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The Duchess Paperback – August 19, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 225 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Georgiana Spencer was, in a sense, an 18th-century It Girl. She came from one of England's richest and most landed families (the late Princess Diana was a Spencer too) and married into another. She was beautiful, sensitive, and extravagant--drugs, drink, high-profile love affairs, and even gambling counted among her favorite leisure-time activities. Nonetheless, she quickly moved from a world dominated by social parties to one focused on political parties. The duchess was an intimate of ministers and princes, and she canvassed assiduously for the Whig cause, most famously in the Westminster election of 1784. By turns she was caricatured and fawned on by the press, and she provided the inspiration for the character of Lady Teazle in Richard Sheridan's famous play The School for Scandal. But her weaknesses marked the last part of her life. By 1784, for one, Georgiana owed "many, many, many thousands," and her creditors dogged her until her death.

Biographer Amanda Foreman describes astutely the mess that surrounded the personal relationships of the aristocratic subculture (Georgiana and the duke engaged for many years in a ménage à trois with Lady Elizabeth Fraser, who inveigled her way into the duke's bed and the duchess's heart). Foreman is, by her own admission, a little in love with her subject, which can lead to occasional lapses of perspective, but generally it adds zest to a narrative built on, rather than burdened by, scholarship, that is at once accessible and learned. An impressive debut, in every sense. --David Vincent, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

HShe was the most prominent British woman of her day. Whatever she wore became instantly fashionable, and her parties were the ones to attend. Royals, aristocrats and politicians sought her opinion, for she was as influential as she was beautiful. Princess Diana? No, her great-great-great-great-aunt, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806). A bestseller in the U.K. and the winner of the 1999 Whitbread Prize for Best Biography, Foreman's debut is captivating not just because of Georgiana--whose insecurity, demented love life and gambling addiction made her personal life even more dismal than Diana's--but also because Foreman's portrayal of high society in late-18th-century Britain and France is so remarkably vivid. Foreman gives readers the aristocracy fighting for control over Parliament, King George slowly losing his mind, his love-struck son ill-prepared to take the throne, and more bed-hopping than on a TV soap opera. Georgiana, who bore an out-of-wedlock child with politician Charles Grey, knew that her best friend was her husband's mistress, but that was the least of her problems. Prone to drinking, drug-taking and eating disorders, she also racked up gambling debts equal to $6 million in today's dollars. Foreman's combination of exhaustive research and storytelling skill make Georgiana's story at once lurid, sensational and touching. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812979699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812979695
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (225 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I bought this book because it had such a glowing review in the New Yorker, but frankly I was a little dubious about its obscure subject. However, once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. Think money, sex, adultery, lesbianism, aristocracy, drug addiction, gambling, politics, scandals, betrayals, blackmail, fashion, theater, and the French Revolution, and you have just some of the potent elements in this book. Foreman writes with great clarity and verve. The book reads more like a novel than a work of history. And yet it is full of fascinating insights and historical information. Georgiana seems more like a modern woman with thoroughly modern neuroses than an eighteenth-century character. I couldn't help but root for her all the way along. The evil Bess, on the other hand, is a character straight from the movie Single White Female - a classic evil best friend who cannot completely disguise her intentions. I recommend this book to all readers.
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By A Customer on January 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Georgianna deserves to find an American audience as proportionately big as its British audience. Georgiana was a smash over there in England, a country fond of behind-the-scenes stories of aristocratic ladies in the past. (And in the present, too: much has been made of the connections between the Duchess of Devonshire and her descendent, Diana, Princess of Wales.) Yet Amanda Foreman's Georgiana is much more than one of those ersatz popular biographies full of pillow talk and emotions that result more from the biographer's imagination than real research. The book is written in an unpretentious, straightforward style that values clarity above everything. You don't have to be a Masterpiece-Theater-watching anglophile to appreciate its glamour, wit, and intrigue, and you don't have to be a professional historian to grasp its many provocative implications about history and the birth of mass political campaigning. Amanda Foreman must thank heaven every day that such a brilliant subject came her way, and she serves it well. Still, it would be hard to write an uninteresting book about the Duchess of Devonshire. She is a wonderfully paradoxical figure whose meaning seductively eludes the reader's grasp: was she a dilettante or a genuine, energetic talent frustrated by the sexism of her time? Was she merely acting out of the privilege of her class (really, she was above class) or was she genuinely driven ? The ladies of Stella Tillyard's Aristocrats come across as pampered pawns who infrequently lucked into a little free will. Foreman's Georgiana, in contrast, proves that at least one late-18th-century Englishwoman was capable of acting upon her will-even if she made more than one life-altering whopper of a bad decision.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
That this book was The Whitbread Award Winner, and a tremendous success in The Duchess Of Devonshire's own country, is no surprise. However as an avid reader of History I was pleasantly surprised at the book's popularity here.
This book was published when the Authoress Foreman was 30 years old, and was produced while she was even younger. To me this makes this Biography of Georgiana all the more impressive, as it can, and will stand with historical works by other writers twice her age and more.
I also believe Ms. Foreman's youth allowed her to bring The Duchess to us as her peer in age, which allowed more objectivity, and a candid portrayal that was brutally honest but never derogatory for it's own sake. That this is the first work of Ms. Foreman's is simply amazing.
History has great moments, but even the most interesting periods of time, or the life of one extraordinary life can be numbing to read. The Biographies go on forever in tedious detail that leaves the reader exhausted. Ms. Foreman writes what is necessary, she uses the space she needs, and the result is a remarkable amount of information related, in an efficient manner. Not only do we learn about The Duchess, for additionally Ms. Foreman fills her story with all manner of events surrounding the Duchess and Europe at large, to convey even more information.
The life of The Duchess must be read to be appreciated. This woman filled her relatively short life with more accomplishments, and amassed more influence, that today her life is as enjoyable and impressive to experience as a reader, as it must have been exciting to witness 200 years ago.
The word Renaissance is used to describe an individual of multiple talents at which they excel.
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Format: Hardcover
The only bad thing about this book is that it's inevitably going to end. If you love superbly written and beautifully researched biographies and have ANY interest whatsoever in history, you'll want to add this one to your library. The author, Amanda Foreman, is a former freelance journalist, which probably goes very far in explaining why the story is so incredibly absorbing. It reads like a novel. Typically, I actually knit while I read. With this book, I finally put my knitting aside because it was slowing down my reading! I admit to minoring in history in college, with a focus on British history, but I've learned all kinds of information that I never fully understood before. (The author also has a PhD from Oxford.) The only other biography I've read that comes close to this one was also written by another Amanda ... Amanda Vaill's Everybody was So Young. If you appreciated that one, you'll probably love reading about Amanda Foreman's Georgiana.
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