Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson
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Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  307 ratings  ·  29 reviews
This compelling and richly researched book presents a fascinating portrait of Mary Robinson–darling of the London stage, mistress to the most powerful men in England, feminist thinker, and bestselling author. Though one of the most flamboyant free spirits of the late eighteenth century, Mary led a life that was marked by reversals of fortune. After being abandoned by her f...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published March 14th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2005)
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Hannah
Mary Robinson lived a very interesting life in very interesting times. Famous stage actress, first mistress of Prince George (later George IV aka "Prinny"), influential fashion icon & trend setter, political activist, proto-feminist, loving mother, and celebrated poet/writer, Mary (aka "Perdita" from one of her most famous stage roles) embodied the culture and pagentry of the 18th century English world. She was arguably a woman born ahead of her time. A woman who had a sense of who she was a...more
Sherwood Smith
Occasionally I have performed on stage. When that happened, the lights were so bright that I couldn't see beyond them, though one can hear the rustles and exhalations of a great crowd packed into a small space.

How much tougher must it have been in the eighteenth century, when candlelight was the most powerful source of light--when it was easy to watch the people in the boxes watching you?

This book was not only a meticulously researched account of a fascinating woman who, like so many eighteenth...more
TLW
The more I read of 'classic' novels/historical biographies the more I realise people haven't really ever changed. I can identify with a Jane Austen heroine as much as I can with any modern character and it's easy to pick out the social stereotypes that still exist today. Perdita is an excellent example of this. I fell in love with Mary Robinson through this book - I genuinely hadn't realised such radical feminists had existed in the 1700s, plus her political beliefs still chime with me today. Sl...more
Leslie
What an interesting woman. I wish this book were twice as long or that someone would make a big, fancy expensive movie about her. I liked it more than Duchess of Devonshire and it would be a much better movie. Not so darn depressing. If you like Marie Antoinette and Duchess (both were in this woman's life), read this next!
Samantha
The poor quality of Paula Byrne's writing in Perdita astounded me as I read it. She seemed to think that being a good biographer means having dozens of unnecessary excerpts from her subject's poems and novels (hello, this is a biography, not literary analysis) and infinite references to Mary's Robinson's autobiography that begin with "in the Memoirs Mary said," or "Mary wrote in the Memoirs..." In other words, Byrne's editor let her run a muck and fill up the book with filler that could have (an...more
John
Mary Robinson married young and not well (in her defense, she was duped into thinking that her suitor had an inheritance coming which, in fact, he did not) and she gave up a career in theater to do so, as such a profession was not socially acceptable for a proper woman. The couple lived beyond their means, which soon landed them in debtors' prison. Mary nevertheless stood by her husband quite a long time, even when she discovered an affair or two that he was having. She did, however, go into act...more
Book Wormy
I struggled with this as non fiction is not my thing but it is fascinating how a woman believed to have influenced Wordsworth, Mary Shelly, Samuel Coleridge and many others has essentially vanished from history.

Living in the 1700's Mary Robinson was more like a modern day independent woman.

She had numerous affairs most notably with the Prince of Wales.

The book contains extracts of her poems and novels and it has promted me to try and find some of her works.
Jenny Brown
An absolutely fascinating look at a woman I'd known nothing about despite having read quite a few 18th century women's novels that were resurrected by people active in women's studies in the 1980s. Byrne did a brilliant job not only of bringing alive her subject, very much "warts and all," but also gave us enough samples of her writing that we can get a feel for what Robinson did that her contemporaries admired so much and also why her work hasn't lasted the way that of some of her contemporarie...more
Alexandra
Couldn't really finish it - I found it a little dull, and I couldn't be convinced of her beauty or genius. I didn't really even know why I ever wanted to read this book - it had sat on my Amazon wishlist for too long, so I finally borrowed it from the library. I got as far as her visit to Wales to meet her husband's "uncle" (actually his father), and then I decided life was too short to carry on reading about someone I couldn't bring myself to care about. If she was such a literary genius, why a...more
Scarlettfish
Mary Robinson was the Princess Diana of her day. Well, Princess Diana if she became a very accomplished writer. This is a great biography of a very clever and very famous woman. Mistress to the Prince of Wales (briefly), trend-setter, poet, essayist and novelist, Mary Robinson was one of the most fascinating people of late Georgian society. Paula Byrne tells her story in a very honest manner, not hiding the way Mary manipulated her image, but at the same time showing a great deal of respect for...more
Leslie Roper
Disappointing.
Tina
Fantastic introduction to an overlooked politically and socially active woman of the late 1700s. Thank you to Paula Byrne for rescuing Mary Robinson from oblivion. Mary Robinson was a woman out of her time, anti-slavery, pro-women's rights, and active and vocal in her opinions. Sadly maligned, she was as much a product of the celebrity world of her time as she was used and abused by it. A fascinating, eventful life, beautifully written by Ms Byrne. Very strongly recommended.
Lauren
Byrne did a good job with a difficult subject. Not many letters existed from Mary's early years, so Byrne was left to weave together Mary's story from several untrustworthy sources: Mary's own memoirs, written with an eye towards how she wanted to be remembered; and tabloids of the time, which --just as tabloids of today--could be true, but were mostly false.
Angela
Very good biography of Mary Robinson. It was very interesting to see that she was an early advocate for the rights of women and slaves in her poetry and books. It was not something that women with good
reputations could do. A good companion book to this is The Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Forman. Both well researched books.
Vivienne

A highly researched biography of a fascinating woman who has for many years been ignored by history.

A fashion icon, actress and celebrity of her day she was also a woman of letters writing poetry and novels, a political radical and a feminist. I was very inspired by this life though it was quite dry in places.
Lynne
As someone who never reads non-fiction, and knows nothing about the time period I was surprised that I completed this book. Mary Robinson had an interesting life. I enjoyed that Byrne added some historical perspective. Although I thought that it read a bit like a textbook, I still would recommend this book.
astrangerhere
A fascinating book with far more twists and turns than many of the pop!historical novels that attempt to replicate the period. Mary Robinson could give a number of modern celbutants a number of lessons on remaking themselves and using the press to their advantage.
Dorothy
Eh. Needed A LOT of editing. Got about 60% through it and just didn't care anymore. No tangential detail was excluded and much was just filler and adulation. I don't think Mary Robinson was a boring woman but one would not know it from this book.
Krystal
Byrne did an excellent job of exploring the three main "themes" of Robinson's life but she got a little heavy on the quotations of poetry for my tastes. Overall though, excellent biography - it's hard to make Mary Robinson boring...
Katy
Really fascinating insight into her life as actress mixing with aristocracy in c18. Split into 3 parts. First two superb and last less good as more focused on her life as an author. Definitely worth reading.
Rebecca
Actress, novelist, courtesan, poetess, fashion icon, feminist, 'most beautiful woman in England', political activist. All this, and Perdita even did time for debt!

*awed rendition of 'Mrs Robinson'*

Tara
Who knew 18th Century England was so racy?? This read gives the intricate details of Robinson's fascinating life, although it is a bit slow-going (started this novel in May...).
Pippa
This is mainly about what other people said about Mary Robinson. I got bored with it but it would be interesting to read her Memoirs, as she was a remarkable woman.
Emily
Fantastic biography of a little known actress-cum-writer, who reinvented herself multiple times, all the while being the subject of the scandal sheets of London.
Jen
Mary Robinson's transition from courtesan to feminist is my favorite part of her life story. Always a pleasure to read about outstanding women in history.
Ali
I find this era of British history fascinating. It is amazing how the politics and culture of celebrity are so much like our own today.
J-me
Amazing poet and woman of letters in the 18th century. Freind of Mary Shelly and many other famous writters. She was just cool.
Casey
Wonderful, genius of a woman, fascinating life, somewhat dry biography (yet well-researched, and comprehensive).
PWRL
Oct 19, 2012 PWRL marked it as to-read
Shelves: 2012-new
O
Jane
Jane marked it as to-read
Sep 22, 2014
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Paula Byrne is a British author and biographer. She is married to writer Jonathan Bate, the Shakespeare scholar.
More about Paula Byrne...
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice Jane Austen and the Theatre Emma: A Sourcebook

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