I always here the phrase, “we should go back to the old times because today’s culture (youth, government, economy, etc.) is so screwed up!” Well, I think people who say stuff like that are firstly pessimistic, secondly are not well versed in history, and thirdly get most of their information from the news or Facebook. If you really look back in time we have come a very long way in terms of moral reform and improvements in our society: women’s suffrage, civil rights, handicap parking spots, freedom of religion, sexual harassment policies, decreased teenage pregnancy rates, etc. I was reminded of the occurrences of debauchery in the past with my most recent book Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. Lady Georgiana Spencer was alive during the tumultuous times of late 18th century England; think American Revolution, French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, King George III going crazy, and the London newspapers obsessing over the aristocrats of the time. Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire at the age of 17 in 1774 and was thrown into the weird intricacies of noble life: making sure your curtsy was low enough, you could host daily social events, and you could be up on the newest fashion. Well, Georgiana was able to fit right into her new role and soon became the leader of the “Ton”-the who’s who of England society at the time. Everything that she did in terms of fashion was mimicked including skyscraper hair that would make 80’s styles look like bowl haircuts. She was the queen bee and spent nearly every night of her youth drinking and gambling to the point of ridiculousness. Think spring break in Cancun but with fancier dresses, pompous language, and no means of contraception. She acquired over 6,000,000 million dollars in gambling debt (probably much more then this but this was the “official” number) and was constantly trying to hide this information from her husband. To make matters worse, because of her crazy lifestyle she kept having miscarriages and was constantly pressured to conceive an heir for the Duke. She did eventually have three girls and one boy-fulfilling her primary “duty” in life.
In regards to sex, the Duchess had a steamy affair with at least one known person, Charles Grey, and was exiled for a time to give birth to the illegitimate child. She also had several unverifiable affairs and one possible lesbian relationship with Lady Elizabeth Foster also known as Bess. Bess was Georgiana’s best friend but ended up sleeping with her husband and fathering two children with him. This weird triad relationship can best be explained by the fact that everyone was cheating on each other and infidelity was the norm among the “Ton.” Georgiana would spend most of her life in a constant whirlwind of gossip, drama, fear, and overall stress because of inauspicious behaviors and quickness to withhold truths. She did have redeeming qualities in the arena of political involvement. At the time, women did not have a right to vote and were very much in the background in terms of political views. Georgiana campaigned for the Whigs and was at the front and center of the party for most of her life. This is quite commendable because she was almost always scorned in the press and satirized for her efforts. In her late 30’s and early 40’s she set out to extinguish the vice of gambling and she took up learning mineralogy, literature, poetry, and a whole host of edifying endeavors. Sadly, she died at the young age of 48 because of a liver ailment (most likely caused from her excess drinking). Georgiana’s life was full of ups and downs and it is sad that she was so susceptible to peer pressure in her early life. The vices of this day and age were in full force three hundred years ago and I think it shows that history truly does repeat itself. The Duchess never found fulfillment through status, power, money, gambling, or drugs; she finally found contentment when she spent more time with her children and enriching her mind. I honestly would not recommend this book unless you really love drama and politics but I would recommend watching the movie they made out of the book-The Duchess with Keira Knightley. Don’t fall to the pressures of our modern day society and remember that knowledge is one of the most rewarding pursuits in this life.