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The Sylph

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  110 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
The Duchess of Devonshire's second book, first published in 1778, chronicles the life of a young, newly married lady of high society not unlike its author. Written in epistolary format, the story follows Julia from her idyllic country life to her marriage to a rich aristocrat. She soon discovers her husband is nothing other than a rake, spending all his and her money on ga ...more
Paperback, 306 pages
Published September 13th 2007 by Northwestern University Press (first published 1778)
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When this novel was published anonymously in 1779, its author, an indirect ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales*, was twenty-two years old and had been unhappily married to the 5th Duke of Devonshire since the age of seventeen. She had already become a leader of fashion in London society, a famous hostess who gathered around her a large number of literary and political figures and an important campaigner for the Whig Party. Georgiana was also a prolific letter writer and later became a
Jun 11, 2014 Bettie☯ marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: Laura, Wanda et al
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Description: A novel in letters in which the heroine and letter-writer, Julia, has married a dashing man-about-town, Sir William. He leads a dissolute life in town, racking up gambling debts which he seeks to pay off by using his wife’s inheritance.

Opening: LETTER I.


It is a certain sign of a man's cause being bad, when he is obliged to quote precedents in the follies of others, to excuse his own. You see I give up my cause at once. I am convinced I have done a silly th
Keri Luna
Apr 21, 2010 Keri Luna rated it really liked it
Imagine if Kim Kardashian (or one of the other Hollywood celebutantes) wrote an insider's account of the scandalous lives of the rich and powerful.

Scratch that. Imagine that she wrote a SMART, COMPELLING insider's account of the scandalous lives of the rich and powerful.

Written by Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire, and published in 1781, "The Sylph" is an epistolary novel that follows a young Welsh beauty named Julia, who is plucked from the obscurity of her small country village and the hap
Apr 15, 2010 Aminaazizmirza rated it really liked it
The Ton was a difficult place to be for a decent country girl.
Mar 28, 2010 Lauren rated it really liked it
Was it a tad overly melodramatic? Of course. It was written in 1778 after all. But I loved the women issues Georgiana raises and her subtle feminist viewpoint. Plus, I always love how an epistolary novel lends itself to such ambiguity since the narrators are usually so unreliable; Julia Stanley is no exception to this general rule.
Apr 27, 2008 Natasha rated it really liked it
Ah, this long-forgotten little novel from the 18th century is tops. It gives a great insight into the world of the Ton, some of it shocking. Where else would you find attempted rape, suicide, the selling of one's wife and gambling treated as the norm? If only the BBC would snap it up and pop it on the box.. I'd recommend it, if you can get hold of a copy that is!
Farida Mestek
getting married is a very hazardous undertaking...beware!

did i like the book? i'm not sure...
Sep 29, 2016 Hattie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed The Sylph, I got the ebook and forgot about it until I was looking through my kindle and I started to read it and couldn't stop! I found it very easy to read and intriguing. The only problem I had with it was at the end; it felt like the author stopped writing for a period of time and then came back to it to finish it later but rushed it and didn't end up finishing it cleanly which was disappointing as I felt it was that kind of book that needed a good ending.
Vera Maharani
This is one of the book that became interesting more because the actual story behind the writing than the writing itself. Initially anonymously published, 'The Sylph' is an epistolary novel revolved around the life of Julia Greenville, a country girl who was thrown into the superficial world of 'elegant' court by her marriage to Sir William Stanley. Being young and inexperienced, the new world is confusing and detestable for Julia. In the whirlwind of seduction and temptation, Julia found a guar ...more
Lynden Wade
May 20, 2015 Lynden Wade rated it liked it
This book was apparently dashed off in between social whirls by the Duchess of Devonshire, the subject of the film “Duchess.” Hurried it might have been, slapdash it is not. It is written entirely as letters, and they read like real letters (far more detailed than we might write today, but with the sort of information people actually pass on, rather than crude attempts at scene setting like “As you know, my dear sister, our family home was far simpler..” Each letter has a slightly different tone ...more
Jan 28, 2014 Megan rated it liked it
This book is pretty good, being as it is from another era and from someone likely unpracticed in crafting fictional narrative. However, she was likely quite the letter-writer, which is no doubt how she was able to craft a believable epistolary story. It is said to people taking their first dives into writing fiction that one should "write what you know", and I think that happened here. While the disippated and morally lax society our heroine encounters gives rise to a bit of melodrama in this st ...more
Feb 20, 2013 Danielle rated it it was amazing
I give this book a rating of 5 because it is a fascinating read when paired with The Duchess by Amanda Foreman. Written by Georgiana herself, the little known novel provides invaluable insight for the fan of Foreman's work. Having gotten to know Georgiana through the biography, it is excellant to follow up such reading with this short novel as a way of understanding the duchess in an even more personal way.

The novel tells the story of a woman who enters into a marriage without knowledge of her h
Jun 24, 2014 Elaine rated it really liked it
If you have a taste for 18th century literature, this is a great read. It's an epistolary novel, written in letters, about a young and innocent women from the country who marries a rake. She is introduced to the London court. Her husband drinks and gambles, and before long is completely out of control. We learn how corrupt the Ton, court circle, is and how her husband's enemies are out to seduce her. Real insight into the powerlessness of women at the time, and how rape was a part of patriarchal ...more
Feb 26, 2010 Brigid rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in the Duchess of Devonshire
This novel, written by the Duchess of Devonshire, is an interesting if overly melodramatic read. I picked it up after finishing Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and found it a worthwhile companion. Written in a series of letters, "The Sylph" tells the story of a young woman not unlike Georgiana herself, coping with the big, bad city, an inattentive husband, and a few inner demons. Though it isn't very long, I found it hard to get through. It was more interesting as an insight into the Duchess of ...more
Sep 11, 2016 Patrizia rated it liked it
Ho letto questo romanzo epistolare schedandolo mentalmente tra le 'opere moraleggianti' tipiche della produzione femminile dell'ultimo '700 (fatta salva Jane Austen), con il consueto armamentario di ingenue fanciulle, mariti disamorati, intrighi, tentativi di seduzione capaci di violare anche una camera da letto, debiti di gioco… il tutto in una Londra viziosa, estenuata dal lusso e dalla noia. Solo dopo averlo concluso ho realizzato pienamente che l'autrice era 'The Duchess', la giovane duchess ...more
Sharon Eudy Neufeld
Dec 31, 2012 Sharon Eudy Neufeld rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, wrote this expose of the debased morals of the bon ton. As the leader of the bon ton in the period from 1774 to 1800, she may have been the person most able and least likely to pen this jaundiced view of the useless life led by the wealthy aristocracy in London. Adulterous relationships were ubiquitous, gambling was a daily event with debts reaching into the millions of dollars. As shown in "Dangerous Liaisons" roues sought to debauch virtuous women simply for b ...more
Jan 23, 2008 Peg rated it liked it
description: late 18th century England. A novel in letters, tales between two sisters of unfaithful husband, miscarriage, disillusionment with the city and its fashions. A guardian angel (The sylph) from the past guides Julia toward redemption.Ends like a Gilbert and Sullivan with happy couples going on to liver happy ever after."
Moira Mehaffey
I have been reading this book as part of a course on the Literature of the English Country House and really enjoyed the content as well as the light it shed on understanding the context of what "politeness" meant in the period and the debates on the role of women at the time and the contrast between what we would consider innate good manners and the veneer of socially acceptable behaviour.
Heather Uebel
Feb 29, 2016 Heather Uebel rated it liked it
The true value of this story isn't so much in the actual story as it is its reflection of the famous authoress' own life. It's best to be familiar with Georgiana's history before entering into The Sylph, otherwise it might seem a bit silly or insipid, when it's actually a very rare glimpse into the mind and reality of a historical figure.
Jul 11, 2016 Asta rated it really liked it
A chick-lit from XVII century! It is an epistolary novel written by Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. I was surprised to find it such an easy read, a page-turner even. Complete with villains, a fair innocent heroine, a secret guardian ("The Sylph"), and a twist in the end :)
Sep 10, 2011 Karen rated it it was ok
Fairly silly plot, but an interesting look at Regency society written by the de facto queen of the ton.
Jun 25, 2011 Sue rated it liked it
Overall this was a good story. I had difficulty though following grammar of that time period. I also do not recommend reading the full "Forward" as it spoils some of the surprises of the storyline.
Crystal Lei
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Oct 29, 2008
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Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (née Spencer) was the first wife of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, and mother of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Her father, John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer, was a great-grandson of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her niece was Lady Caroline Lamb. She was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales. She attained a large am ...more
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