Lady Hester Stanhope

Recently, I read THE DREAM HUNTER by Laura Kinsale. I won’t say too much because this is not a review site, but I would say this book is “average” Laura Kinsale. Which basically means I gobbled it up. 🙂

Although the story is set in the 1830’s, there’s a Regency connection. The heroine is the fictional daughter of the real Lady Hester Stanhope and her young lover, Michael Bruce. Years ago I read a bio of Lady Hester by Joan Haslip. She was the daughter of the eccentric Earl Stanhope, niece to William Pitt and for a time his political hostess at 10 Downing Street, who shocked society with her arrogance and disregard for convention. After Pitt’s death, she “roamed the Near East, met Byron in Athens, lived with her lover in a villa in Turkey, was shipwrecked off Rhodes, and eventually settled in a ramshackle ‘palace’ in the Lebanon. Here she lived on for twenty-five years, ill, lonely and in debt, but still intriguing in the violent and complex politics of that country and famed as prophetess and ‘Queen of the Arabs’.”

There is no conclusive evidence Lady Hester ever had a child but according to the Historical Note in THE DREAM HUNTER, there are holes in the record that indicate it was possible. Kinsale goes on to recommend some of her sources including the brief bio of Lady Hester in PASSIONATE PILGRIMS by James C. Simmons and THE NUN OF LEBANON, a collection of letters. (Of course now I want to read them both.)

The use of Lady Hester Stanhope in THE DREAM HUNTER isn’t just a bit of interesting history, though. The impact of being raised in the Middle East and by such a brilliant and fascinating but obsessed woman shapes the heroine’s character and the story conflict. I love when authors play this sort of “what if”, including persons and events from recorded history and then embroidering in the gray areas.

How about you? Do you have any favorite books that played with history this way? Have you read any of the sources Kinsale mentions, or do you have any favorite bios of Lady Hester Stanhope?


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Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
14 years ago

Hi Elena, I wrote about Lady Hester Stanhope awhile ago on Scandalous Women, there’s a new book out about her that just came out in the UK by Kirsten Ellis, and the book that I read Lady Hester by Lorna Gibb is also particularly good. I have an extra copy if you want to read it.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Thanks, Elizabeth! I just read your post–a good summary of a what was a fascinating life. For anyone who’s interested here’s the link.

Both the books you mention are available locally. I can always count on Riskies and friends to add to my TBR list! 🙂

14 years ago

The first one to pop in my mind with playing with history is one of Celeste Bradley’s books, should be one of the Spy ones, where the Prince Regent was around in a fairly significant manor. . . precisely what, I don’t remember because it’s just been a long time. LOL But I rather liked him around, even though I figure it probably wouldn’t have happened, but it was done in a fun way so I sure didn’t mind at all.

Hmm, just thinking about it, and maybe you actually mean more like this — I finished last week Final Theory, a book sort of like the DaVinci code with Einstein’s final theory. Can’t really talk about the history angle because it’s part of the whole story (spoilers and all), but he used the idea of Einstein’s illegitimate first born child, the daughter that seemed to disappear from history after a certain point. That was pretty cool. 🙂


Elena Greene
14 years ago

Hi, Lois! I haven’t read the Celeste Bradley books, so I don’t know how big a role Prinny got. Authors sometimes have real characters play some sort of role (I gave Prinny a cameo in SAVING LORD VERWOOD) but it usually isn’t something that would be worth a mention in a history book were it suddenly discovered as fact. You second example (which sounds very cool!) sounds more like what I’m thinking of.

Cara King
14 years ago

I think my favorite playing-with-history example is the movie Shakespeare in Love — because there’s no extant proof that the first draft of the romantic tragedy was NOT called Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter.

Huh? What do you mean, that wasn’t what you meant? 🙂


Elena Greene
14 years ago

LOL, Cara!

Though I didn’t mean this to be a game of Guess What Elena Meant! On a day like today, I’m not sure what I mean. The good news is my youngest does not have chicken pox.

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