Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Cinderella at World of Royalty posts two trailers of the film The Duchess, to be released in September. The more recent one rather shamelessly attempts to exploit the enduring popularity of Princess Diana by drawing a parallel between her and the Duchess of Devonshire, née Lady Georgiana Spencer (the two women were indeed related.)

Both trailers seem to focus on the Duchess’s marital troubles and her notorious ménage à trois with the Duke and her friend Lady Elizabeth Foster. Georgiana’s involvement in politics, and her considerable influence in that regard, do not seem to be mentioned. She was also a writer and a beloved public figure. I hope the film does justice to these aspects of her life.

Gainsborough Georgiana DevonshireAnd what do you think of Keira Knightley in the title role? Does she resemble the real Duchess, painted here by Gainsborough?

The famous painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun met the Duchess in 1802, and describes her in her remarkable Memoirs, available online in English translation. Georgiana was then middle-aged and in failing health (she would die four years later.)

Here goes Madame Lebrun:

The most fashionable woman in London at this time was the Duchess of Devonshire. I had often heard of her beauty and her influence in politics, and when I called upon her she greeted me in the most affable style. She might then have been about forty-five years old. Her features were very regular, but I was not struck by her beauty. Her complexion was too high, and ill-fortune had ordained that one of her eyes should be blind. As at this period the hair was worn over the forehead, she concealed the eye under a bunch of curls, but that was insufficient to hide such a serious defect. The Duchess of Devonshire was of fair size, her degree of stoutness being exactly appropriate to her age, and her unconstrained manner became her exceedingly well.

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12 Comments to “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire”

  1. vasile says:

    I just watched the movie today! I liked the movie, but I did not like how the duke treated Georgiana. Especially the phrase to the question of Georgiana(How do you love me?), the duke said:”In the way I understand love”. Making an analysis of the his actions toward Georgiana, I conclude that he never loved her. Just egocentric goals. It is a pitty that so many beautiful girls and women suffered because of so stupid and unwise men.
    That is why came the feminism movement, as a reaction. This movie is very deep and covers many spheres.
    I recomend you, the movie is worthwatching.

  2. Vlad says:

    omg loved the movie i wish i could live back in those days! i cant wait till there is a time machine im going back! to the 1800’s

  3. Said by a female says:

    Personally I agree with whoever has said that they saw past her weight and towards her acting. She is one of the best actresses/actors of our time and rather than diminishing her part I think we should be upholding it. I have just watched the movie on DVD and say that Keira Knightley is the best pro-female actress/actor we have portraying what is so rightfully ours. Freedom. Need I say more??

  4. Anonymous says:

    i like kiera knightley alot personally, i just saw the movie and saw past her weight to appreciate her acting. The costumes were excellent, a visually appealing movie i thought.

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    Let’s hope not, Melissa. I don’t want to see an 18th century version of “Sex and the City!”

  6. Can’t wait to see the movie – hope it’s not disappointing like Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette.

  7. Catherine Delors says:

    Well, Elena, let’s see what the film manages to do with her life. I hope it will be more than a fluffy piece like Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette. The trailers are not too promising, but they are only trailers.

  8. “I agree that Keira Knightley is too thin to play the Duchess, or any 18th century part, in a realistic manner. The standards of female beauty at the time tended towards rounded, hourglass figures, and emaciation was associated with poverty or illness.”

    Exactly. And yes, Georgiana definitely had grace, charm and wit, which in those days added to a woman’s general attractiveness. She had more than just a pretty face.

  9. Catherine Delors says:

    Elena – I have not read the bio of Georgiana either, and I too look forward to the film. At the very least it seems visually beautiful. I simply hope it will go beyond that, and Georgiana’s perfume of scandal, to show the whole person.

    And yes, most definitely, I agree that Keira Knightley is too thin to play the Duchess, or any 18th century part, in a realistic manner. The standards of female beauty at the time tended towards rounded, hourglass figures, and emaciation was associated with poverty or illness.

    Richard – Madame Lebrun was clearly impressed by Georgiana’s social grace and intellect. I remember commenting on Elena’s blog (about Madame de Stael) that physical beauty is vastly overrated when it comes to female charm. And I believe the Duchess had been beautiful, as attested by Gainsborough’s portrait. Sic transit gloria mundi…

  10. Richard says:

    …”She might then have been about forty-five years old. Her features were very regular, but I was not struck by her beauty”…

    Well, she was English after all wasn’t she?

    See, I would never put this on my blog. A man couldn’t get away with it.

  11. I am looking forward to the film. However, I do think that Keira is miscast. She is lovely but too thin to play Georgiana. I have not yet read Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana upon which the film is based but hope to do so before seeing it. Comparing Diana to Georgiana is not as annoying to me as when people compare Diana to Marie-Antoinette, since there are some real lifestyle similarities. However, I think that Georgiana probably was more active and influential in the political arena than Diana ever was, and much more cultured.

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