You can sum this story up in one phrase: “What a rotter!”
If you want a 400 page documentary on why you are lucky not to live in Georgian times, then Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match is probably it. You’d have to be having a bad life indeed not to feel you got off lightly compared to Mary Eleanor Bowes.
Wedlock is a factual account of the life of the Countess of Strathmore, ancestor of our ‘Queen Mother’ – the Strathmore surname was Lyon and subsequent generations amalgamated the two names, for reasons which become apparent during the book. A woman of quite extraordinary wealth, and apparently either a slight lack of foresight or a very gullible nature, it tells the story of her two marriages, starting with the moment (between the two) of a dramatic duel in her honour and then exploring both her life up to that point and her life afterwards. Despite not being fiction (which I didn’t realise when I started!) the book is engagingly told and contains enough drama, information and salacious detail to rival most stories. Wedlock is as much about the time as the people and the exploration of the changing role of women, their legal status and the way in which Georgian law and society was operating and altering during the late 1700’s. In fact, this is the great strength of the book for me, as some elements of the narrative left me a little cold at times.
The bulk of Wedlock regards her marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney and it gives no more away than the title does to say he is something of a cad and a bounder! This book was my library reading groups choice after Washington Square but Stoney leave the villain of that piece standing! He is sadistic, vile, manipulative and abusive who really out villains the very worst of fiction. I’d go as far as to say I might have abandoned the book as being unlikely had it been a story rather than history.
The best of this book was certainly the insight into the times. For me, the least appealing aspect was the endless focusing on his cruelty and violence and I did eventually begin to feel I was reading one of those endless “my mother locked me in a cupboard for 18 years ” books. Just as I was beginning to consider giving up though, the plot move on t the conclusion, which was a relief as I thought the endless catalogue of domestic violence was a little overplayed.
For a Kindle reader, the narrative itself stops at 75% (just in case you start to lose the will to live!) and the remainder is footnotes. This type of book perhaps lends itself less well to a Kindle as flipping to the footnotes is not really an option in the same way you can with a paperback. I enjoy being able to do this with historical books and I didn’t bother to look at the sources etc with Wedlock in the way I would have done had I read it conventionally.
My favourite bit? Discovering that the expression “Stoney broke” is attributed to this unpleasant character’s tendency to be in debt and out of cash.
For the babylost? Mild to moderate; there is significant birthing of babies, in a non graphic way, considerable discussion of abortion the 1700’s way and she is separated from her children for many years. But I coped fine with it.
For me – of course virtually every date quoted was either my birthday, or the 2nd, 13th or 28th April! I don’t think I would read it again, but I would certainly recommend it and it whet my appetite for more fiction from that era in a way that nothing else particularly has.
7/10 an interesting read.