Saturday, February 14, 2009

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Why is it that the most celebrated, romanticized and socially honored people always turn out to be so morally ambiguous? Society often seems to reward people of questionable morals with attention, fame and almost always fortune.

Such is the case with Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. She did a great many positive things with her life, and greatly influenced late 18th Century British politics, but she was a flawed, needy, and contradictory person. She gambled away a large portion of the Devonshire fortune and had multiple affairs and one illegitimate child, yet she was the celebrated leader of London society and will forever be immortalized as the background influence behind most of the Whig party's political motions during the reign of King George III.

I suppose, though, that this is why we are interested in her life. The movie, The Duchess, starring Keira Knightly, got me interested in her story, so I looked up the biography of her life (on which the movie was basede). The movie chooses to focus on her private life, which is much more interesting, and only slightly embellished by the movie. The movie ties everything up neatly - Hollywood-style. The book is a biography, so it's more honest, and less neat.

In the introduction, the author admits struggling with the imperfections of her protagonist. She tells the story of the day she finally realized that she was losing her objectivity. She read a "vicious letter from one of Georgiana's rivals," and she became extremely angry and outraged that such a document could exist. She had to expose the author of that letter as someone who didn't really know or understand Georgiana. Eventually, after going through archives of information, she came to accept Georgiana's flawed nature and to love her for the complex and conflict human she was. She doesn't treat Georgiana with kid gloves - she exposes everything.

Despite her flaws, Georgiana is painted as a very human and sympathetic person. I would have liked to be alive and in her circle of friends (but maybe not a close friend).

P.S. Jane Austen's was alive during all of Georgiana's lifetime. It was the lifestyles of the immensly rich and famous people like Georgiana's that Jane's characters wish to emmulate.

1 comment:

  1. hmm..was that movie The Duchess good? I really wanted to see it. Perhaps I will rent it this Friday or something. Tonight I went to Blockbuster and then to Walmart to buy a movie...but then I couldn't find a movie I liked at Blockbuster, and by the time I got to Walmart I felt guilty about spending money, so I went home empty handed...sad story, i know..