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ARISTOCRATS by Stella Tillyard

ARISTOCRATS

Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832

By Stella Tillyard

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-374-10305-4
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 This colorful narrative succeeds at bringing four historically distant lives closer to us. Tillyard (The Impact of Modernism, not reviewed) reveals the characters of four well-to-do Englishwomen who rode the shifting cultural currents between 1740 and the onset of the Victorian age. While thorough research accounts in part for the range and reach of Aristocrats, the privileged lives of the four sisters themselves gives the author unusual access to extraordinary stories. As the daughters of the second Duke of Richmond (descended from an illegitimate son of Charles II, he was a a cabinet minister and a gentleman-scientist), these intelligent, well-educated women were exposed to the newest ideas of the 18th century, as well as to the latest plays, books, and fashions. Over the course of their lives, each would make strong choices and live--for better or worse--with the consequences. Against her parents' wishes, Caroline Lennox married for love an ungainly, politically ambitious M.P. who nearly became prime minister of England; their elopement created a scandal in London. Her canny younger sister Emily married the senior peer of Ireland when she was 15; she spent his fortune freely and bore him 19 children. Louisa Lennox wed Ireland's richest man. Sarah, the youngest, was courted by King George III, who ultimately humiliated her by marrying a German princess. The Lennox women bore children who became important cultural figures--indeed revolutionaries; Emily's son Edward participated in the Irish Rebellion of the 1790s. Tillyard is adept at showing how the next generation's radicalism was a product of, as well as a reaction against, the family heritage. Using thousands of letters exchanged among the sisters, their lovers, their children, and their friends, Tillyard reconstructs the sisters' relationships to one another, to the others in their lives, and to the changing culture around them. Although the formal history could be more adeptly integrated, Tillyard generally brings the women and their extraordinary world to life.