Kirkus Reviews QR Code
GEORGIANA by Amanda Foreman


Duchess of Devonshire

by Amanda Foreman

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-50294-7
Publisher: Random House

An accomplished biography of one of the most important women of 18th- century Britain. Journalist Foreman, whose work is based on her doctoral research at Oxford, has written a lively account of the life and times of Georgiana Cavendish that is also a social history of the British aristocracy in the late 1700s. Born in 1757, Georgiana Spencer married William Cavendish, fifth Duke of Devonshire, a leading Whig aristocrat who never sought nor held high public office. What the taciturn duke lacked in political drive was more than made up for by his ambitious wife. The duchess made their London home, Devonshire House, the center of Whig politics and social life for the last quarter of the 18th century. Although the mores of the time limited any woman’s political role, Georgiana wielded considerable influence with Charles James Fox, Charles Grey, and other Whig politicians of the day. She was the first woman to publicly campaign for a candidate in an election, stumping for Fox in 1784. She was the intermediary in many a brokered deal (e.g., the multiparty coalition that turned out Addington’s government in 1804). The Devonshire House circle set trends in fashion, dance, and games of chance. Georgiana was considered the most captivating society woman of her time, but her life—already complicated by the presence of Lady Elizabeth Foster, her friend and her husband’s mistress, in her household—was darkened further by her addictive gambling, her indiscreet affair with Grey, and the resulting pregnancy. Brian Masters presented a more forgiving view of the mÇnage Ö trois in his Georgiana (1981). But Foreman’s Georgiana is shown in greater detail as a remarkable and intelligent woman whose literary and scientific pursuits were encouraged by the likes of Edward Gibbon. Effortlessly written and scrupulously documented, this will be the standard biography of Georgiana for some time. (16 pages illus., not seen)