Hannah's Reviews > Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson

Perdita by Paula Byrne
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's review
Jun 12, 2012

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bookshelves: 2012-reads, biography, non-fiction
Read in June, 2012

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 and what she wanted out of life and was able to capitalize on both her strengths (as well as her weaknesses) to make a name for herself. Her turnaround from young, naive actress to tawdry mistress of powerful men to respected author is almost unimaginable, and she did all this before her death in 1800 at the age of 43.

Her beauty was legendary - by her mid-20's she had already been immortalized by Gainsborough, Reynolds, and other famous painters of the period. She introduced new fashions and almost single-handedly changed the style of female clothing from the tightly-corsetted and hoop-skirted designs of the mid-1700's to the flowing, body-freeing styles of the late 1700's and early 1800's. Not until the Victorian period would women's bodies be tortured again for the sake of fashion.

Her views were radical for the time and for her sex, but she never waivered in them, even when it made her unpopular. She was an exceptional mother and daughter, keeping both near to her for her entire life and sharing close ties to many women of both high and low estate; from Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire to an actress/prostitute friend fallen on hard times. Her relationships with men weren't so advantageous; her father and later her husband deserted her. Her lovers failed to keep their promises of protection and fidelity (although to his credit Prince George gave her an annuity for the rest of her life and stayed a friend to her).

While still a young woman, she became crippled and was never able to walk again. At that point in her life, she determined to re-invent herself and re-gain respectibility by becoming a lady of learning and culture. Although her poetry and books aren't remembered today, she had fame and influence with her writing at the time.

All in all, an enjoyable read, although I have to give it only 3 stars due to author Paula Bryne's ponderous and sometimes dry writing style. It took me a long time to get through this book - not because Perdita's life story wasn't fascinating (oh, it was), but because Byrne's writing wasn't fascinating. I think I would have really liked Perdita alot, and would now include her in one of my dinner-with-my-favorite-dead-historical-figures party (I wonder how she'd get along with the likes of Anne Boleyn, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Daniel Boone?...hmmm)
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Hannah Gaeta1 wrote: "just no laura ingalls, please."

Not a Laura fan, huh? Oh well, you can have your own guests at your dinner parties!

Hannah Gaeta1 wrote: "yes, it is your party, but really, she was more like Ma, I think. Now, Pa Ingalls would be great."

Really? I see Mary more like ma, and Laura more like pa. But I do agree that pa Ingalls was more tolerant for his time.

Hannah Gaeta1 wrote: "Well, in real life, not so much. But let's say literary Laura would be a treat. And Pa could play the fiddle...

I have always wanted to visit Mansfield; I did make it to De Smet. A fierce thunders..."

I'd love to visit all the sites. So many fans make it to all of them - that's dedication.

message 4: by Hannah (last edited Jun 22, 2012 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hannah Gaeta1 wrote: "By the way, Hannah. Hve you ever read Christopher Hibbert's two bart bio of George IV George IV: Prince of Wales, 1762-1811 is the first part. I know Hibbert wasn't a serious historian, but I liked..."

No, I haven't. It's weird, I've never read anything about the Hanover dynasty, even though I enjoy 18th century history (both American & English) as well as English royalty.

One of the best books I've recently read regarding the 18th century was Wedlock The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore. If you haven't looked it up already, I recommend it.

Thanks for the recs!

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