Freewheeling biography of a racy Georgian demimondaine.
Manning (Seducing Mr. Heywood, etc., not reviewed) was inspired to delve more deeply into the life of divorcée Grace Elliott (1754–1823) after seeing Eric Rohmer’s film The Lady and the Duke, based on the Englishwoman’s posthumously published memoir of surviving the Reign of Terror in Paris. Well, perhaps “delve” is not quite the verb that springs to mind when the result is a text notable for its breathless prose and fawning treatment of British aristocracy. Born Grace Dalrymple in Edinburgh, Elliott was educated in a continental boarding school and married off at age 17 to an odious social-climbing doctor half her height and twice her age. She cuckolded John Eliot fairly quickly, thanks to her alluring beauty and the attentions of debauched gallant Lord Valentia. And she made an equally swift passage from shunned divorcé to fashionable lady (subject of several remarkable Gainsborough portraits) in both London and Paris. Lord Cholmondeley was her patron for several years, followed by Philippe, duc d’Orléans, the richest man in France, and then the Prince of Wales. Prinny, as the future George IV was known, may or may not have sired Elliott’s daughter Georgiana, but he ensured the girl’s care for the rest of her life. The intrepid Englishwoman’s finest hour occurred during the French Revolution. Openly loyalist, she probably smuggled letters for Marie-Antoinette. She was imprisoned and nearly guillotined for consorting with the turncoat Orléans. Manning exuberantly accompanies her account of these personages and their high-jinks with numerous, gleeful sidebars about topics such as birth control methods, scandal-mongering newspapers, the ascension of Madame Guillotine and the pronunciation of British upper-class names. My Lady will appeal to amateur historians and loyal followers of the current Prince Charles, to whom the author refers frequently.
Some intriguing historical tidbits, delivered with gushing language and a gossipy tone.