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The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of a Legendary Victorian Hardcover – March 20, 2001

2.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Disastrous is precisely the right adjective to apply to Georgina Weldon (1837-1914), who caused trouble for everyone her path crossed, but most especially for herself. Yet the catalog of calamities that constitutes this eccentric Englishwoman's life is vastly entertaining to read, thanks to Brian Thompson's smooth prose and keen sense of the absurd. You can't help but laugh at poor Georgina, so sublimely self-absorbed and so pathetically inept at getting what she wants. There's something magnificent about the whirlwind way she pursues crackpot ventures, from establishing a "singing academy" (no one came to the concerts) to running a chaotic orphanage whose charges ran wild in her London home. Her behavior was so outrageous that she narrowly escaped being committed to an asylum by her infuriated husband. Indeed, Weldon's one claim to historical fame comes from her pioneering use of the 1882 Married Women's Property Act to sue the doctors who tried to put her away; the resulting court cases made public the arbitrary, often vindictive nature of England's lunacy laws. But Thompson, a novelist and scriptwriter who turned to biography after reading Weldon's over-the-top memoirs, is less interested in her lawsuits than in her turbulent affair with French composer Charles Gounod, her tangled relations with a pair of French con artists, and her overall inability to lead anything resembling a normal life. No need to feel guilty about enjoying her tale of woe, since Georgina seems never to have doubted herself and always to have blamed other people. It's all great fun, and it really ought to be made into an opera. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

Born on Princess Victoria's birthday in 1837, Georgina Treherne Weldon lived her life with the conviction that she was destined to be one of the great figures of the age; she did, in fact, achieve a kind of celebrity, although not for the reasons she had initially imagined. Instead, she eloped with a near-penniless army officer and found herself alienated from her family for the rest of her life. From that point on, her story is so fantastically melodramatic that it might have been penned by one of the sensationalist novelists so popular among her Victorian contemporaries. Described as having a kind of maniacal energy, and fueled by delusions of grandeur, she more or less shoved her husband into a prominent career, parlayed her pleasant singing voice into a position as a minor musical celebrity, befriended and was widely believed to be having an affair with the famous French composer Gounod, turned her home into an orphanage and singing school, ran off to France with a female lover, was sued for libel and imprisoned at Newgate, barely escaped being locked up as a lunatic by her husband and finally retired to a nunnery to write her memoirs. What earned her the most fame were her more than 100 lawsuits, in which, by going after her detractors with a kind of monomaniacal vengeance, she brought to light a number of the inequities in British law, particularly as it pertained to married women and lunatics. Replete with endless psychodramas, hers is indeed a fascinating story, and although novelist Thompson's telling of it is perhaps more muted in tone than it deserves, his portrait of Weldon is both well-rounded and evenhanded. (Apr.)Forecast: Georgina Weldon's entertaining story is innately appealing and, with its graceful handling by Thompson, should receive good reviews and healthy sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (March 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385500904
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385500906
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,442,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Brian Thompson reveals in _The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon: The Life, Loves, and Lawsuits of a Legendary Victorian_ (Doubleday) that Mrs. Weldon had an amazing life. She was falsely accused of lunacy by her family, fought the lunacy laws (and changed them for the public good), defended her married rights, ran an orphanage and several choirs, served as her own defense barrister in a score of cases, spent time in jail, and each time was released to the cheers of a rapturous crowd. At her last release, "her followers unshipped the horses from their shafts and dragged her carriage to Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, from where she addressed a crowd estimated at 17,000."
What makes this book so much fun is that Mrs. Weldon was a nut. She may not have been a lunatic, but she was far from normal. She didn't marry as her family directed, but estranged them by taking up with an army Lieutenant who eventually became a minor member of Victoria's court. She was a soprano of some untrained talent, and thought she could sing and manage a choir of orphans in order to get back into society. She lured the French composer Gounod away from his family to live in the orphanage with her; she was a tease, but wasn't much interested in sex, and he may just have been overpowered by her domineering personality. Her singing career was shaky and the orphanage was complete chaos.
Her husband eventually would put up with Mrs. Weldon's foolishness no longer, but was unsuccessful in getting a writ of divorce. The climax of Mrs. Weldon's life was when Harry colluded with her family to have her committed to an insane asylum. The "mad-doctors" came one day in the guise of being interested in the orphanage, and asked Mrs. Weldon about her beliefs in spiritualism and phrenology. She barricaded herself in and escaped.
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Format: Hardcover
I suspect that The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon was written at least in part to take advantage of the audience which enjoyed Amanda Foreman's Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire. On the surface the two women are quite similar (besides having nearly identical names.) Both were headstrong, passionate women who were ultimately self-destructive. The difference is that Georgiana Spencer Cavendish at least had a smattering of social conscience, enough to get involved in politics to help her Whig friends. Georgina Weldon, on the other hand, rarely seems able to look beyond her own immediate need for gratification. The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon is amusing and addictive (you'll be sorry when the book ends) and does point out that not all Victorians were rigid moralists, but ultimately it can't rise above the fact that its protagonist was shallow.
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Format: Hardcover
This book provides plenty of evidence that the Victorians did occasionally have fun while putting on a moral face for the world at large. The author uncovered an enormously long memoir by Mrs. Weldon in 1996, and decided to write a biography about her. He certainly seems to have discovered one of the most colorful Victorians I have ever read about. When she was not luring older men to fall in love with her, not singing in public, not running her orphanage unsuccessfully, not failing as an impresario, not making a mess of her marriage, and not suing everyone in sight (and serving as her own barrister), she was making up fanciful stories about all and sundry and being cheated by anyone who could get near her. Other than that, she had a pretty normal life. Mr. Thompson does a fine job of using her memoirs, adding context from the writings of contemporaries, and providing historical references to put her escapades in perspective. Mrs. Weldon in her day was more outrageous than most people see Madonna today.
Mrs. Weldon (and her father) had problems separating fantasy from reality. He ended up in an insane asylum. She almost did, as her husband was trying to bring her under control. Her manic energy drew men like moths to the light, and some she clearly captivated. One of the most interesting parts of the book covers the three years when Charles Gounod, the French composer, lived with the Weldons a house once owned by Charles Dickens in London. These were remarkably productive years for Gounod, although he escaped from her with difficulty and with complications Her ministrations would have put a lesser man into the hospital.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I fail to see how a book about a sexy, sultry woman who abandons heterosexual relations for a Lesbian lifestyle could be as boring as this book was in the sex category. Let's face it, sex is a juicy subject and this books turns sex into some that you would lay out on a stainless steel table and talk about pathologically at a medical conference.

Mrs. Weldon was an outspoke representative of the "insane", insane assylum system in England during Queen Victoria. She is portrayed as a sort of anti-Queen Elizabeth type in the book. But again, there are so many juicy subject brought up in the book but they were never fully developed.

In the end, the book ended up being dry and factual. It reminded me of writing a research paper on a famous person rather than a character biography that filled the pages with a real sense of who Mrs. Weldon was and what made her tick.
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