Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 19. A book that has an alternate title (ie. The Duchess)

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 7. A non-fiction bestseller, 10. A book based on a real person, 24. Addresses a specific topic, 25. A wealthy character, 33. A bilingual character, 40. A book with photographs inside, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover, 46. A job title in the title

This book is just rich with possible prompts!! Ultimately I’m going with the alternate title because I think that’ll be a hard one for me to fill. Like I’m sure many did, I picked up Georgiana because years ago, I saw the movie The Duchess and absolutely fell in love with her.

This traditional biography tells the story of Georgiana Spencer, who becomes the Duchess of Devonshire after her marriage to the Duke at the mere age of seventeen. Despite many setbacks and a life filled with tragedy and problems, the Duchess becomes one of the most influential figures of her time, launching herself into the political world and becoming a statement of the era (makes much more sense knowing she is of relation to the late Princess Diana!). Wrought by a loveless marriage, a life of gambling, miscarriages and the pressure to produce an heir, Georgiana was still much loved and gave love freely to those who surrounded her, captivating eighteenth century society and landing her name in the press on the daily. Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire paints a near complete picture of her personal and political life through letters, news articles, and more.

When I first watched The Duchess, I spent much of the latter half of the movie inconsolably in tears. Georgiana is painted to have lived this horribly depressing life, she loses much of what she loves and spends much of her time anxious. It was one of the few movies that I immediately restarted and watched a second time as soon as the credits rolled. I couldn’t help myself: both in literature and on film, Georgiana is a captivating figure.

I think what I learned through reading this, however, is that the movie took quite a few liberties to assume certain parts of her life that we cannot confirm nor deny (though I will have to rewatch!). Instead, as I read the book, I felt like her story is a sad and grating one at times, but she found true happiness and purpose in eighteenth century life and politics, and she should be remembered more for her contributions than her tragedies.

I was in awe of the drama of the book. Affairs, debts, exile, scandal… the story of British aristocracy and the rise and fall of the Whig party has it all. But Georgiana dominates this tale. Whereas she starts behind the scenes politically, she’s soon at the forefront and as Foreman explains, made real political change during her time. She was a primary “influencer” of her day. Even still, I found the hypocrisy of her situation hard to swallow at times. Obviously I think her character superior than that of those around her, but she wasn’t without faults…her continuous line of gambling debts chief among them. But while they constantly gave Georgiana trouble for this, her husband, her sister, and her mother had the same problems. And SHE took on those debts for them, at times, but was herself ridiculed for the amounts she owed. Similarly, after she bears an illegitimate child, the Duke casts her out for two years and does not allow her to see her own children – but he himself had multiple illegitimate children, including his eldest, and no one batted an eye. Stuff like that really bugged me, but it makes the story all the more intriguing.

And for that part, the biography element, I have few complaints. I was amazed by the sources of Foreman’s information, the depth of her knowledge and research, and the incredible picture she’s able to paint of such an interesting figure in history. As biographies go, this is a very good one. Additionally, I felt that the political aspect of things was very well done – Foreman clearly outlines how the British system worked and how Georgiana asserted influence over it in her own way, which I thought wildly interesting to read about.

My two biggest complaints, and the reasons it gets three stars from me, is the way it sometimes drones in its narrative, as well as the confusing aspect of time. While most of the information is important, I sometimes found it hard to follow because of the way it’s presented. It comes off droning when the story branches off, but eventually comes to a point I may have been more apt to pay attention to if given proper reason from the start. Additionally, I found time did not move quite as linearly as I thought; seasons would come and go but we would be covering the same year, or now we are moving backward to a different period to reflect on previous events that are only important now…I’m not a person who frequently reads biographies, so it may just be me, but I did find this extremely difficult to follow at times. When I began a new chapter and it recounted the year, I could’ve been sure I’d already read about such a time. But anyways.

I plan now to rewatch The Duchess which I so loved to begin with, to see how to the two compare! I consider the book the utmost authority on her character, of course, but I’m curious if watching it will bring back my feelings of pain for Georgiana rather than of her triumph. I don’t know how to feel about that…she’s so enthralling as a figure because of her political prowess; I’d hate to see the film reduce her to one who only experienced such trials and tragedy.

Have a wonderful week, my friends!