Excerpt from Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

by Amanda Foreman

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2000, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2001, 480 pages

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By now, three months into her marriage, Georgiana could not help but suspect the true nature of the Duke's feelings towards her. He was kind in a distant sort of way, but he was naturally reticent and she soon realized that they had little in common. Her innocence bored him and Georgiana was too acute not to notice his lack of interest in her. She told her mother that she was secretly making an effort to be more attractive to him. Since he was so much more worldly than she, she read Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son; and knowing of his interest in history and the classics, she began several books on ancient Greece and on the reign of Louis XIV, "for as those two periods are so distant there will be no danger of their interfering so as to puzzle me."

At first Lady Spencer tried to reassure her that the Duke "was no less happy than herself." She also supplied her daughter with advice on how to please him, suggesting that she should curb any thoughts of independence and show her submission by anticipating his desires:

But where a husband's delicacy and indulgence is so great that he will not say what he likes, the task becomes more difficult, and a wife must use all possible delicacy and ingenuity in trying to find out his inclinations, and the utmost readiness in conforming to them. You have this difficult task to perform, my dearest Georgiana, for the Duke of D., from a mistaken tenderness, persists in not dictating to you the things he wishes you to do, and not contradicting you in anything however disagreeable to him. This should engage you by a thousand additional motives of duty and gratitude to try to know his sentiments upon even the most trifling subjects, and especially not to enter into any engagements or form any plans without consulting him. . . .

Unwilling to disappoint her mother, Georgiana made sincere efforts to appear cheerful, sending her carefully composed accounts of her life. Lady Spencer was particularly delighted when Georgiana wrote her letters in French and interspersed her news with little poems or religious reflections. Since she had been told that she ought to be content, Georgiana asserted that she was: "I have been so happy in marrying a Man I so sincerely lov'd, and experience Dayly so much of his goodness to me, that it is impossible I should not feel to the greatest degree that mutual happyness you speak of." But she could not help adding anxiously, "My only wish is to deserve it and my greatest pleasure the thought of being in any manner able to add to His Happyness." She was quite sure that she did not add to his happiness in the slightest degree.

Georgiana had entered into marriage thinking that, like her mother, she would be a wife and companion. She soon discovered that her chief role was to produce children and carry out her social obligations. The Duke was used to his bachelor life: love he received from his mistress, companionship from his friends; from his wife he expected loyalty, support, and commitment to the family's interests. His was an old-fashioned view, greatly out of step with an age which celebrated romantic sentiment and openly shed tears over Samuel Richardson's novel Clarissa. The Duke did not know how to be romantic; never having experienced tenderness himself he was incapable of showing it to Georgiana. He did not mean to hurt her, but there was a nine-year age difference between them and a gulf of misunderstanding and misplaced expectations.

They left Chatsworth in January, much to Georgiana's relief. In London she would be surrounded by her own family and friends and no longer reliant on the monosyllabic Duke or his critical relations. The caravan of carriages and coaches, piled high with boxes of plate and linens, set off once more. Most of the servants joined the back of the train to take up their duties at Devonshire House, leaving behind a skeleton staff until the family's return in the summer.

Excerpted from Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman . Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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