The Actress and the Prince
Email this review


 From the author of The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens (1991), another sprightly biography of an English actress with a famous lover. Dora Jordan (17611816) was the most famous comic actress of her day, a star of London's Drury Lane Theater for nearly 30 years, beloved by audiences for her vivacity, her charming singing voice, and the fine legs she displayed in her most popular roles, which usually called for her to play a woman impersonating a man. She became the mistress of William, third son of King George III, in 1791, but continued working--frequently lending money to the improvident prince--throughout her many pregnancies. The couple had ten children and lived in highly domestic comfort for 20 years before pressure from the royal family led William to discard Jordan in search of an appropriate marriage and legitimate heirs. Tomalin cogently traces the complicated sexual politics of the age, which winked at almost any excess committed by members of the aristocracy but did not extend the same leeway to a base-born actress, no matter how circumspectly she behaved as royal mistress. The author brings to life the lively, licentious 18th century in vivid sketches of its theaters, its social structure, and its political and sexual intrigues. (The material on Jordan's boss, playwright/theater manager Richard Brinsley Sheridan, is so good, one hopes she will devote her next book wholly to him.) Tomalin depicts Jordan as an appealing woman, devoted to her lover and children, but also a consummate professional who took pride in her work and made sure she was properly compensated. Forced by debts incurred by a son-in-law to abandon England and her career, Jordan died alone and broke in a Parisian suburb; the pages describing her last days are heartbreaking, fired by the warm sympathy for her subject the author has displayed throughout. An engaging, colorful portrait, in the best tradition of English popular history. (24 pages illustrations, 8 in color, not seen)

Pub Date: April 20th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-41071-6
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


NonfictionA LIFE OF MY OWN by Claire Tomalin
by Claire Tomalin
NonfictionCHARLES DICKENS by Claire Tomalin
by Claire Tomalin
NonfictionTHOMAS HARDY by Claire Tomalin
by Claire Tomalin