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.
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