Review: Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

devonshireI should have known better than to have trusted a historical biopic. I really should know better by now.

Since seeing it for the first time a few years ago, I have loved The Duchess. It’s a gorgeous movie starring Kiera Knightley as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. The movie is loosely based on Amanda Foreman’s biography, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire.

And I do mean loosely.

Don’t get me wrong: Georgiana is still one of my very favorite people from the 1700s. I’ve learned so much about the 18th century this year, after mostly maintaining my historical knowledge base to the 1500s.

For those who aren’t familiar, Georgiana Spencer was an English aristocrat who married the Duke of Devonshire, thus becoming the Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. She used her charm and social connections to assist with political campaigns while influencing the fashion of the day. She was The It Girl of the day. She was even friends with Marie Antoinette.

devonshire2Her husband was a bit distant and their marriage was never great. It was said that he was the only man in England who wasn’t in love with his wife. He ended up having a long-time affair with her best friend and she ended up having a child out of wedlock with one of her politician friends, Charles Grey-he would later go on to become prime minister years later.

The Duchess tries really, really hard to make the viewer pity Georgiana. The film hardly goes into her massive gambling debts (and I do mean massive) and they included a rape scene. There is no evidence to suggest that William Cavendish ever forced himself upon his wife. (I’m sure his descendants were super impressed about that.) The movie also makes the Duke look like a real S.O.B. while his letters to Georgiana and his second wife, Elizabeth Foster, showed that he was a little cold but not a total dick.

I had the same problem with this book that I do with so many other history books: the content is fascinating but the style of the writing doesn’t reflect the excitement of the topic. Georgiana led a very full life, full of strong, long-lasting friendships and money problems and political drama and more. But the style of the book was… a bit dry for my taste. Do writers of history biographies feel like if they write in a more casual tone, they won’t be taken seriously? (Oh wait. That’s absolutely true, as seen here.) But I do believe these books would be more popular if their language was a bit more accessible.

If only someone would write some history books in a more casual style. *casual whistling* (Yes, I’m planning to.)

Duchess_of_Devonshire_by_Joshua_ReynoldsBesides that, I really did enjoy the book and will likely go back to it again. The excerpts from the letters between Georgiana and her contemporaries really helped to bring their world to life, making their friendships and relationships sound not so different from ones people have today.

But the movie does have one thing the book could not provide: some of the most gorgeous costumes ever used in film. So beautiful! I can’t even!



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jillianne hamilton headshotJillianne Hamilton is an author, history enthusiast, book lover and graphic designer. Her debut novel, Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, was shortlisted for the 2016 Prince Edward Island Book Award. She is currently working on her first non-fiction book. She lives in Charlottetown on Canada's beautiful east coast.
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