Tuesday, February 9, 2010

35. Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman (385 pages)

Shockingly, this is, in fact, a biography of the Duchess of Devonshire. And although I haven't seen it yet, I'm guessing its not quite like the version with Keira Knightley.

So Georgiana (great-great-great-something-or-other to Princess Diana) had some issues. An overbearing mother, social pressures, a gambling problem, an intermittant drug problem, and being married to Voldemort. (COME ON! How can I not make a Duke of Devonshire=Ralph Fiennes=Voldemort joke? Or did I just out myself as three different kinds of nerd?) Her life was very much like a soap opera: she married an incredibily rich, powerful man under pressure from her family. Although she became the toast of the town and the leader of fashion, she and the duke were never tight. So she got involved in politics and made some good friends. Then the duke got to know her friends too. And they moved in. Hints of homosexuality? All over the place. Menage a trois? Check. Illegitimate children? Like four of them. At least. (you know, between the Duke, the Duchess, and their live-in "friend" Bess). There was spousal abuse, flights to Europe, crazy politics, dramatic deaths, revenge, excessive gambling debts etc etc.

Despite all this, however, the Duke and Duchess choose to stay together rather than get divorced. In the end they seem to have been closer than ever- which doesn't seem very dramatic at all. It wasn't all anachronistically girl-power, 'I'm going to leave the jerk', and, for lack of a better word, I enjoyed the realism of it.

I also enjoyed the straight historical nature of the book. Foreman illustrates how Georgiana was a strong and powerful woman in her own right, but she would never have considered herself a feminist. It wouldn't have occurred to her, and it was nice to hear that straight up without pretending she was another Mary Wollstonecraft.

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