and hard to follow; I was skimming it toward the end....more info
  • Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
    Amanda Foreman has made Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire come alive for me in her excellently researched book. The Bibliography was outstanding and she really did her homework. It is probably one of the best books I have ever read about the aristocracy and real people and of the times in which Georgiana lived. The pictures included were, of course, from paintings, but excellent reproductions, for a paper back book. I would highly recommed this book to anyone who wants to know more about how they lived, how they coped. Georgian was a brilliant and fascinating woman and Amanda Foreman has made her come alive in this book....more info
  • A Woman of Influence
    As readable and absorbing as a great novel, The Duchess of Devonshire develops the story and character of Georgiana, a woman of great gifts and great flaws against the background of Regency England. Amanda Foreman is an outstanding biographer....more info
  • Wonderful readable biography
    This is a wonderful biography. I was somehow worried it would be boring. However, the author manages to narrate Georgiana's life and times in such a way that I could not put it down, and read it in less than three weeks' time.

    There are already many good comments, so I will only add something that the book does not mention. The case is that a portrait of the Duchess had also a interesing story to be told. In the XIX century Adam Worth, a real-life Moriarty, stole Gainsborough's portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire - and later returned it. It is mentioned in "The Napoleon of crime" by Ben Macintyre. I remember that Macintyre quotes a XVIII century sailor who said somethink like "I could lit my pipe with the starks from her eyes".

    Other excellent biographies of women in the middle of their age's politics (in fact, a couple of much maligned queens) worth reading are "Wu: The Chinese Empress Who Schemed, Seduced and Murdered Her Way to Become a Living God" by Jonathan Clements and "Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman" by Stephen Zweig.
    ...more info
  • what a good book!
    if some one told me what really happen 18th century upper crust i would not believe them.money,sex,adultery,hidden preganacy,lesbianism,royality,gambling and drug addiction.fashion theather social scandals,politics,betrayal, blackmail and war.it's a soap opera that really happen.even a evil bestfriend who bears two childern by georgina husband is through in.this book is addictive.i didn't put it down till last page. ...more info
  • Georgiana
    Not liking it at all. It is hard to stay focused when reading. The book just doesn't flow well....more info
  • Not for the faint of heart
    When I asked for this book at the library, it was checked out until the 20th of Jan., yet was returned on the 13th. I quickly found out why. Although I love reference books, historical novels, the History Channel, and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, this book reminds me more of the difficult War and Peace.

    Most of the story is revealed through letter quotes and so many characters are introduced, along with with their background histories, that I soon found myself constantly backtracking to identify people being mentioned. There were many similar names, people had children with their spouses, with mistresses, lovers, and often adopted and/or raised each others' children, inherited new titles at the deaths of relatives, and so on until it became an exhausting chore to keep track of everyone and what happened to them. The book is based on dissertation research, and it shows..not an easy read. But very enlightening if you can stand it.

    I was amazed to find that our country could very well exist because of Georgiana's quiet intervention with the Prince of Wales to keep the Whig party in power just in time to thwart George III's bid to reconquer the colonies. She also was the one who brought the Whigs together at the end of her life to outlaw slavery.

    Who knew?...more info
  • Thank you Ms Foreman
    why is this the best book i've read in ages? besides foreman's great style and subject matter, here is the opportunity to connect with a unique woman who flaunts all of our weaknesses and excesses and still remains true to herself. This is one of those life changing books that makes you examine yr own life in a different (maybe kinder) way. It's fascinating to ponder how much Foreman's obvious love for her subject has affected her portrait - but what emerges is a beautiful canvas, and a rigorous political examination of the times, regardless. If you like Georgiana, you ought to read Susan Sontag's The Volcano Lover. I thot she'd made most of that up until i read this book. We westerners have come a long way politically, but what we've made up for in decorum we've managed to lose in pure human interest. and i finally understand the british tabloid affair with royalty. Vive la reine!...more info
  • Great book
    I really enjoyed reading this book. It was very well written. I look forward to more books by this author. ...more info
  • A Tempestuous Life
    After finishing "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire" by Amanda Foreman, I have come to the conclusion that the flaming youth of the 1770's and 80's were just about as wild a bunch that could be. It seems that the generation of aristocrats who came of age in the decade and a half immediately before the French Revolution liked to live life at the edge. Fashions were extreme, homes were elaborate, and fortunes were gambled blithely away. Traditional morals and religious practice were given a public nod while being privately cast aside. The "sweetness of living," as Talleyrand nostalgically referred to the "ancien r®¶gime," was to be replaced by the wars and successive revolutions of the next two centuries.

    The decadent old world, which would soon be turned upside down, was in England presided over with glamor and opulence by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In France, Marie-Antoinette was perceived as being the queen of the fashionable whirl, but she was never so popular in society and genuinely influential in politics as was her friend Georgiana in England. Also, Marie-Antoinette's domestic life became calmer after the birth of her first child at age twenty-two. With Louis XVI to steady her, she eventually gave up gambling, and became the strong and courageous queen who was able to face the upheavals of the Revolution. Furthermore, Louis did not indulge in chronic infidelity as did the Duke of Devonshire. Georgiana, on the other hand, went from one personal fiasco to another, hardly ever letting up until she was in her forties, and even then died with enormous debts.

    The book gives a detailed account of the vast political influence wielded by ladies of high society in the days when women could not vote. The assortment of characters depicted by Reynolds and Gainsborough were finally given personality for me in Foreman's well-written biography. My trouble was with Georgiana herself. I could not grasp why she was so psychologically needy, what with the drinking and all night parties and spending and inordinate attachments to her friends. She had come from a loving family, although they were not perfect, but at least they cared and actively intervened in her troubles. Her husband did not love her, clearly, but many women were in loveless marriages. Unlike Marie-Antoinette, Georgiana could not seem to get her gambling under control. I do not understand why such a charming, intelligent and popular woman would be so insecure. Part of this is because I am so used to reading and writing about people who had extreme traumas and upheavals, such as Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their immediate family. Most of poor Georgiana's troubles were of her own making and completely avoidable. While she is a fascinating character, adored by the common folk for her ability to mingle, she is a bit puzzling.

    For one thing, it was so odd for Georgiana to tolerate Bess Foster's presence in the Duke of Devonshire's bed for all those years. Georgiana was such a bottomless pit of emotional need that she insisted on keeping Bess as her friend no matter what. As for Bess, she wanted everything Georgiana had; she wanted to be Georgiana. In the end, she had her way, and became the Duchess of Devonshire, but she was never loved the way Georgiana was loved. Georgiana's daughter Harriet described Bess thus: "...More perverted than deceitful...I really believe she hardly knows herself the difference between right and wrong now." (p. 308) Foreman says that Bess' version of events in her diary "was more fantasy than truth." (p.177) This is why I take it as a grain of salt when anything Bess wrote in regard to Count Fersen and Marie-Antoinette is given as evidence that they had an affair.

    The person I find to be most sympathetic in the biography about Georgiana is her long-suffering mother, Lady Spencer. I do not blame Lady Spencer one bit for having the governess as her spy. After all, she had to keep track of the various illegitimate children who were being smuggled into the Cavendish nursery, after being born and fostered out with utmost secrecy. Between Bess Foster and Georgiana's sister Harriet, I lost track of which child belonged to whom. And then Georgiana herself, fleeing to France to give birth to little Eliza. At least the children were not abandoned or destroyed; each was given care and love. For Lady Spencer to try to supervise the situation, and attempt to have Bess thrown out, was basic prudence. She was the only responsible adult in the clan and how her daughters carried on must have broken her heart.

    I wish I could have understood why Georgiana plunged into the affair with Charles Grey, Eliza's father. Her life was already a mess, what with the heavy drinking and gambling; her involvement with Earl Grey served to further complicate matters. The affair seemed to come not so much from a great love but from sheer recklessness on the part of someone who had totally lost control of her life. However, the book does not capture any sense of passion. Perhaps that is because so many of Georgiana's letters were censored or destroyed by her Victorian descendants, quite an editorial feat in itself.

    To Georgiana's credit, she often displayed genuine remorse for her disordered ways and tried to amend her life. Her failing health eventually forced her into a simpler, calmer existence. Her oldest daughter wrote that she was the best of mothers. The Duchess was devoted to her family, no question about it, while struggling with so many addictive behaviors, so many demons. Tormented she was, without a doubt. I only wish I understood why....more info
  • Simply an excellent book
    Georgiana had a fascinating life complete with adventure, intrigue, heartbreak, vast wealth and opportunity and of course, great beauty. In short, she makes for a great subject. But this book is also well-written and researched. I read if on a beach vacation and once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. It was fun, plus very informative. ...more info
  • A Book You Want to Read Again and Again
    I bought this book because it had such a glowing review in the New Yorker, but frankly I was a little dubious about its obscure subject. However, once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. Think money, sex, adultery, lesbianism, aristocracy, drug addiction, gambling, politics, scandals, betrayals, blackmail, fashion, theater, and the French Revolution, and you have just some of the potent elements in this book. Foreman writes with great clarity and verve. The book reads more like a novel than a work of history. And yet it is full of fascinating insights and historical information. Georgiana seems more like a modern woman with thoroughly modern neuroses than an eighteenth-century character. I couldn't help but root for her all the way along. The evil Bess, on the other hand, is a character straight from the movie Single White Female - a classic evil best friend who cannot completely disguise her intentions. I recommend this book to all readers....more info
  • First-rate biography
    Foreman writes a good biography firmly grounded in academic research but lucid and readable for the nonacademic reader. She suffers slightly from a bias towards her subject - which she admits herself in her introduction - but overall a solid work. I'll look forward to more by this author....more info
  • Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
    I bought this book after seeing the movie. The book is so much more in depth and captures the spirit of an amazing woman. Georgiana was a woman ahead of her time in many areas however her political prowess is to admired. In the true spirit of all women her life was a tapestry of joy, pain, sacrifice and success. Ms. Foreman's biography is written in a knowledgeable and thorough manner but it reads like a story. Her style of writing kept me engaged and captivated. ...more info
  • A Biography that reads like a novel
    Here we have a well-written, insightful, honest biography of a fascinating woman who lived in a remarkable age. Foreman shows us a woman who had flaws (a gambling habit every bit as bad as a drug habit) but also had imagination, intelligence, drive, and a willingness to live her life apart from the standards of her time. Combine this character with a husband to whom she was hopelessly unsuited, and an "All About Eve" friend and this book reads like a wonderful novel. Read and enjoy....more info
  • Somewhat disappointed
    I was wanting more of a historical novel but this book reads more like a text book. Almost every page has notes at the bottom of the page, this makes for very "choppy" reading. Interesting subject but not a cozy read. I had to make myself finish the book. ...more info
  • Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
    The only bad thing about this book is that it's inevitably going to end. If you love superbly written and beautifully researched biographies and have ANY interest whatsoever in history, you'll want to add this one to your library. The author, Amanda Foreman, is a former freelance journalist, which probably goes very far in explaining why the story is so incredibly absorbing. It reads like a novel. Typically, I actually knit while I read. With this book, I finally put my knitting aside because it was slowing down my reading! I admit to minoring in history in college, with a focus on British history, but I've learned all kinds of information that I never fully understood before. (The author also has a PhD from Oxford.) The only other biography I've read that comes close to this one was also written by another Amanda ... Amanda Vaill's Everybody was So Young. If you appreciated that one, you'll probably love reading about Amanda Foreman's Georgiana....more info
  • Brimming with Life
    The Poor Little Rich Girl is a story with enduring fascination in our culture, whether it's Gloria Vanderbilt or Princess Di. First-time biographer Amanda Foreman tells an 18thcentury version of this tale that's enthralling, swift-moving, and sometimes unbelievable.

    At 17, aristocratic Georgiana Spencer married into one of England's wealthiest and most politically powerful families, but it was a mismatch from the very beginning. The diffident, unloving Duke of Devonshire only wanted an heir and was unable to deal with the intelligent, high-spirited, talented and immensely appealing teenager as his wife.

    Before long, Georgiana was involved like many aristocrats of her day in fevered, incessant, unrestrained gambling. This vice burdened her all her life, and at one point she owed today's equivalent of six million pounds. Juggling her debts and hiding them from her husband created constant stress; she took drugs, suffered miscarriages, psychosomatic ailments and an eating disorder. The Duke turned to other women, she to other men and perhaps another woman as well, who entered a strange menage a trois with the ducal couple.

    The public Duchess was the cynosure of a London undergoing an economic and journalistic boom. A vaunted and daring fashion-setter, she was written about, studied, admired, celebrated, lampooned in newspapers hungry for copy, and became a national celebrity. Marie Antoinette was a friend and the Prince of Wales a rumored lover.

    Most fascinating of all, Georgiana had a passion for politicking and her charm, benevolence and intelligence made her a political hostess and unelected politician with unusual power and influence. Foreman makes the story of Georgiana's attachment to the Whig party utterly compelling, and her explanations of Georgian politics are crystal clear.

    Winner of the Whitbread Prize for Biography, Foreman has a novelist's gift for painting a scene; the book is as vivid as "The Madness of King George" and as picturesquely lovely as "Barry Lyndon." Foreman's written a sprawling, hypnotic, beautifully-told and deeply affecting story of power, wealth, politics, sexual license, revolution, love and addiction that's tailor-made for a mini-series. This is an exemplary biography and the perfect summer (or winter) read....more info

  • A.K.A. The "Let's Blame Bess Book!"
    Despite Foreman's excellent style and fascinating subject, I found myself frustrated with "Georgiana" as the story continued.

    Foreman's caricature of Lady Elizabeth Foster as the "villainess" of the story doesn't ring true. Foreman's repeated castigation of Bess to justify Georgiana's lower moments and characteristics reminds me of a mother repeatedly choosing to excuse her favorite child of any wrongdoing because of a "bad friend's unwholesome influence."

    Bess is consistently depicted as a jealous homewrecker anxious to supplant Georgiana and "show her up." Yet Foreman's own facts reveal a level of devotion on Bess's part to the Cavendishes that makes that dificult to believe. Bess didn't seem so interested in supplanting her friend so much as she was in securing some sort of security for herself.

    Foreman seems determined to depict Bess's sole motivation in all her actions as causing harm/embarrassment to G or "showing her up." If she has an alleged love affair with Count Fersen its sole purpose is to humiliate G and her love affair and near-marriage to another man is written off as an attempt to "show up" Georgianna (the man in question was of comparable rank to Devonshire).

    The concept that Bess Foster might have been distinctly uncomfortable with her unorthodox position (a poor divorcee, estranged from her children, living as an undefined "houseguest"--sometimes governess, sometimes friend to G, and sometimes mistress to G's hubby) and seeking other alliances (via a respectable marriage) never seems to enter Foreman's mind.


    A look at Bess's history (repudiated by her husband, abbandoned by her father) explains to any sensible person why Bess may have felt compelled to please William Cavendish and accept his advances. Clearly she'd learned in the school of hard knocks that this was an era where women fared best by pleasing the men in their lives. It says a lot about Georgiana's character that she was not above encouraging this "flirtation" between her younger friend and her husband to secure a more "pleasant" lifestyle for the both of them.

    Who ultimately had the power in this relationship? Who had the political clout? The social standing? Who held all the advantages? It certainly wasn't Lady Bess Foster. If anything HER reputation was compromised by her involvement in the situation. So how can she be the one in charge of everything that was happening?

    It seems throughout the narrative Bess's good intentions are maligned by selfish motives while Georgiana's faults are excused by virtue of her good nature.

    Bess married William a few years after Georgiana's death. So what? How was this a disloyalty to her friend? We're talking about a woman who died twenty years after Georgiana, still wearing a hair bracelet of her late friend's hair.

    It seems Amanda Foreman is a victim of the same class snobbery that colored the era she wrote about.

    Nice try, Ms. Foreman. Next time, let your subject be a grown-up and be responsible for her own choices.

    ...more info
  • Incredibly Dry
    Based on all the glowing reviews, I was expecting a fascinating read. But this book was anything but exciting. I found it really hard to get into the story. About halfway through, I finally gave up and just skimmed the rest of the book. This reads more like a history book than a biography. The author goes into a lot of detail, but she fails to get into Georgiana's head. I'm giving this 3 stars because the author did an incredible amount of research. But it's too bad her writing style is so dull. At the end, I couldn't understand why this book was written or why Georgiana was supposedly such an intriguing person. Hopefully, the movie does a better job of making Georgiana seem like a real person....more info
  • Fascinating story, but reads like a text book
    Georgiana is such an interesting character, that I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in English history, womens' studies or political science. However, I read this book on vacation, and it is anything but "light reading." In trying to document her subject accurately, the author often gets bogged down in historical citation and unimportant details. I am a good skimmer, and that's what you need to be to enjoy this book. Once you commit yourself to reading it, however, you are in for a treat!...more info
  • AMAZING
    Amanda Foreman is a star. She has written a perfect biography of a woman whose story captures the spirit of an age....more info
  • the age of excesses
    I am a novice at historical biographies and this one prooves an amazing read! After the first page the colourful lives of the Duchesses,the Dukes,the Ladies and the Lords became irrisitable.Imagine being a fly on the wall in this extraordinary regency yarn. The book is so well reserched and constructed by the author that it is wholly believable.It is a fascinating insight into the decadence of the ton,the enormously wealthy and titled set with little to do but enjoy themselves by every possible means,sex gambling,drugs and politics are just a few of the diversion.A must read book!...more info
  • Georgiana, the book
    disappointed-- narrative is hard to follow, maybe it's the small print. I was hoping that Georgiana would jump out at me -- but she still seems distant. Well-researched....more info
  • Better than any soap opera!
    This book has everything. Sex, royalty, power, travel, spys, false friends. It's better than Washington D.C.! Georgiana is one of the most interesting people ever to have lived and the fact that so many of her letters survive make this virtually an autobiography. Were it not for the beautifully insightful comments of her biographer, Amanda Foreman, I am sure we would be lost in a swirl of too much information. There are rarely books this interesting, and the fact that it is non-fiction is astonishing. I am reminded of how I felt after reading Les Liaisons Dangereuses: outrage, fascination, envy, awe!...more info
  • Taking on the Boys' Club
    For those of us who love to read, hearing about an exciting movie adaptation makes us want to read the book. We, the few and the proud, will sit on our literary high horses and wait to finish the book even if it means the movie is no longer in theaters. I am one such reader and this is one such book. I saw a preview and was immediately drawn in, but as soon as I realized it was based upon a prize-winning biography, I immediately ordered a copy. I had high expectations, which I am glad to report were not disappointed. Foreman admits to readers in her preface that during her research she became enraptured by Georgiana, which few could deny after a quick skim of her source material - how many letters, diaries, newspapers, and books she must have slogged through over the years to create this entertaining picture of the Duchess of Devonshire.

    In many ways, Georgiana's life was rather tragic, or I suppose as tragic as a life can be when part of the late 18th century aristocracy. Though she was for much of her life the glamorous head of the ton (the social elite) and friends with the fashion-forward Marie Antoinette, she suffered from gambling addiction, marital problems, exile from her family, and ill health. Despite these constant anxieties in her life, Georgiana was well-educated and deeply involved in politics. This book details her active support of the Whig party, including election canvassing, and the extent to which she directed its strategy. A great patron of the arts and sciences, her influence was far-reaching and she was admired as often as she was jealously envied.

    Her story seems to write itself, but that owes more to Foreman's skill as a biographer than to the amount of history left behind. Generations of Spencers (yes, the same family that also brought us Princess Diana) destroyed many of her correspondences or censored parts that could have been embarrassing to them later. While Foreman does take some liberties of omniscience, these are easily forgiven in the grand scheme of the work as a whole - her reliability as a biographer is never endangered. Georgiana truly jumps off the page and gives readers an appreciation of how active 18th century aristocratic women could be both socially and politically. This biography is truly worth your time, though of course I would recommend reading it before seeing the movie . . . which I can now view guilt free....more info
  • Will turn you into a history buff!
    AMAZING read! I have never been interested in History of any sort before and afte reading a bit about her on Wikipedia I couldn't wait to learn more! She is fascinating, flaws and all! This book gave a wonderful outline of the time period, the rulers in charge and the goverment, but loaded with interesting facts and how her life had impacted so much of that time period. It proved to me that times were not too different back then as they are now with sex, drugs, affairs, addictions and celebrity obsession. I couldn't put this book down and after finishing it you'll want to look for book on her fascinating friends and aquaintences as well! It's a must buy even for the uninterested in history, couldn't tell you the dates of the civil war type of person...more info
  • More History This Good And Reading Of Fiction Will Decline
    That this book was The Whitbread Award Winner, and a tremendous success in The Duchess Of Devonshire's own country, is no surprise. However as an avid reader of History I was pleasantly surprised at the book's popularity here.

    This book was published when the Authoress Foreman was 30 years old, and was produced while she was even younger. To me this makes this Biography of Georgiana all the more impressive, as it can, and will stand with historical works by other writers twice her age and more.

    I also believe Ms. Foreman's youth allowed her to bring The Duchess to us as her peer in age, which allowed more objectivity, and a candid portrayal that was brutally honest but never derogatory for it's own sake. That this is the first work of Ms. Foreman's is simply amazing.

    History has great moments, but even the most interesting periods of time, or the life of one extraordinary life can be numbing to read. The Biographies go on forever in tedious detail that leaves the reader exhausted. Ms. Foreman writes what is necessary, she uses the space she needs, and the result is a remarkable amount of information related, in an efficient manner. Not only do we learn about The Duchess, for additionally Ms. Foreman fills her story with all manner of events surrounding the Duchess and Europe at large, to convey even more information.

    The life of The Duchess must be read to be appreciated. This woman filled her relatively short life with more accomplishments, and amassed more influence, that today her life is as enjoyable and impressive to experience as a reader, as it must have been exciting to witness 200 years ago.

    The word Renaissance is used to describe an individual of multiple talents at which they excel. The word has no more appropriate person to attach itself to. The Duchess, was there, did everything, created and set the tenor of society, and did it all to the absolute extreme. She was not perfect, but she was remarkable. Her exploits of 2 centuries ago make those of today's public figures rather pale.

    An excellent read, a remarkable debut, and hopefully the first in a string of work that Ms. Foreman will relate....more info

  • Absolutely Bloody Fantastic
    I would like to congratulate Ms Foreman on a book that I could not put down. I can't wait to see if she writes another book. Please hurry up !...more info
  • An Excellent Biography from the 18th Century
    Amanda Foreman wrote that she became obsessed with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, during the course of her research. Her obsession is understandable; the Duchess was and remains a compelling, dynamic, multi-faceted, tormented woman who was able to ignore convention and engage in "masculine" activities, all in her own style. Ms. Foreman does the Duchess justice by recounting her story in such a captivating manner.

    The caveat is that you find yourself emotionally invested in the Duchess' life and react to her triumphs and tragedies as if they were your own. If nothing else, you take away not only a deep regard for this woman, but also an understanding of the consequences of the choices we make daily. The Duchess of Devonshire inspires me to step through my own fears and risk failure and success....more info