I already knew a little about Georgiana before reading the book. I knew that she was active in Whig politics, married young, amassed enormous gambling debts and lived in a ménage à trois with the Duke and her friend (and possibly lover) Lady Elizabeth Foster for over twenty years. I also knew, through my research on the history of childbirth, that she was an affectionate mother and breastfed her first child, a girl, for over a year despite family pressure and “their impatience for a son and their fancying I shan’t so soon if I suckle.” I was intrigued by all these things and not judgmental (it’s not surprising that a girl married at 17 to a man with little affection for her should run into trouble) but until I read the bio, I didn’t get a clear sense of how all these aspects of Georgiana merged into a complex and fascinating woman. I’m not going to go on and on about it, since many of you have probably already read the book. For any who haven’t, I highly recommend it.
One thing that struck me while reading is how much the raciness of the Georgian period echoed through the Regency and has influenced characters in Regency fiction, especially older heroes/heroines or the parents of younger ones. The mother of the hero of Georgette Heyer’s False Colours is much like Georgiana, married young to a man who did not appreciate her, unable to control her gambling. In Heyer’s Sylvester, the hero’s mother, a duchess, is crippled like Georgiana’s sister, Lady Bessborough and like Georgiana, writes poetry. There’s also a thread of Georgian looseness (liberal politics, playing with gender roles) in modern Regency set romances like those of fellow Risky Janet and Risky friend Pam Rosenthal. I like it. A lot.
The book is also making me more interested in the upcoming film starring Keira Knightley, which is said to be adapted from the book. Of course I have some qualms as to how far it will be adapted. Georgiana’s life was so interesting it shouldn’t need the Hollywood treatment. As for Keira Knightley, I like her as an actress but I’m not sure about her in this role. But we’ll see and I’m sure we will talk about it!
Another thing I really want to do now is read some of the published letters of her daughter Harriet (“Hary-O”), who seems to have been a clever and interesting woman and even rather sane considering the milieu to which she was born.
If you read Georgiana, what did you think? What are your favorite period bios? Are you looking forward to this film?