Lately, I've also become interested in women historically who were not born into, or did not marry into, the best of circumstances, but still managed to rise due to their relationships with those in power. For women, this relationship was most often defined by sex. I've been reading Eleanor Herman's Sex With Kings, which chronicles the lives of royal mistresses in European history. In addition to anecdotes, she discovers the traits of the successful mistress generally. The most successful guided their actions entirely by the desires of the king--anticipating his needs and meeting them with alacrity. Madame du Barry, the mistress of Marie Antoinette's father-in-law, Louis XV, is portrayed in the film and is also mentioned in Herman's book. This movie is costuming eye candy from start to finish. Every frame is a masterpiece of color and shape and texture.
Georgiana's family life was not so happy. It was a professional marriage. Her husband was not faithful, chiefly with one woman, who was her close friend. One of them once referred to the Duke as "our husband," which I find fascinating. Georgiana took a lover--Whig politician Charles Grey, yes the namesake of Earl Grey tea. They had a daughter together, whom she was obliged to give up, for the most part. When Grey expressed a wish to marry Georgiana, the Duke threatened that she would never see her other children again if she did marry Grey. I find the mixture of happiness and sorrow in Georgiana's life, the mixture of control and powerlessness, and how she dealt with all of that, fascinating. If I've sparked any interest in Georgiana, I highly recommend Amanda Foreman's Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire.
In 2009, the Academy Award for Best Costume Design went to The Duchess. I am in love with this character. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire is another woman who sought solace and control through fashion. Leading, concurrent with Marie Antoinette, the development of women's fashion on the Continent in the latter 18th century, she was a fount of creativity--who wrote what I think are excellent letters. She wrote novels (supposed to be mediocre). She was much involved with the Whig Party, hosting social events, and championing their platform. She was a good friend of Whig Prime Minister Charles Fox. In the photo at right, Georgiana, portrayed by Keira Knightley, adorns her hat with foxtails in support of Prime Minister Fox. (Poor foxes.)
Also, the film includes a couple scenes of marital rape, portrayed from the victim's point-of-view in one instance, and from the servant's over-hearing in a second, both sympathetic ways of looking at domestic abuse in partnerships which were not equal under the law. When I talk about ways in which women have dealt with power and powerlessness throughout history, in addition to a lack of economic freedom, this lack of sexual autonomy is also part of it. When I talk about home, it is about you defining the boundaries of your realm, and at the smallest definition of your realm, your realm is you, your keepiest of keeps. And when say that none shall pass, none shall. When you you say "Guards! Remove this person!" There should be strong, benevolent persons to haul the harasser from your door! But even if there are not, remember that, though you've been told you are a weak and feeble woman, you have the heart and stomach of a queen!