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Note: this review contains spoilers and references to sexual violence.
This book was sent to me by Pen and Sword Books in exchange for an honest review.
I was pretty excited when I heard about this A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. Major and Murden specialize in digging up the history of lesser-known Georgian era women and found a gem in Charlotte: a survivor of the French Revolution, an author, a spy, a political influencer and more.
I have no doubt that this well-written biography was well researched. Reviewers on Goodreads—infamous for their usually harsh critiques—rave about this book.
So, it’s possible it’s just me.
I’m really disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book more. We got off to a bad start when a violent rape was described in detail in the very first chapter with zero warning. I’m a supporter of trigger warnings in general because you just never know what a person has been through and how they might react to something when reading it. A short and sweet warning would have solved this issue quickly and easily.
After that horrifying chapter, we get to learn about… Charlotte’s rapist. I would have included a lot fewer details about that monster and way more about Charlotte’s (probably) gay husband.
I recognize that using Charlotte’s own autobiography as a singular source of her life would lead to an incredibly skewed view of her life. However, the authors mention that she may have been exaggerating so often that this repetition made it seem like they didn’t actually trust the subject at all and wouldn’t want the reader to trust her recollection of events either.
In addition, their pattern of speculating whenever they weren’t sure of Charlotte’s motives got a bit overused. If historians don’t know why something was done, they can just say they don’t know or they can suggest a few plausible reasons. I just have a nitpicky pet peeve about history authors asking the reader a question. Example: “Could she be doing this because of this?” I don’t know. You tell me. That’s why we’re here.
If the above issues don’t concern you, then this is likely a fabulous book for you and I encourage you to pick it up. Charlotte had a fascinating life and her story deserves to be told. Major and Murden are certainly good writers and historians but this handful of issues just didn’t work for me.