What better material can you start with than the most well-known menage a trois in English history – involving one of the wealthiest men of his age, and Duke at that, his wife the most popular and influential woman of her age, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire – and their best friend?
With a story like this Amanda Foreman would have been hard pressed to fail in a book on Georgiana, 5th Duchess of Devonshire. But Foreman doesn’t falter in the tale though, and neither does she pore with salacious enjoyment over the detail. She does a great job in presenting the Duchess throughout her life and in all her colours and shades; as a young girl, rejected wife, desperate gambler, impetuous campaigner, caring mother and always- good friend.
Georgiana was born in 1757 and died in 1806 so this book is set against the excesses and massive changes of the latter half of the eighteenth century. The rise of the industrial revolution, the rise in England’s population – and most espeically the rise in the population of England’s few cities. This was also the age of enoblement with the King raising many men to new peerages in order to stack the Government in his favour. Change was rife, fashion extreme and politics were a game that many noble women could play – Georgiana led them all.
I like the way Foreman is sparing in her conclusions but presents the detail for us to interpret. We get to see all sides of Georgiana and her life. This is truly a book about a woman and the influence she had on her era.
There have been a number of books on her over the years, the publication of her letters to Lady Elizabeth Foster. In the last 30 years Both Arthur Calder-Marshall and Brian Masters have written good biographies of the Duchess of Devonshire also. If you are looking for further reading on Georgiana, I think Brian Masters book is excellent and still in print.
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Modern Library; (January 16, 2001)
Adam Worth, the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional evil mastermind Moriaty, makes a meaty subject for a book under any circumstances. From manager of gaming Hells and forger to diamond and art thief – his criminal career is breath-takingly audacious.
But that isn’t where it ends, the story of Adam Worth includes a mystery of a famously stolen portrait, a determined Pinkerton detective and a tale which takes you across four continents.
Ben McIntyre keeps us in full charge of the facts of the life of Worth, and researching it must have been a trial in itself, for as he acknowledges at the beginning of the book, Worth was notoriously cagey about his life leaving few records apart from some coded letters.
The thing that drew me, originally to this book was the story of the portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire. This picture was made for adventure 100 years before Worth stole it. Painted by Gainsborough sometime in 1787 it disappeared shortly afterwards, for reasons unknown, and turned up, a little the worse for wear, over the fireside of some dear old biddy in 1830. Back in the mainstream again it turned up for action in the 1870’s bringing in the highest price for a portrait to that date. It was then that Worth saw it, and determined to steal it. And it was here that their two fates, that of the portrait, and that of Adam Worth become inextricably linked.
For the next 25 years as Worth travelled the world pursuing his various illegal schemes, the portrait travelled with him. A remarkably audacious act in itself – but then Worth was an audacious and confident man.
I never felt overwhelmed by the psychological analysis of Worth in this book. In fact I found Macintyre’s style easy to read, and his ability to blend the many disparate facts and vast array of colourful characters that peppered Worth’s life, excellent.
This is great story and a great book.
Paperback: 384 pages ; Dimensions
Publisher: Delta; (July 6, 1998)
Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.