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The Prince’s Mistress: a life of Mary Robinson
THE 18th century actress and writer Mary ‘Perdita’ Robinson is remembered chiefly because of her brief liaison with the Prince of Wales (later George IV) but she was far more than a courtesan. Although dogged by scandal and crippled by ill health, she reinvented herself as a Romantic poet, novelist, and early feminist.
Academics have taken a new interest in her writings, but a full-scale biography has long been overdue. Now, with The Prince’s Mistress: a life of Mary Robinson, writer and historian Hester Davenport (who lives in Old Windsor, close to Perdita’s resting place in the parish churchyard) has admirably filled the gap.
With a sympathetic but never sentimental approach to her subject, Mrs Davenport charts the story of this extraordinary life, from London stage to debtors’ prison, from royal palace to a modest cottage in Englefield Green, providing fascinating insights into the society and politics of 18 th century England.
In this meticulously researched and well-presented book, Hester Davenport reveals an indomitable, entrancing human being, faults and all. No wonder ‘The Perdita’ (so called for her famous role in The Winter’s Tale) inspired the admiration of remarkable men like Richard Sheridan, William Godwin, Charles James Fox and Samuel Coleridge.
Review by Alison Haymonds
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