Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

georgiana1Winner of the Whitebread Prize, this biography offers a 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 Whales, 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 charm, 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.

The title of the biography and the jacket blurb would lead one to believe that Foreman’s book is about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. But I think the biography was less about Gerogiana and more about the politics in Georgiana’s time. I realize that Georgiana was very involved in the Whig party, but the book as a whole droned on and on about England’s political scene.

And while I personally find politics fascinating, in this book the Duchess of Devonshire, the most popular person of her day {think Princess Di, who is actually Georgiana’s great-great-great-great-aunt}, who lived during the American revolution, the French revolution and George III, was almost a second thought.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire is a very dense, detailed book and as a whole reads like an incredibly boring textbook you’re forced to read for school. Chapter after chapter after chapter goes into great detail about her addiction to gambling and her attempts to cover her debts, but only gives ten or so pages to Georgiana’s relationship with Charles Grey and the birth of their illegitimate child.

Georgiana is a fascinating person, but this book is just too long and too chalked full of facts. Besides the error of the ages when Bess’ children were returned to her, the fact Bess had two children by the Duke, and a slight disregard for how often Georgiana stood up to her husband, “The Duchess” does a much better job of portraying Georgiana’s life than this book ever will.

Book Mentioned:

  • Foreman, Amanda. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. New York: Modern Library, 2001. Originally published 1998. 512 pgs. ISBN: 0375753834. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Modern Library. Retrieved: January 13, 2009.
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3 thoughts on “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

  1. I’m not sure if you’ve already answered this question somewhere else, but are your ratings out of 5 or 10? 1 seems quite harsh! Maybe the author focused on context because he felt that Georgiana was a woman who was heavily influenced by the politics (etc) of her time?

    I’m still looking forward to reading this book. Does it have glossy pages with photographs inside? 😀

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  2. @ tuesday: My scale is out of five, but I’m glad you asked. I’m working on a post or page {haven’t decided yet} that explains my ratings more. I try to look at each book individually, and I really, really could not get into this on.

    Her explanation of how Georgiana influenced the politics of her time was not as in depth as her explanation of the political scene. It was never explained how other than to dismiss the rumors that she slept with/kissed men for their votes/support of her pet project.

    And yes, it does have glossy pages with photographs inside.

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