Born in 1757, Lady Georgiana Spencer - the great-great-great-great aunt of Princess Diana - was raised in one of England's most important and wealthy families by a rather silly mother and a stern father. As a debutante noted for her beauty and charm, Georgiana convinced herself that she was in love with the Duke of Devonshire, a fashionable if callous young man whose fortune was actually double her father's. The Duke apparently never felt any great love for Georgiana. But he does marry her, just a matter of days after his mistress gives birth to his illegitimate daughter, Charlotte.
The marriage of Georgiana and Duke will largely be a cold one. Nevertheless, they are regarded as extremely influential people. Georgiana, in particular, becomes at least for a time the darling of the press. High society women eagerly copy her dress styles, her hats, and her hairstyles, and vie for her attention.
Georgiana becomes involved in politics when she rallies a group of other aristocratic women to get the Whig vote. This occurs during a very interesting time in British politics, when the Whigs are being roundly criticized for wondering about the wisdom of fighting the Americans in what we term the revolution. Despite her role as a doyenne, Georgiana ultimately suffers from boredom and becomes addicted to gambling (she'll lose a fortune, which she won't tell her husband) and takes opiates to feel better.
Much of her energy goes into her friendships. The Duke of Wales falls in love with her. Their relationship never blossoms into a romance, but she will start an affair with Whig leader Charles James Fox. She also develops very intimate relationships with two women, the second of whom, Lady Elizabeth Foster, becomes the Duke's lover. Historians debate whether Georgiana and Lady Bess were also lovers.
Georgiana does eventually fulfill what society regards as her obligation to her husband, providing him legitimate heirs. But when she bears a baby by her new lover, Charles Grey, her husband will force her into exile.
This book, which draws heavily on the many letters Georgiana wrote and contemporary descriptions of her (she was constantly covered by the London newspapers), is close to four hundred pages long but goes at a very fast pace. It's the equivalent of a modern celebrity bio, filled with trysts, a love triangle, drinking, drug use, rumor and innuendo.
This report prepared by Ann Gaines