Review: My Lady Scandalous

My Lady Scandalous: The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan - Jo Manning

I was forced (forced I tell you) to buy the hardcover version of this (used books, I can not resist your prices), as there's no ebook version out there. (That's actually the truth for once and not some excuse I've pulled out of a hat to explain why I'm adding yet another book to my already-filled shelves.)

For those wanting immediate gratification, here's the Wikipedia link: Grace Elliott

Whether you like this author's telling of the saga of Grace Dalrymple Elliot or not depends on:
1) how much you prefer your history strictly linear
2) whether you can tolerate the author's frequent asides in parentheses, which at times are silly and/or snarky
3) whether you mind going off topic and into somewhat-related topics, and whether those topics interest you
4) whether you mind short "articles" focused on a specific, somewhat related topic mixed in with the text (like a sidebar in a magazine article)
4) whether you were expecting something more strictly academic in tone.

The tone here is chatty and gossipy - and I kind of see what the author's trying to do here - the book is a version of gossip shared over a cup of tea, discussing who's sleeping with who and getting away with what, and delving into all the salacious details. Also this is history with a huge focus on pop culture - both then and now. Be prepared to have examples from more current history (Princess Di, "Bennifer") pop up.

How much some of these things were enjoyable vs annoying - well, scroll down and read my various notes and quotes under Reading Progress. Because there is a level of annoying the book does hit for me in some places. Parts (like the "Walpole as the villain" bit, especially annoying in that it nears the "homosexual as villain" trope) reminded me of the "ew" feeling I'd get when reading a Hollywood-tawdry-gossip biography - but would I stop reading if I started one of those books? Noooo.... (I can't help it, I do like a certain amount of gossip.) And nothing in this book is on that low level - most just provokes eye rolling. And again, this isn't the kind of thing you deal with in most history books.

Despite not being at all academic in tone there are definitely a lot of great citations of source material (primary and secondary), and the book gives you the information to seek that out next. There are a geat deal of quotes, and the author makes it clear that she is quoting a source, the words aren't hers. Sources cited are given author name, title and often the date, and similar information is found in the end notes, which are chatty in themselves. (Every now and then there will be a quote without quite as much info as you'd like to track down the original. Just noting that. Doesn't happen often.)

One reason I'll be giving this more stars than I'd expected (from 3 to 4) - the author gives you important facts about Grace's published journal. You find out the correct spellings of historical figures and places, which dates are inaccurate, what the publisher was incorrect about in the parts of the book he authored, etc. In other words, the rest of the story. I plan to read that journal - but I'll keep this book handy as a reference.

Another reason for higher rating - due to the topics, the amusing sidebar articles, and random facts, I ended up discovering and downloading more free (public domain) books via this one read than many other history books I've read. Not necessarily the ones mentioned in the book, but sources I might not have found had I not gone looking for more information on the specific people mentioned.

Yet a final reason - Grace Elliott doesn't have a currently published book solely about her, besides her own Journal. Or not that I was able to find at this date. And this is a woman whose history is fascinating.

Examples of the titles of the sidebar articles:
A Glossary of Terms for Courtesans and Prostitutes, and Related Jargon
Those Coveted White Complexions...
"Criminal Conversation," the So-Very-English Civil Tort Familiarly Referred to as "Crim. Con."
Scandal: The Newspapers' and Print Shops' Stock-in-Trade
The Men's Clubs of London


Am liking the "author's voice" here, not something you see in this manner in history books. Could be problematic, but hey, at least Manning is up front about it. (p. 9):

"...Courtesans are fashioned by circumstance, not born, despite the charges of Grace Elliott's most serious detractor, the biographer Horace Bleackley, who included Grace in his 1909 compendium of courtesans (a work several times reprinted) entitledLadies Fair and Frail: Sketches of the Demi-Monde During the Eighteenth Century. Bleackley asserts with great confidence:

Nature intended her to be a courtesan, and she reveled in the power and the risk and the freedom of her adventurous life.

How absurd! Bleackley is judgmental to an amazing degree. He's a typical late Victorian male, and his biased comments are outrageous to contemporary readers. He categorizes females as either good (wives, mothers) or bad (courtesans, prostitutes). What he had to say about Grace Elliott has, unfortunately, obscured the truth and has been repeated as fact for almost a hundred years."

Really enjoying this next aside about Bleackley, p. 20:

"...Lady Craven - showing not a little jealousy, perhaps, to a possible rival - upon seeing Grace at the Ranelagh pleasure gardens, described her in a catty manner as a "Glumdalclitch," the young giantess in Jonathan Swift's fantasy tale Gulliver's Travels. (Bleackley, who rarely has anything good to say about any woman he writes about, gets his digs in about Lady Craven too, calling her "clever and winsome...[but the] most wanton of wives.")

Am wondering if this is the Lady Craven referred to...

I've liked the choices of direct quotes from sources, even non period (p. 56):

"The feminist scholar Lillian S. Robinson in 1978 wrote a provocative essay, "Why Marry Mr. Collins?" that's crucial to a modern reader's understanding of the reality of marriage..."

I've seen that essay cited so many places - and happily it's available online (here) if you have an account on Open Library (it's free). It's in Robinson's book Sex, Class, and Culture .

...In other reviews it was mentioned that the book hops around a bit in its narrative. I've seen that a bit already (noting something that's ahead in the timeline), but it doesn't bother me because the author's voice in the story seems pretty well established. It's conversational, gossipy, and there are asides in parentheses. Such as (p. 59):

"...Granted Dr. Eliot was more controlling than most husbands, but a smart, discreet, manipulative wife could have worked around that and had him in her pocket. (Pockets, by the way, were worn under dresses and attached to a petticoat, accessible by a slit in the dress. As dresses narrowed, these pockets became too bulky, so purses, or reticules, came to serve the same purpose.) At any rate, Grace was reckless, or in love, which in effect amounted to much the same thing."

Many of these asides, rather than be tucked into the text like this, are actually set into a sidebar type column. At first I thought this was odd, but then I found the facts interesting and skipped forward to read more of them at one sitting. (Here's my own aside - Eliot is apparently spelled with one or two l's. Ah for the 1700s' more mellow concept of spelling.)

I don't know that we've been set up to see that Eliot was morecontrolling than the average husband - but again, it's very clear that the author is going to champion the cause of Grace, and frankly that's why I'm reading this. Also Grace is noted to be "pigheaded" as well, so it's not like it's all compliments.

...Manning goes on some interesting tangents - because I can not fault her for taking several pages (start, p. 67) to share the story of James Annesley, whose uncle has him kidnapped and sold into slavery. p. 69:

"...James' curious life story inspired fiction. Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering, Tobias Smollett'sPeregrine Pickle, and Charles Reade's The Wandering Heir were all based on poor James Annesley's dramatic experiences.

And, according to wikipedia, also Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped.

...Thanks to Manning's quotes, I now want to read the Tete-a-Tete gossip column from Town and Country Magazine. Or at least the essay "Keeping Up with the Bon Ton: The Tete a Tete series in The Town and Country Magazine" by Cindy McCreery. (Finding a copy looks to be the hard part - the books the essay is printed in are a tad expensive, so perhaps I can find it in a future library visit.) The magazine itself - or at least a volume of it - can be found here on Google Books. Which looks a bit difficult to read in that format.

...Random texts mentioned in Ch. 6: Bed-Hopping and Social Status (because it's the kind of thing some of us are curious about, and I may have bumped into some of these before):
"Signior Dildo" by John Wilmot (I've bumped into a LOT of citations of this one)
Fanny Hill by John Cleland
Aristotle's Masterpiece by unknown (but definitely not Aristotle, that wikipedia link has a link to entire text)
Thomas Rowlandson - there are about seven of his works (etchings) cited, all online. (Book only has one illustration.)
And a ton of period porn/medical/how to books that I'm not adding only due to being tired of stopping to type - google Nicholas Venette. Pietro Aretino, and Tommaso Piroli (illustrator).

...p. 120-121

"Snuffboxes and waistcoat buttons of the most dissolute men sported lewd drawings along the lines of Rowlandson's pornographic prints. ...Painted sporting scenes on waistcoat buttons were popular with fashionable men, but these sporting scenes went beyond what was considered polite, especially in company that included women."

I am now fascinated that there was such a thing as a lewd waistcoat button.

...Page 147 - Here begins the part about the anonymously authored poem The Torpedo, A Poem to the Electric Eel. The title page has it "Addressed to Mr. John Hunter, Surgeon: and Dedicated to The Right Honorable Lord Cholmondeley." You can find a copy of it here - Google free ebook - I haven't gotten around to even looking at it because it's 21 pages, with 17 of that being the poem. I'll have to be in the right mood for that. At first I wasn't sure that Manning was right that parts were directed at Cholmondeley and not Hunter (who I've read about before) - but keeping in mind that Cholmondeley was notorious for gossip about how large his penis was - yeah, this is all about size jokes and randiness. In poetry. The bits Manning cites are enough for me at the moment.

...Here's something that has been noted in other history books that I always feel is worth reflecting on, p. 248:

"Charles Dickens, in his novel of the Reign of Terror, A Tale of Two Cities, published in serial form in 1859, got it exactly right: more commoners than nobles were killed at the guillotine, perhaps as many as two-thirds to one-half more. Remember Dickens's Sydney Carton and the little seamstress? Neither of them was an aristocrat. Grace Elliot narrowly missed becoming one of these commoner victims in 1794.

I remember when I first read Dickens thinking it was weird that they would bother to kill someone that wasn't French. That was before I understood that it was actually easier to be suspect because you weren't French, and thus all the more reason to get rid of you. Also you were an outsider/foreigner anyway and who was going to come to your defense? It'd have to be someone that either really cared about you personally or just had a lot of courage.

...No matter where I read about it The September Massacres are always heartbreaking. I have nothing to quibble about over the way Manning describes them, because they were horrific. There were several quotes I couldn't bring myself to type - any book on the French Revolution will suffice for this. Incredibly bloody stuff. Read about the death of Princess Marie Louise to get the general idea of the bloodthirsty nature of the events. 1792 was a bad year.

...Lists of prisons that people were incarcerated in while waiting for trial/execution in the French Revolution, page 277:

The Carmes: This former Carmelite convent on the rue Vaugirard, near the Luxembourg Gardens - now the church of Saint Joseph des Carmes - holds an ossuary of the skulls and bones of more than one hundred members of the clergy who were massacred in the gardens on September 2, 1792. ...[Even in 1794:] It was a noxious place and there were vermin everywhere. The walls, cobblestones, ceilings and stairs were still stained with the blood of the martyred clergymen, even after two years and some attempts at cleaning."

...p. 284:

"The horror of being at the mercy of these radical revolutionaries and their robotic minions, the prison jailers, is reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps."

This is actually a great comparison - but not just for the prisons and the treatment within them. I'd say it holds true for the entire system of the Terror, especially the bloody violence and lack of human empathy that seemed to run rampant.

....Mention of the executioners, the family Sanson on p. 286 - it's not cited here, but I found (thank you Wikipedia) that you can get the book of memoirs (Memoirs of the Sansons, from private notes and documents, 1688-1847) online (free) here. From the wikipedia page: "Charles-Henri's life is heavily and rather inaccurately fictionalized in German author H.M. Mons's novel The Sword of Satan (1954)." - and I am so tempted to hunt down a copy of that (no free online copy, sadly) since it sounds like good cheesiness.

...The last few chapters about Grace's final years and what happened to her grand-daughter Georgina Cavendish-Bentinck are full of "probably's" and supposition - but then given the lack of documentation that's not much of a surprise, particularly in women's history. (Men and their heirs are usually easier for historians to track.) The publisher of Grace's journal wasn't completely helpful in documenting the facts, p. 364:

"...There's a lot of confusion in what he [Richard Bentley] writes about Grace's personal life and how he came by the manuscript. His editorial comments in the prologue and epilogue to her book have misled readers and perpetuated gross inaccuracies, causing many to doubt the veracity of her narrative."

...Example of amusing endnotes, p. 402:

"...The National Archives were undergoing renovation at the time I went to Paris...
...the personnel were so unhelpful - in fact, downright snippy - that the trip was an exercise in aggravation.
...[A writer for a US news magazine said] the only conclusion he could draw, after years of encountering bad attitude, was that the government policy had to be to hire aliens only, aliens "who despised all carbon-based life forms.""


And now the tremendously long Reading in Progress section. Because I did want to save it from Goodreads.


02/04/2013 page 32   7.0%

""...The genealogist added another sibling, a "Margaret D.," who is noted to the left of Hugh Dalrymple and Primrose, his brother. (A woman named Nicholas and a man named Primrose - the mind boggles.)" - so far I'm liking the Dalrymples' odd names."


02/05/2013 page 32   7.0%

"A day later and I'm still thinking about Primrose Dalrymple. All I could find on google was this google book, which I think was the one the author cited:"


02/05/2013 page 32   7.0%

"Now imagining the Adventures of Captain Primrose. Seriously, can you imagine what chaff you'd get from the enlisted men if you were a dude called Captain Primrose?"


02/07/2013 page 59   14.0%

""Eliot was a proud man, inordinately proud, a husband who would not tolerate any infidelities from his young bride, even if (as turned out to be the case) he was guilty of such goings-on himself." - this double standard always annoys me, whenever it happens in history. And it does, over and over."


02/07/2013 page 59   14.0%

""Arthur Annesley, Lord Valentia, was one of that tribe of so-called gallants who seduced women for the sheer fun of it. Today they'd be termed "love rats," a la James Hewitt, Princess Di's tell-all lover." - Grace is in Diana's family tree."


02/07/2013 page 63   15.0%

""Giving a man "the horns" - pointing at him with all the fingers of the hand turned in except the little and index digits - is widely recognized in European cultures as referring to the sexual conquest of his wife and impugns his potency" - and looks oddly like the Univ. of Texas hand sign for Hook 'em Horns. No idea what that might mean."


02/07/2013 page 67   16.0%

""Now enters the woman with the colorful name of Joan or Juggy Landy..." - wait what? Juggy?!"


02/08/2013 page 81   19.0%

"Wow, author reprints entire divorce action - or looks to be most of it - and while in the legalese of the times is still interesting. Also several pages on Criminal Conversation, which is always a weird area of law."


02/08/2013 page 92   22.0%

"Authors asides not always terribly amusing: in a part where she's covering the House of Lord's divorce testimony, after mentioning all the lords present: "Prayers are said. It begins (Drumroll, please!):" and then a quote of testimony."


02/08/2013 page 92   22.0%

"Another example, brackets show author's aside comments, "it" being the Bill for divorce: "...but no Counsel appearing against it [Poor Grave! What happened to her lawyer? Is she going to pull a noli contendere, i.e., not contest it? Can she contest it?]...""


02/08/2013 page 103   24.0%

"Chapter 6's title: Bed-Hopping and Social Status. Odds are this won't be dull."


02/08/2013 page 106   25.0%

"While I'm usually either liking or not much bothered by author's asides - this one was annoying: "Charlotte (who, from her portraits and contemporary descriptions, was a real bow-wow) was not his first choice..." - Has been said so much nicer, or if not nicely than with more wit. Sigh."


02/08/2013 page 109   26.0%

"Here's another example of the hopping around others dislike - from the era of George III and Prinny we have a few sentences about Prince Charles and Camilla. Granted, there can be a comparison with Prinny and Maria Fitzherbert."


02/08/2013 page 112   27.0%

"Look out, pages 112 on are full of birth control - lots of condom info and a few photos - and some period porn. Yep, not dozing off for this part..."


02/08/2013 page 117   28.0%

""A 2003 exhibition at the British Museum - London 1753 - included two of only a few surviving examples of condoms. ...Yes these condoms were made to be used, washed (one hoped!), and reused. Yuck! The condoms were donated to the British Museum by Eric J. Dingwall, nicknamed "Dirty Ding," who collected erotica and material on aberrant sexual customs...""


02/08/2013 page 129   31.0%

"Lord Cholmondeley's nicknames were "the Athletic Peer," "Lord Tallboy," "the Whimsical Lover," "the Torpedo" - I don't think even an academic text could write about this without snickering. Er, without the literary equivalent of a snicker. Because yes, it's all about sex."


02/08/2013 page 133   32.0%

"Oh dear. Author just compared Grace and Lord Cholmondeley to: "Recall the media frenzy over the former couple known as "Bennifer" - Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez - and one begins to get an idea of this pair's allure." - I think the Bennifer thing should be forced out of history books, but that's me."


02/08/2013 page 121   29.0%

"Thanks to the story of a gentleman with lewd images painted on his waistcoat buttons Google now knows I've been searching for "painted waistcoat button porn" and various other phrases. The Morning Herald (1783) had a story about it, so it must be true, right? Still nothing from searches. You'd think someone would collect them, right?!"


02/08/2013 page 132   31.0%

""Upon death of the monarch his [Lord Great Chamberlain, ceremonial role] duty is to break his stave of office [6ft+ wood pole] over the grave." - question, if this happens in present/future, will the BBC televise it? Or has it done so already? Sigh, more things to google."


02/09/2013 page 140   33.0%

""A man could sit in the bow window at White's (the oldest gentleman's club still in existence in London), read one of the many freshly ironed newspapers (ironed to keep the ink from getting on one's hands or gloves)..." - I had wondered why newspapers needed ironing, I'd seen that in other books, just not had an explaination."


02/09/2013 page 146   35.0%

""..It appears in general that age is more disgusting in women than in man..." - quote from scandal sheet of 1770something. Ugh."


02/09/2013 page 164   39.0%

"Ok this is totally pulling a "what if" without any facts, in usual parentheses-author-aside. Grace's husband shot at by highwayman: "(Mysteriously no attempt was made to rob him, and one has to wonder if a frustrated Grace Elliott took the initiative and hired hit-highwaymen to rid herself of her husband.)" - zero proof for this, no sources cited. Major eyeroll from me."


02/09/2013 page 166   40.0%

"Only now does the book bring up Horace Walpole's supposed homosexuality - which is assumed by some scholars but not really proven. This is after titling this section, on p. 158: "Granduncle Horry, Man of Letters, Letter Writer, Closeted Homosexual" - I get that being gay in this period would be a subject of scandal (and illegal), but this is framing it in an awkward way..."


02/09/2013 page 167   40.0%

"And going for titillation: "An interesting sidelight to the adoration of Lady Sophia by both Lord Lincoln and his pal Horry Walpole is that it's now believed by some biographers that Lincoln and Walpole had been involved romantically and sexually themselves - together. But though Walpole never married, [Lord Lincoln] did...""


02/09/2013 page 172   41.0%

"Lord Cholmondeley "looked out for Grace and her child and grandchild through the rest of her life and theirs, but it's understandable that, under the influence of his granduncle, he balked at marriage." - sorry, no real evidence that it was primarily Walpole behind that decision."


02/09/2013 page 172   41.0%

""It should be made clear that Walpole probably bore no ill will toward Grace personally, nor toward her daughter Georgiana, whom he'd described as being - like her mother - "pretty." " - oh well good, because you were making it sound like it was all his fault, and Lord Cholmondeley was just standing about being told who to marry by the villainous Walpole."


02/09/2013 page 196   47.0%

""The Ceremonies of the Straw. This was the custom of laying down straw in the streets around the house of an invalid, someone on his deathbed, or a woman in labor. The straw acts as a cushion, or as insulation, softening traffic and street noises.""


02/10/2013 page 202   48.0%

""Stories of [George Augustus] Selwyn's necrophilia abound in the letters and diaries of the time, and there was also an interesting aside suggesting that he went to the executions of criminals dressed as a woman." - what, no details on the necrophilia?"


02/10/2013 page 218   52.0%

""Among these bequests [in the will] are amounts to a number of women and their - and his - offspring, Eliot's bastard children. What a hypocrite, divorcing his wife [Grace] for her adulterous behavior! But, as noted, that's the way the game was played in Georgian England. Advantage: men.""


02/10/2013 page 218   52.0%

""He [Eliot] is consistent to the end in his need to assert his superiority over other men. (Is it one of those short-man things? One wonders.)" - and another example of just a touch too much snark for me. Yes Eliot does seem like a jerk, but lots of men divorced their wives like this, and yes it doesn't seem fair. However making him the constant butt of the joke/villain forever gets a bit much."


02/10/2013 page 218   52.0%

"One thing this history does make you realize - there were a LOT of bastard children running around. Which makes you wonder about people who keep thinking out of wedlock children are some new problem."


02/10/2013 page 223   53.0%

"When the author of Eliot's bio notes his books show he had "very limited medical knowledge" Manning then states "But is one being excessively hard on Dr. Eliot here?" - ok, nice to see the fairness."


02/10/2013 page 230   55.0%

"Grace as a Royalist trying to help the French monarchy, carrying messages to various countries - great stories. Have marked her journal (available free online) to read."


02/10/2013 page 239   57.0%

""Earlier that day, Grace Elliot was to recall, as she herself was traveling in a carriage through the Paris streets, her carriage was stopped for the procession and so she saw close up the bloody head of the Princesse - whom she'd also known personally - as it was borne on that pike.""


02/10/2013 page 246   59.0%

"Really great comparison of Grace's account of Phillipe's (Duke of Orleans) death at the guillotine versus the account by Evarts Seelye Scudder in Prince of the Blood. And it's not weird that their accounts differ - it's what the maid told her versus an eyewitness - and both can be faulty."


02/10/2013 page 246   59.0%

"(Oops wrong, not a maid in that last comment, but a manservant. Who also saw the death.)"


02/10/2013 page 249   60.0%

"If you've never read about this before, it's one of those "why make things more difficult" moments of the French Revolution, when they remake the calendar:"


02/10/2013 page 275   66.0%

"For the portion where Grace is being tried by the Revolutionaries I am really enjoying the authors asides. Wonder how dude that is treating her meanly will fare later? Aside in parentheses notes he will die eventually, the usual way. Of course, at this period in France, that happened a lot. To just about everyone."


02/10/2013 page 282   68.0%

""Of all the death sentences pronounced in France during the Revolution, Paris accounted for only 15 percent; 19 percent were dealt in the southeast and 52 percent in the west, where the worst of the civil war was being waged.""


02/10/2013 page 287   69.0%

"Madame du Barry was considered by her peers to have had a bad death because she screamed, cried, begged and in doing so "frightened and alarmed the mob" - this to me says that going quietly and noblely to your death is probably not the way to wake up a crowd to its humanity. And know what? Grace Elliot said much the same in her journal. Which I now MUST read."


02/10/2013 page 288   69.0%

"""You are going to hurt me, please don't hurt me, just one more moment, I beg you!" (Said to be the last words of Madame du Barry, King's courtesan.)""


02/10/2013 page 288   69.0%

"Gross out time: description of fluids body releases on execution, male vs. female. Railings were only put around the scaffold in 1792 when one of the executioners slipped on the fluids and fell, dying of the injuries. Don't imagine the smell of all this. "...blood pooled into a pond underneath the scaffold...rivers of blood ran down the...streets...""


02/10/2013 page 289   69.0%

"Fun guillotine fact - "Originally meant to be stationed permanently at the place du Carroussel in the Tuileries Gardens, the machine of execution was afterwards disassembled and reassembled and taken from place to place." - people with houses nearby complained of the noise, the smell, etc."


02/11/2013 page 298   71.0%

""In the second decade of the nineteenth century, according to Christopher Hibbert in Queen Victoria, it was reckoned that King George III had at least fifty-six illegitimate grandchildren, or, as they were called, "children of the mist.""


02/11/2013 page 334   80.0%

"One of my favorite eccentrics mentioned in passing: William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland - (Go, Team Eccentric!)"


02/11/2013 page 341   82.0%

""It was reported that he [George IV] drank gallons of cherry brandy and had delusions of taking part in - and singlehandedly winning - the Battle of Waterloo.""


02/11/2013 page 369   89.0%

"Another mystery, Grace's Journal ends abruptly because the manuscript is torn off at the end. So someone decided to censor it at some point, but of course no idea who."


02/11/2013 page 378   91.0%

"Critics of Grace's Journal claimed that there's no proof of her imprisonment - to which can be noted that the prisons had lax record keeping, and Grace may not have always used her real name."


02/11/2013 page 379   91.0%

""The French have always been kinder to Grace Elliott than her own nit-picking and biased countrymen.""


02/12/2013 page 381   92.0%

""He [Sainte-Beuve, in a book review] also disputes the anecdote that Bentley repeats, that General (and soon to be emperor) Napoleon proposed marriage to Mrs. Elliott." - great example of how Bentley seems to have used any and all gossip, from any source."