Welcome to the eighteenth century

If you like costume drama, “The Duchess”, with Keira Knightley as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, bids fair to be suitably sumptuous. (At least if the plot gets dull, you can admire the costumes and the art direction). I’m hoping that “The Duchess” may kick off a publishing frenzy for eighteenth-century biography, diaries and letters.

Amanda Foreman’s bookGeorgiana: Duchess of Devonshire gives a full account of her life, in particular her relationship with her interfering, dominating mother, her problems with gambling, and her involvement in the Golden Age of Whig politics.

Elizabeth and  Georgiana
Elizabeth and Georgiana

Caroline Chapman’s Elizabeth and Georgiana: the Duke of Devonshire and his two Duchesses explores the Devonshire menage-a-trois in more detail. An aristocratic affair : the life of Georgiana’s sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough by Janet Gleeson looks at the life of Georgiana’s only-slightly-less scurrillous sister Harriet, her affairs and her children. Harriet was the mother of Lady Caroline Lamb, and quarrelled with Byron over his pursuit of her daughter.  Some observers of the time believed that Byron was really in love with Harriet herself, and used Caroline to get closer to her mother.

If you get hooked on eighteenth-century biography, also try Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard,  Jane Dunn’s Read my heart and Flora Fraser’s Princesses: the six daughters of George III

Unfortunately, the books don’t have the fabulous dresses on display that the movies have. You’ll just have to imagine them.

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