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Amanda Foreman:
Georgiana
Amanda Foreman
  Georgiana  
Amanda Foreman    
interview

an excerpt



  Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was an iconic figure of the Enlightenment period as experienced in England. She no less defined the potential of a gifted and well-born woman of her day as she invented the form. Her first compensation for an unhappy marriage to one of the richest dukes in England was to set an increasingly outrageous fashion standard throughout Europe. It was Georgiana that started the craze for hair styles that required women to sit on the floors of their carriages to accommodate towering extensions replete with bird cages, and it was also she who made the muslin shift a fashion standby when women were otherwise cosseted in architectures of silk and boning. Under the tutelage of her great friend Charles Fox, she became the shrewd and dedicated political strategist upon whom the Whig party, which supported the American revolution and sought to abolish slavery amongst other liberal and enlightened platforms, relied to win their parliamentary seats. Georgiana was a rare aristocrat who embraced the untitled masses on their ground and for this became the first tabloid celebrity. She was generous to those in need but came close to ruining herself and her family by her passion for gambling. She lived her life without recognizing borders between nations, classes or gender. She composed music, choreographed ballet, became an accomplished geologist and infused sweetness and charm upon all who crossed her path be they cynic or sycophant. She was also an inveterate gambler whose debts rose beyond $6 million and a drinker who ate prodigiously and drugged her way back to her fashionable figure. She had scandalous love affairs and shared her husband and household with her cherished friend who happened also to be her husband's mistress.

Amanda Foreman has written a fascinating biography in Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire. In doing so, she's crafted an examination of the very contemporary-seeming period of the Enlightenment, a backdrop to the Whig party during its crusade against mad King George. This era also encompassed the American and French revolutions. Foreman did so while researching attitudes on race and color in 18th Century London for a doctoral thesis at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University. While reading a biography of Georgiana's young lover and great love, Charles Grey, she noted the disdain with which the author treated Georgiana while yet including letters she had written that spoke more loudly of her intelligence, erudition and grace. Those letters stimulated her to find every written record of Georgiana that she could for six straight months at which point her original thesis was wisely put aside and a further five year search on the Duchess ensued.

Happily, Ms. Foreman succeeded--to her doctorate and soon after, to this biography, which has won the prestigious Whitbread Prize for Biography. In England, it became not just a runaway bestseller but a social phenomenon. Georgiana, once again, has dominated the imagination of the public and the press wherever they have had opportunity to know her.

In this issue of Bold Type you will find a conversation with Amanda Foreman and a lengthy excerpt from her book, including her note on 18th century politics.


 
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  Photo of Amanda Foreman copyright © Brian Smith

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