Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Georgiana" Duchess of Devonshire and inveterate gambler transports me to the 17th century in a masterful biography

I want to talk about reading books and why I think they saved my life so many times. I was feeling so down, with Doc sick, etc, and picked up this biography I had bought but not read. I had had to give up on finishing "Alaska" because it was a thousand pages long stuffed into a little paperback and the print was killing my eyes. Well, this book written by Amanda Foreman won the Whitbread Prize for biography in England and I can certainly see why. Her telling of the life of this woman is so smooth that it is as though you are right there seeing the life they lived in front of your eyes. Many biographers intrude with a style that constantly reminds you of their presence as they struggle to recapture the past, but not this one. I could not help but think that this writer is a master. I could go on and on, raving about her writing, but I want to talk about books themselves that bring you in touch with a writer who is so good at what she does, you are transported to a world she has recreated for your enlightenment. How else could this happen if man had not created books?
They are like airplanes that take you to far away places when your own world is closing in on you. Foreman took me back to the seventeenth century to party among the Lords and Ladies of England, and I must say I was quite shocked at what terrible gamblers many of them were. Georgianna herself developed such a gambling problem that it affected her marriage to a rich noble who also became an inveterate gambler. After a lot of fear she told her husband once about her gambling debts and he gave her a line of credit to pay some of them off, and she took that out and gambled it away! She got so bad, nothing stopped her. She eventually begged and borrowed money from her friends, tapped money lenders, and was pilloried in the press for not paying her gambling debts. This amounted to me to quite a serious mental illness.
There are some wonderful photos of the huge houses her husband's family owned, both in the city and the countryside. Georgianna was involved in politics as hardly any other woman before her had been. In fact it would be another hundred years before a woman was able to come out in public, campaign and do the things she did so easily that her society was not able to stop her from doing at first. She was a very popular duchess for a long time. Cartoons are included of her being mercilessly lampooned in the press for her towering hats, emphasis on fashion, and a number of other traits. The cartoonists treated her just like they did the men. If she was going to expose herself in public they were going to make fun of her.
Gainsborough painted a portrait of her that is famous to this day with a dashing big hat decorated with an ostrich feather and perched jauntily on the side of her head. She showed such a flair for politics helping put and keep her party, the Whigs, in power for some time, that I thought what a shame it was she developed such a gambling habit. Her marriage seems a lot to blame which was a cold arrangement from the start with her parents, a Lord and Lady, too, picking her husband for his wealth more than she was allowed to pick one she was compatible with. She was only seventeen when she married him and he went right on with his mistress hardly hiding her at all. That would be quite enough to disallusion any young girl about her husband, wealthy or not. It is doubtful if they were ever in love with one another.
Then the horrors of childbirth in those days with her expected to produce a male heir which seemed to lead to repeated miscarriages out of sheer nervousness that she would not measure up and produce a son. In fact, she was only able to produce 2 daughters in the marriage, and that took years. She was finally put aside for inability to have the heir everyone wanted as well as for her gambling habits and eventually her own infidelity, even though her husband had not been faithful from the start!
Georgianna was a many times great aunt of Princess Diana and she was loved by the public for her beauty, charm, intelligence, and fashion just as Diana was. She was even tall like Dianna. I am enjoying this book so much and it is reminding me once again of why I aspired to be a writer, to give back if I possibly could the gift that has been given me by so many writers. I wanted to write about my world in such a way that people could enjoy it as well as receive some enlightenment from it.
So many times I have been saved from absolute doldrums by picking up a book. Disability and lack of money made my world smaller, but books have always been my tickets to travel, the past, distant lands, just wherever a writer took me inside magical pages of print.
Which is why I blog, too, because a blog is like a continued story that purports to entertain others with an account of how I live my life. I appreciate those writers who continue to share their lives with me. There is no greater gift as far as I am concerned.


Ann said...

I am reading Lone Cowboy by Will James. His drawings are throughout. He lost both mother and Dad by age 4 and was raised by an Canadian Trapper that took him with him for years. It is a fascinating autobiography. Some of these auto and bios are so unique. They tend to linger. This one sounds very appealing.

Pamela said...

I just watched the movie about Georgiana. It was very interesting and sad. I bet the book is so much better! Glad you are enjoying it.


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