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Life Mask

3.47  ·  Rating Details ·  1,723 Ratings  ·  190 Reviews
The bestselling author of Slammerkin vividly brings to life the Beau Monde of late eighteenth-century England, turning the private drama of three celebrated Londoners into a robust, full-bodied portrait of a world on the brink of revolution. In a time of looming war, of glittering spectacle and financial disasters, the wealthy liberals of the Whig Party work to topple a ty ...more
Paperback, 672 pages
Published September 5th 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Izetta Autumn
Apr 21, 2007 Izetta Autumn rated it did not like it
Don't do it. Just don't. The problem is, the book needed a brutal and dedicated editor. Everything would have been okay if it was 200 pages shorter. At it's length it simply looses the momentum to bring the reader to the (inevitable) conclusion. The history of England is interesting though.
May 10, 2012 Holly rated it liked it
If you are fascinated by Whig politics in late 18th Century England, you'll love this book. If you're interested in the intersections of theater and the aristocracy in 18th Century England, you'll enjoy the book. If you're interested in cockfighting, horse racing, drinking, taking mistresses, and other "gentlemanly" pursuits, you will enjoy this book. If you are interested in the specific historical people who appear in the book, you will absolutely love it. But if you are looking for a an emoti ...more
Nov 22, 2011 Labmom rated it did not like it
I hate it when authors do this - attempt historical fiction with characters that are cliched stereotypes unaffected by the monumental historical changes occuring around them. At over 600 pages this was an excrutiatingly detailed and accurate representation of late 18th century England (and I learned a lot) but the main characters could have been from lifted from "The Great Gatsby" or any current Hollywood gossip rag for all the depth and relevance they had. Portrayals of shallow aristocrats boas ...more
Feb 20, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008, lit-fic
I picked this up because it was described to me as being like "Jane Austen with sex"; I would describe it as "Jane Austen without sex and without Jane Austen." In 600+ pages, I don't think I found a plot, though there was quite a bit of historical political intrigue and a lot of development of character relationships. (And there really wasn't that much romance.)

The author captures the feel of political unrest in England at the time of the French revolution quite well (as far as I can judge, not
Jan 03, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Oh, I love Emma Donoghue! This is historical fiction of the best kind -- actually based very closely on fact, using an impressive treasure trove of journals, letters, and biographies to flesh out historical figures with imagined details. The tale of two female friends in England in the late 1700s, rumored to have participated in a relationship barely imaginable at the time. There is a bit of drag towards the end, but overall the writing is fascinating. I have been recommending this book freely.
Feb 10, 2012 Sammie rated it liked it
Part of me feels like I should criticise this book for being too long, but for some reason that fact hasn't really reduced my opinion if it. It plodded along through the lives of 3 people in history; The Earl of Derby, with his political difficulties and estranged wife. Eliza Farren, a women born with very little who has risen to fame as The Queen of Comedy and caught the attention of the Earl of Derby. And Anne Damer, a rich widow turned sculptress, rumoured to be a lesbian.

The book tells of t
Oct 07, 2015 Helen rated it it was ok
I'm done, I'm done. Finally finished this torturously long novel by an author I liked very much. I will cast a very wary eye over anything she produces in future that exceeds 350 pages. The characters and storylines were not nearly interesting enough to sustain a novel of 600 plus pages and I'm a bit resentful as I am now 5 books behind target. Yes, I should have chucked it in and, if all this isn't bad enough, there are some perfectly horrid descriptions of cock-fighting that the non-violent am ...more
This is an excellent novel. For me it was slow-going in the beginning but once I was a quarter of the way in, I couldn't put it down. The story is so masterfully written. The author found a fascinating time and fascinating characters that truly existed and managed to fill in the blanks perfectly. I highly recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction and to fans of Donoghue's other books. It's quite different from her others but equally as good!
Mar 04, 2008 Jenny rated it liked it
Id like to plagarize from two reviews I read on Goodreads.

1. Its no Slammerkin
2. What editor allowed this to be so long, for no reason?

Fiona Hurley
I hesitated when deciding on a star rating for this book. When it's good, it's very very good; Donaghue really can write. Anne Damer is the most interesting character, and the story was strongest when focused on her. Rumours of "sapphism" plague her, although she swears there is no truth in them. And yet, her warm friendships with women are tinged with jealousy, while she recoils from romantic or matrimonial entanglements with men. How long, the reader wonders, can she continue to deny her own n ...more
Nov 01, 2010 Deb rated it really liked it
I’m working my way through all of Donoghue’s novels. This one from 2004 is set in the Beau Monde of late 18th century England, a time when rapid and exciting changes in political thought clashed with a rigid conformity in the matter of social mores, especially in regard to women. One of the central narratives is the story of sculptor Anne Damer (based, like almost every character, on a real historical figure) and her attempts to live a life of integrity despite being dogged by rumors of “sapphis ...more
J Caroline
Feb 10, 2011 J Caroline rated it really liked it
Life Mask is reminiscent of The French Lieutenant's Woman...only much better (and, of course, set in a different era). Its style captures the period, politics, and flighty upper class beautifully. More importantly, the social critique fits the history and echoes contemporary issues (interference in foreign wars, the possibility of terrorism, government fear-mongering) in a way that helps the reader truly feel at home in the eighteenth century. And this critique, while strong, never feels heavy-h ...more
Sep 30, 2014 Elena rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq
Enjoyable and often fascinating novel by an lesbian Irish author about art, theater, and romantic entanglements in upper-class Britain at the turn of the 19th century. Thoroughly researched and full of great bits of social history, although honestly, I would have preferred slightly less detail on the politics of the period. (Not that the politics didn't make for an interesting comparison with current US politics, concerns about terrorism and homeland security and all!)

All of the main characters
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Take one beautiful comedic actress, Eliza Farren, add the married Twelfth Earl of Derby, stir in widowed sculptor Anne Damer (the niece of Horace Walpole). To these add a dash of political intrigue, a sprinkling of what passes for love in the late 18th century, a smattering of captivating supporting characters, and the requisite amount of scandal, jealousy and gossip.

Emma Donoghue has stirred these ingredients together to form this historically based and highly plausible work of fiction.
Jan 31, 2009 Becky rated it really liked it
This novel is set in the late 18th century among the British elite. It weaves the worlds of the aristocracy, the stage, and politics into a neat reflection of the times. The major characters are all real historical people; Donoghue obviously did a great deal of research into their biographies as well as the current events of the times. I felt like I got a very good feel for different political and social issues of the time and it was thoroughly intriguing.

My only criticism is that the book dragg
Mar 25, 2015 Meghan rated it it was amazing
Read if you like Jane Austen with more sex and political intrigue. 'The World' in 18th century London is the small group of wealthy aristocrats that make up high society. Life Mask tells the story of two women - a sculptor and an actress - one of whom is born into the World and one who has to make her way into it through beauty and talent. Based on real people, this 800 page novel is full of historical detail about the daily lives of the upper class and how they viewed political events as they p ...more
Laurie Tomchak
Mar 29, 2014 Laurie Tomchak rated it liked it
I'm reading through this author's works, and enjoyed this one more than "Slammerkin". There was more resolution, and a more interesting historical background. I've read some books about the period, and some novels set in the regency (and even some regency buck romances). Some readers have said that they found the book too long and had too much historical background, but for the most part I found the background interesting. There is more happiness in this novel than in Slammerkin, and for the mos ...more
Nov 17, 2015 Kathy rated it really liked it
History presented in almost a diary form - taking us through turbulent times through gossip and daily events of real individuals who lived through them. Many major events are given a light brush, so this is more "manners" than substance, still enjoyable reading.
It is late 18th century London; across the channel France is in turmoil, England on the brink; George the Third moves in and out of madness.
At Drury Lane, Eliza Farren reigns as Queen of Comedy, Lord Derby her faithful (married) suitor waits patiently for his estranged wife's death and the consummation of his love for Eliza. Anne Damer, noted sculptor, Eliza's best friend and rumoured Sapphist is almost destroyed by gossip and innuendo.
Donoghue elevates these three historically real characters t
A long novel set in the 18th century, centering around three people who share a character trait of being indecisive and boring. Anne Damer is a an aristocrat and a sculptor; she's friends with Lord Derby who has for literally years had a chaste relationship with actress Eliza Farren who has risen from the lower classes to stardom on Drury Lane. Eliza is unwilling to make an arrangement with him while his ailing wife still lives. Anne and Eliza become friends but scurrilous rumors suggesting they ...more
Jan 25, 2015 Dardenitaaa rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books

I’ve known for so long that reading books are no different from going on trips–we pack our imaginary suitcases and fly elsewhere according to our whims. Reading historical fiction gives us the bonus perk of time-travel so apart from the freedom in choosing our dream itineraries, we’re also very much in control of calendar and clock. Pretty neat, methinks.

Stunning, dramatic and memorable—Life Mask is a Victorian trip on high definition grandeur. I feel every bit the tourist with the truckload of
This book is the perfect story crack for me – historical fiction with lots of rich detail, lots of commentary on the rights of women, and interesting characters. I can understand those who weren’t thrilled with the pacing – it is slow – but I found the story fascinating. Set against the back drop of George III’s madness, his heir’s decline into useless debauchery, and the French Revolution, there was so much going on this book that touched on other histories and historical fictions I’ve read. Th ...more
Jul 17, 2009 TBML rated it liked it
Life Mask is an incredibly detailed and long novel examining the intersecting lives of several of the Beau Monde in 18th century England. Here, Donoghue reanimates actual historical figures including the actress Eliza Farren, the Earl of Derby, the author Horace Walpole, and the sculptor Anne Damer. As with much of her fiction, Donoghue gives life to the struggles, anxieties, and loves of lesbians and gay men throughout history. While focused on the (sometimes) hidden homosexual lives, the great ...more
Sep 26, 2011 Donna rated it really liked it
Life Mask is a book of fiction, but walks arm in arm with fact. Ms. Donoghue pieced together the intricate lives of three people: the Earl of Derby, Mrs. Anne Damer (a widow and female sculptor) and Eliza Farren, born a nobody but reigns as Queen of Comedy at the Drury Lane Theater.

Ms. Donoghue sticks to the truth in this novel where it seems to matter the most. All of the people are historical people, aside from some of the servants.

Eliza is a very good actress and is called upon often for she
Jan 26, 2008 Dana rated it really liked it
This is a rambling book about the late 1700s England. Eliza Farren is an actress who has been accepted into the Beau Monde of the Lords and elite of England. She is the constant companion of Lord Derby (of the famous horse race). She is chaperoned by her mother and is waiting endlessly for the Lord's current wife to finally die. Eliza befriends Anne Damer, a scupltress and rumored lesbian. Friendship with Anne brings mockery and ridicule.

Although this book is the story of these characters, I fou
Maya Rock
Jul 21, 2007 Maya Rock rated it really liked it
No Slammerkin, but still done very well. Very educational, set mostly among the paranoid upperclasses...I don't know what this period is call but it's revolutionary France time and the beginnings of the Romantics. A lot of interesting stuff about the society getting more liberal, fighting for the poor but then being completely terrified the masses will rise up and slay the aristocracy.

One of the main characters, I believe her name is Emma Farrin?, is an actress who FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF
Jun 02, 2008 Mary-Beth rated it really liked it
This book is not going to be for everyone. I personally found it strangely intriguing and I'm not entirely sure why. The thing about this book is that it follows the lives of an actress and a sculptor in late eighteenth century Britain, it spans several years of their lives and given that they are both moving in the exalted social circles of the Beau Monde, their lives are at times fairly trivial.

What I'm saying, in perhaps an excessively wordy way, is that the book isn't filled with thrills and
Nov 16, 2015 Jane rated it liked it
Life Mask alternately annoyed and entranced. Since all characters and events are drawn from actual history, the author makes the mistake of assuming we are as knowledgeable about the period as she -in fact the lack of exposition and explanation at the start of the novel led me to believe that I'd fallen into a sequel, or the 2nd book in a series, and should have known these people from some earlier read! Thankfully, about 100 pages in, story-telling takes over and Donghue begins to focus on a ha ...more
Laura Purcell
Jan 22, 2015 Laura Purcell rated it liked it
I'm a huge fan of Emma Donoghue and the Georgian period - I have to admit, if I wasn't, I probably would have given up on this book. It was the kind of historical fiction where the author chucks in all of their research as if to show that they've done it. There were a lot of needless speeches and scenes that really dragged down the pace. However, because of Donoghue's obvious talent there were parts that sparkled, and I particularly enjoyed the last quarter of the book where things sped up (fina ...more
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Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of ...more
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“I tell you frankly, Mrs. Damer, the more I see of different nations, the less sure I feel about the pre-eminence of my own.” 1 likes
“The days of my vanity are over and heaven knows they weren't happy enough to regret” 1 likes
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