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Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson Paperback – March 14, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


“A remarkable woman and an exceptional biography.”
–Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

“Utterly absorbing, Paula Byrne’s intensely researched Perdita aims to restore a measure of fame to a woman who, though a product of her time, seems our near-contemporary in her understanding of the workings of celebrity.”

“A fascinating, page-turning, and probably definitive biography of this intriguing woman.”
–Emma Donoghue, author of Life Mask and Slammerkin

“A fine biographer has conjured up a dazzling personality and brought her, laughing, back to life.”
–Miranda Seymour, The Sunday Times (London)

“A work of genuine scholarship . . . a masterly portrait of a remarkable woman.”
–Sunday Telegraph (London)

About the Author

PAULA BYRNE has a Ph.D. from the University of Liverpool, where she is a research fellow in English literature. A regular contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, she lives in Warwickshire with her two young children and her husband, the critic and biographer Jonathan Bate. Perdita is her first book to be published in the U.S.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (March 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812970799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970791
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,632,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paula was born in Birkenhead in 1967, the third daughter in a large working-class Catholic family. She studied English and Theology at the college that is now Chichester University and then taught English and Drama at Wirral Grammar School for Boys and Wirral Metropolitan College. She then completed her MA and PhD in English Literature at the University of Liverpool. She is now a full-time writer, living with her husband, the Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate, and their three young children (Tom, Ellie and Harry) in an old farmhouse in a South Warwickshire village near Stratford-upon-Avon.

Paula is represented by The Wylie Agency. She is an Executive Trustee of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Warwick.

Paula is the author of the top ten bestseller Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson (HarperCollins UK, Random House USA). A selection for the 2005 Richard and Judy Book Club and a British Book Awards 'Best Read' nomination, Perdita was also long-listed for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize. It tells the extraordinary story of the eighteenth-century actress, poet, novelist, feminist, celebrity and royal mistress Mary 'Perdita' Robinson (1757-1800).

Paula's first book, shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize, was Jane Austen and the Theatre, published in 2002 and reissued in paperback in 2007 by Hambledon Continuum. Paul Johnson of The Spectator chose it as his best-ever book on Jane Austen and the Times Literary Supplement described as a 'definitive and pioneering study of a wholly neglected aspect of Austen's art.' She has also edited a Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Jane Austen's Emma.

Paula has published essays on a wide range of women authors, reviews for the Sunday Telegraph and the TLS, and in her new book tells the story of Evelyn Waugh's friendship with the extraordinary aristocratic family who inspired Brideshead Revisited. Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead is published worldwide by HarperCollins, with the UK edition out in August 2009 and the USA edition forthcoming in early March 2010.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Holland on April 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
I'll confess I would never have looked at this book if it hadn't been for the fact that I decided to read the 10 nominations for Richard and Judy's Best Read 2005.This book has been the biggest surprise of the lot,because, to be honest, I was not really looking forward to it.

How wrong could I be ? This is a dazzling story of a fascinating woman. I am afraid to say the other biography in the Richard and Judy list,"Feel" by Chris Heath, which is all about pop singer Robbie Williams, comes off a very poor second when compared to this volume. Sadly of course there's no doubt which book will sell more.I wish all Robbie Williams fans, or indeed the fans of any of the over-hyped celebrities of today, would read this book and find out that maybe their hero's or heroine's exploits are not so special after all when compared to what the subject of this biography got up to.

Mary Robinson, whose nickname was Perdita, was married at 15 and her marriage was something of a disaster and included spending some time in prison with her husband. She then made herself into one of London's most celebrated actresses and was a friend of the outstanding theatrical figures of the day.She became a leading figure in the glamorous high society of the city, reputedly being the most beautiful woman in Britain.She voluntarily gave up her theatrical career to become the mistress of the Prince of Wales, thus heightening her celebrity even further. Reading about this time of her life it appears that she was just as famous or infamous as any contemporary celebrity.Maybe more so.There are many obvious similarities.

In the second half of the book the plot changes almost completely as Mary, after being ditched by her royal lover, re-invents herself as a writer.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A. Woodley on July 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For those who enjoy the Regency period and life of George IV, this is one of the most perfect books to introduce you into the life of the period. It was a brief, intense and fascinating life which pushed the established mores to their limits.

The Prince of Wales (lat to be George IV) became enamoured of Mary Robinson in her portrayal of Peridita in Shakespeare's, A Winter's Tale. She was a young actress, escaped from a bad marriage and strange father. She took to the stage for some income (as many women of the period did instead of taking up prostitution as such)

The Prince of Wales became known as Florizel to Robinson's Perdita and she was his first 'major' mistress. Their lives intertwined for a brief period in his early adulthood - the beginning of what is known as the 'extended regency'. Robinson was then mistress to many of the influential peers of the time, and was even friends with Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire;

At a time when Georgian morals were of questionable value (everything in private, nothing in public)- when profligacy, spending, appearance and general splendour were the order of the day - Mary Robinson orbited on at the perimetre of acceptability. An actress, an abadoned wife, a mistress, and more.

I found this book overlong, but worth the effort to read. It is one of a series of books about women on the edge of society in this period, and has been great to build up a picture of life and living in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The author has gone to enormous efforts to track down information on Robinson, and it has paid off. There seems to be a good depth of research to back up the work. Overall a good read and well worth making the effort
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had looked forward to reading this, after having studied all about Banastre Tarleton, the British Dragoon of such ill-fame. But this book is not nearly the good fun read of the best of the Tarleton bios. I was quite disappointed that the author spent some wasted times panning the excellent bio of Tarleton. Her own book seemed rather boring, and how to make that exciting life of La Peridita boring must have taken some effort. Still, it is a good enough bio for anyone trying to understand that period, and the way women were badly treated.
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By S M Senden on October 7, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I got this as part of the research I was doing on the era. It was well put together, and full of information of the people, the times and the issues of the day!
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