Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

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A good, very thorough biography of a fascinating woman – Foreman is lucky to have had access to hundreds of letters written by Georgiana and her colleagues, so we get to see the historical figures telling their stories in their own words (something I’m not used to, being more fond of Tudor-era history). Also interesting was how many of Georgiana’s letters don’t survive, and why. She had some Victorian descendants who, due to being Victorian, took it upon themselves to clean up their ancestor’s image by censoring or even destroying any letters that openly discussed Georgiana’s numerous affairs. Thanks a lot, prudes.

This is a well-written history, but it failed to really capture my attention. First, because Georgiana herself was a really depressing person, constantly drowning in gambling debts and suffering from a serious lack of affection from everyone in her life – no wonder she devoted herself so whole-heartedly to politics, and latched on furiously to anyone who showed her even the smallest amount of affection.

The politics are the other issue – in a nutshell, they are boring as fuck. It’s just “so and so was Prime Minister, but Georgiana supported so-and-so, and have I explained Whig politics yet? Well strap yourselves in, because it is a thrill ride!” Trust me, it isn’t. Normally I’m okay with political backstory, but in this case it isn’t backstory, it’s the entire book. In my history books, I like the scandal/politics to be about 60/40. Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire is 75% politics and only 25% scandal, which I found disappointing. Also, the politics are described in a way that just puts me to sleep, as seen here:

“Then, in March 1803, Addington made a formal offer to Pitt to join a new government in which both men would become Secretaries of State under the nominal premiership of the Earl of Chatham. Pitt refused. Addington made him another offer in April, which included places for Lord Grenville and Georgiana’s brother. This time it was the cabinet, unaware of the negotiations, which vetoed the idea.”

That’s about as exciting as the politics get here – so if that sounds like a good time to you, go right ahead.

Verdict: three out of five stars

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