Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Duchess

I'm a sucker for a good period movie so I'm definitely looking forward to seeing The Duchess which stars Kiera Knightley as Lady Georgiana Spencer who after marrying Duke William Cavendish, portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, becomes Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The best part of these types of movies is that you realize that people had just as many problems and issues as we do today except that they had to deal with them while wearing wider dresses and even bigger hair.

"Lady Georgiana Spencer was born on June 7th, 1757. Her father, John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer, was a great-grandson of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her niece was Lady Caroline Lamb. Among her descendants is the present Duke of Devonshire (via her granddaughter). Another was Diana, Princess of Wales (born Lady Diana Spencer), who was descended from Georgiana's brother, the 2nd Earl Spencer. Georgiana married William Cavendish on June 6, 1774. They has a son , William George Spencer Cavendish who became the 6th Duke of Devonshire and 2 daughters Georgiana and Harriet."

Georgiana Cavendish was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away.

"Georgiana was famous not only for her marital arrangements, her beauty and sense of style, her political campaigning, but also for her love of gambling. She was reported to have died deeply in debt, even though her own family the Spencers and her husband's family the Cavendishes were immensely wealthy."

"During her years in the public eye, Georgiana was painted by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. Gainsborough's famous painting of her in a large French hat was lost for many years. It was purchased a decade ago by Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire for the Chatsworth collection."

The movie is actually based on the bestselling and Whitbread Prize winning book Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. The book about Georgiana began when Foreman was working on her Ph.D. thesis at Oxford and came upon a "cache of her letters" and then fell in love with her subject. She also served as historical adviser where she also gave the actors insight into the lives they were portraying.

The Devonshire estate of Chatsworth (above and below) was of course used in the movie which is also amusing since it was used as Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice also starring Kiera Knightley. Other scenes were filmed at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire.

I know I am looking forward to learning more about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the It Girl of her day. From the sounds of it, she could give Paris and Britney a run for their money! As the retired French diplomat Louis Dutens, who wrote a memoir of English society in the 1780s and 1790s said, “When she appeared, every eye was turned towards her; when absent, she was the subject of universal conversation.”

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