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The Duchess Countess : the woman who scandalized eighteenth-century London
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Library Journal Review
Named maid of honor to Augusta, Princess of Wales, in 1743, Elizabeth Chudleigh both shocked and titillated the public with her daring lifestyle, sporting diamonds and once appearing at a masquerade ball in a wafer-thin dress. Even a charge of bigamy couldn't break her. Though she served as the model for William Thackery's social-climbing Becky Sharp, Ostler aims for a more nuanced picture. With a 50,000-copy first printing.
Publishers Weekly Review
Journalist Ostler debuts with an intriguing look at Elizabeth Chudleigh (1721--1788), the vivacious noblewoman whose 1776 criminal trial for bigamy riveted England. Though she was born into the gentry, the early deaths of Elizabeth's father and brother left her in a precarious financial strait. In 1743, she was appointed maid of honor to the Princess of Wales, a position that came with a yearly salary but required her to be unmarried. Nevertheless, she married a dashing young sailor in a clandestine ceremony after her first season at court. It was an unhappy marriage, however, and Elizabeth continued to serve at court and present herself as "socially available." She married the Duke of Kingston in 1769 and inherited the bulk of his estate four years later, but his descendants contested the will and Elizabeth was eventually convicted of bigamy and stripped of her title. She fled England with her fortune, however, and lived in St. Petersburg, where she joined the court of Catherine the Great, and Paris. Ostler includes enlightening discourses on Hanoverian court dramas and the financial and social constraints placed on women of the era, but her suggestion that Elizabeth may have suffered from borderline personality disorder somewhat muddies the picture. Still, this is a rich and nuanced portrait of a fascinating woman. (Nov.)
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