About the book
One of the most flamboyant women of the late-eighteenth century, Mary Robinson’s life was marked by reversals of fortune. After being raised by a middle-class father, Mary was married, at age fourteen, to Thomas Robinson. His dissipated lifestyle landed the couple and their baby in debtors’ prison, where Mary wrote her first book of poetry and met lifelong friend Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. On her release, Mary quickly became one of the most popular actresses of the day, famously playing Perdita in ‘The Winter’s Tale’ for a rapt audience that included the Prince of Wales, who fell madly in love with her. She later used his copious love letters for blackmail. This authoritative and engaging book presents a fascinating portrait of a woman who was variously darling of the London stage, a poet whose work was admired by Coleridge and a mistress to the most powerful men in England, and yet whose fortunes were nevertheless precarious, always on the brink of being squandered through recklessness, excess and passion.
Reviewed by Selbourne Book Circle:
We all found Parts 1 and 2 about Perdita’s acting career and celebrity, interesting and enjoyable. Everyone confessed to skipping most of Part 3, on her literary career – her poetry style too florid. We admired Byrne’s scholarship, but felt the need of a heavier editorial hand. The lack of an index was surprising. So many contemporary opinions on Perdita were most likely truth. Some of our group found Perdita no more than a high-class prostitute, but most of us admired her strength of character, cleverness and loyalty to her mother and daughter and her closest friends.
Star rating: ***