I have always felt drawn to those strong women in history deemed scandalous but merely trailblazing the way for others to follow. I don’t know what that says about me or my upbringing but I have just always been fascinated by them. Maybe it’s the feminist within me that finds reading about these women empowering for the rest of us or maybe their stories are just interesting in of themselves. Either way, I thought I’d share with you a few thoughts on some of my recents reads about a few books and the awe-inspiring women they revolve around.
Often dubbed the ‘it’ girl of the eighteenth century, this beautiful book revolves around Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Born Lady Georgiana Spencer (yes, she is an ancestor of Lady Diana Spencer), she married the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1774. Not only was she considered the queen of the fashionable elite and aristocratic society, but she constantly exuded an aura of glamour which drew the press and public to her. She was also best buds with the Prince of Wales, closely acquainted with Marie Antoinette and an important supporter of the Whig party. For all the adoration she received in her public life, it didn’t mirror that of her life behind closed doors. The book takes you through the hardship experienced in her marriage as well as her obsession with gambling leading her into an overwhelming amount of debt and disgrace. It also details her quest for love along with the difficulties and exile that came with that.
‘Mesmirising’, as Antonia Frazer describes this gorgeous book, it takes you through Georgiana’s opulent and glamorous public life as well as her private life full of suffering. It follows the Duchesses life while also touching on society at the time such as civil unrest and royalty of the time. I have the illustrated edition which is full of beautiful pictures of the people she knew and socialised with, the places she lived or visited and objects such as the remnants of her fashionable outfits, accessories, etc. Quite apart from this, the wiring itself is informative and incredibly detailed whilst remaining readable and easy to understand. All too often I pick up historical reads that lose me within the first few pages due to their confusing lingo and stern, scholarly tone. Foreman’s writing couldn’t be further than this. It is appealing with a warm tone, illustrating her intrigue and passion to display Georgiana’s life with the attention that it deserves.
As the back cover states, this book ‘will make you fired-up and ready for anything’. Showcasing fifty women from all eras and areas in the world, this book shows some fiercely, trailblazing women and the incredibly inspiring things they achieved. It includes women such as Elizabeth I, Frida Kahlo, Hypatia, Ada Lovelace, Marie Stopes, Josephine Baker and Catherine the Great. Accompanied by illustrations by Bijou Karman, it provides bitesize chunks about each woman. I wouldn’t say its the read for you if you want an in-depth, detailed account of each woman, as they only give a short, stream-lined account for each woman. Having said that, it is still a great and easy read.
I have wanted to read this book for the longest time but never actually took the plunge until now. As a total bookworm, the majority of my Christmas and birthday presents are books -this being one of them. After reading Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman and Marie Antionette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, I have been intrigued by all the historical scandal that rooted from such ladies. The Mistresses of Cliveden was the perfect read to cater to my curiosity on the subject.
The book is sectioned into five parts -a part dedicated to each of the mistresses at the forefront of Cliveden’s history. Those women are Anna Maria Brudnell, Elizabeth Villiers, Augusta Princess of Wales, Harriet Duchess of Sutherland, and Nancy Astor. While all of the sections are fascinating, I personally found the first two women to be the most interesting, intriguing, and scandalous. I think what is most interesting is how simple gatherings and parties held at Cliveden played such a role in British politics and society at the time. Throughout it’s history, each mistress of the stately home held such an influence in her society: whether it be through her beauty and charm, personality or politics, each woman contributed to the English society in one way or another. It adds praise to the age old saying of its not what you know but who you know.
I love the fact that the narrative revolves around the women of a place. It gives the illusion that we are privy to information and events that Cliveden’s walls would have been too. The idea that those walls have stood the test of time and witnessed all these events and people in English history.
While it is a chunky book, I think the structure of it being sectioned into five parts (which also have their own smaller chapters within) make it easier to digest. I would definitely recommend to anyone with an interest in history. It is also one hell of a read if you’re a feminist -these women really paved a way for us. Even if you’re not into history, I’d say it’s an easy entry into the more heavier historical non-fiction.
If you love historic reads or even want to try something new then I’d definitely recommend all three of these reads. I have so many more I want to recommend too but I think I’ll hold off and keep this post at those three for now.
Stay safe – Cheerio for now!