Life Mask
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Life Mask

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  1,173 ratings  ·  131 reviews
From the author of 'Slammerkin', a gripping historical novel about three famous Londoners - an artist, an actress and an aristocrat - based on a true scandal of 18th century London.
Published July 7th 2005 by Virago (first published 2004)
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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
Izetta Autumn
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.
Laurie Tomchak
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
I´d like to plagarize from two reviews I read on Goodreads.

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

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...more
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
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...more
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...more
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.
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...more
I really tried, because this author always delivers for me. But I barely got 100 pages into this book in two weeks, and couldn't see the point. It wasn't bad, just not very interesting.
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.
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!
With "Life Mask", Emma Donoghue has written a fascinating work of historical fiction, based on the lives of several actual historical figures. Actress Elizabeth Farren lives on the fringes of the Beau Monde. Elegant and well-spoken, she's tolerated, if not actually embraced by the aristocracy thanks in part to her complicated friendship with the extremely rich, but married Lord Derby, who moves in the highest circles.

Through Derby, Eliza meets society sculptress Ann Damer, who is also the niece...more
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
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
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
Deborah Bradley
It was interesting to read from the point of view of 2012, that the problems of slander and innuendo were present in the days of the written and in-print words. Takes place in the late 1790's. Follows a small mixed group of aristocrats and well to do English men and women. Rumors are flying about the main characters, female, that they are possible "Sapphists" or lesbians. These women have men in their lives but the sexes were mostly separated in their everyday activities.
The aristocrats spent...more
J Caroline
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
Life Mask uses the real life stories of Lord Derby, the actress Eliza Farren & Anne Damer an accomplished amateur sculptor, to give us an excellent glimpse into the mores, prejudices, restrictions and hypocrisies of London theatre, aristocratic & political society 1780s.
It is a fascinating look at the intricate web of decit and intrigue at the heart of the relationships of many at the pinnacle of high society.
I enjoyed Life Mask but I have to fault it's slow plodding pace: we are 200 pag...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
Paul Culloty
The author has recently broken into the literary mainstream following the critical acclaim for her most recent novel, Room, but for a decade previous, Donoghue had been quietly praised for her historical novels, usually mirroring the author's own life in dealing with the experiences of a lesbian character, and this work is no exception to those early writings. Our heroine, Eliza Farren, has dragged herself from a humble background, helped by her ambitious mother, to become the leading actress of...more
It seems to me now that I mistakenly thought I would like Emma Donoghue's writing. I loved Room when I initially read it, and I loved Astray . Nothing else has had the same impact though, and when I re-read Room recently, I hated it and couldn't understand what I'd seen in it the first place.

Life Mask is one of her 18th century books. It deals with three principal characters of the Beau Monde: The Honorable Mrs. Anne Damer, the Queen of Comedy and Countess in Waiting Eliza Farren and her hap...more
Debi Linton
I picked up Life Mask because I wanted historical lesbian romance. What I actually got was historical lesbian drama, which is not quite the same thing, and the not getting what I expected threw me off for the first third or so of the book. Then I fell into the story and all was forgiven. Although - although, my expectations of a romance did change my experience of the book, because the romance genre has tropes that a reader expects; like for instance, knowing from the get-go what the end game pa...more
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...more
As I read this book, the comments Jerry Seinfeld once made about his tv show came to mind: that it was "a show about nothing". This book is very similar in mood, tracing the lives of three main characters and the people surrounding them. Eliza Farren, the celebrated actress; Edward Smith-Stanley, Lord Derby, who was in love with Eliza but successfully held at arm's length for more than a decade; and Mrs. Anne Damer, a sculptor and mutual friend. Their intertwined lives and the scandals involvin...more
Ms. A
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Historical fiction based on real people. The story spans about a decade, much of it during the French revolution, although that momentous series of events is only referenced as it impacts the members of the English aristocracy who are the main characters of the story.

I thought I would like this more than I did. Lots of period detail was in evidence that was interesting and seemingly well-researched (I'm no expert on the period), but all in all, the story proved kind of ho-hum. The pace was slow...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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