Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Beautiful Duchess

Georgiana was often referred to as "the beautiful Duchess of Devonshire" but as multiple sources and her own mother have claimed, she wasn't physically beautiful. Historians base their opinion on her portraits, which just show how biased I am because I see a physically beautiful woman looking back. But the portraits could also be inaccurate because Georgiana was a very difficult person for artists to paint for some reason. Gainsborough was said to have thrown down his paintbrush in frustration because he couldn't properly capture her countenance, and even her son. Hart, would go on to say no painting ever really looked like her. Similarly, when Fanny Burney finally met Georgiana she was surprised how average the looks of "the beautiful duchess" were. But upon further meetings she changed her mind and decided Georgiana was indeed beautiful.

One thing everyone did state about Georgiana is that she was very charming and difficult to dislike. She was also said to have a smile that could light up a room. Many historians have claimed that it was because of Georgiana's personality that she was dubbed "the beautiful duchess." Fanny Burney was determined not to like Georgiana when they met, but was won over when she discovered her to be intelligent and sincere. It appears that Georgiana's beauty was of a radiating variety, it was so incandescent that you could see it on her in person, but couldn't capture it in art. Georgiana is one of the few "beauties" in history whose title was based mostly on personality with a small influence from physical looks.

21 comments:

  1. LOL - I think that most of the famous beauties in history have turned out to be not that beautiful, at least by modern standards! Cleopatra certainly springs to mind!

    I think beauty really is so tied up in how you carry yourself and treat people that in most cases that has the greatest effect on how people see you.

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  2. This reminds me of one of the great fictional females of all time, Scarlett O'Hara, who is emphatically described as not beautiful by her creator, who then goes on to catalog the woman's vibrant smile, alluring ways and several particularly striking features. Still, when casting the role, they went with Vivien Leigh, who was certainly a traditional, elegant beauty.
    I agree with AlohaAroha about how much carriage has to do with beauty. I have seen Nicole Kidman, for instance, in interviews where she was frankly NOT beautiful because of her stiffness and coldness. Then an actress like Chloe Sevigny shows up now and again with that intriguing mixture of quirky sprite and moody-eyed Mata Hari and blows a pencilly queen like Kidman completely out of the water.
    In any event, I would have preferred to see Sevigny play Georgiana rather than Knightley, though the movie was terrible across the board. Take a look to see if you agree with my casting:
    http://img1.visualizeus.com/thumbs/08/08/03/black,and,white,chloe,sevigny,actress,photography-65a84cfbf3e1b1e39f684a86736392a2_h.jpg [just paste the link into your browser]

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  3. Cleopatra is a great example; this modern age would never give her a chance with a nose like she had!

    Not to totally switch this to a different topic but yes, very few starlets look different in person. I would have been much more comfortable with Choloe playing Georgiana too! My two choices for her (before I even knew a movie was coming out) were Rosamund Pike or Kelly Reily, who would be able to get the Cavendish drawl down I'm sure!

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  4. Both of these actresses LOOK the part really, but I don't know their acting. I would hope Chloe could get the Cavendish drawl. As a matter of fact, I was really disappointed that they didn't seem to be doing it in the movie. Of course, the film barely skimmed the surface of interest that the book offered.

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  5. They were both in Pride and Prejudice actually, Kelly played Caroline Bingly and Rosamund was Jane. Rosamund was also the jilted wife in The Libertine.

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  6. Now I recall. Thanks for the reminder on that. I looked them up with P and P added to the search and then it hit me. Hard to split my contempt for Caroline Bingly from the actress, but Rosamund as Jane was a favorite of mine in that film - despite the fact that I cheesed it on her name earlier. Good casting, Heather. [By the way, loved Keira in P&P just thought she was a poor Georgiana. And don't get me started of Matthew MacFadyen...yum.]

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  7. You mean don't get ME started, mmm. I liked her in P&P too, but ever since then it seems like she just keeps playing Kiera Knightly...

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  8. The portrait in this post is definately beautiful. Who is the artist?

    Greetings Tinka

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  9. I hear you. It's like, 'Kiera, please, please, please, stop acting from your jaw. Can we dig a little deeper here? Maybe you could play this role from, I don't know, your ankle or something.'

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  10. Tinka- It's from an engraving by Bartolozzi

    Paul- Hahaha, EXACTLY!

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  11. judging from the portraits i've seen of the Duchess, i'd agree that she was a beautiful woman and i suspect that to meet her in the flesh and discover that sparkle in her eye for myself would be quite breathtaking.

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  12. Paul Miller, I thought of her creator's description of the fictional Scarlett O'Hara immediately. Except in the most extreme cases, personality creates beauty.

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  13. I haven't seen the film so don't feel qualified to comment...... but I received a copy of the book in the post today so maybe I'll be able to join in the discussions more quite soon. :)

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  14. Oh good! I think you'll love it. You definitely shouldn't touch the movie until you read the book.

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  15. I agree Heather. Books are usually better than film versions. There's only so much that can be put into a film and a lot depends on the producer/director's interpretation.

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  16. Lesley, to be honest I wouldn't even recommend the film. The book is great, but the film can only be viewed as a bit of historic fiction. The facts are barely recognizable and no one really even seems to be that excited about being in the production.
    Mary O' - We are of one mind on this topic.

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  17. She always looks lovely to me in her portraits as does her sister, Lady Bessborough, and their brother's descendant, Diana, Princess of Wales. Beauty is a hard thing to define at the best of times, though I supposed if one were to be scientific about it, we are attracted to balance in features more than anything else.

    And then of course, there's the character factor: a good character lends so much to looks, whereas a bad one dissipates the prettiest face.

    [Crikey, "dissipates". Been reading too many Regency romances lately....]

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  18. Why does she remind me so much of Marie-Antoinette? Marie was said to be beautiful and such, but then people said "not really", because of her proeminent hapsburg features, like the jaw, lips, forehead and nose... And yet, apparently, she was lovely and with a lovely personality, too. And about resemblance: if you can't get in portraits, why not search for a death mask? I believe there is one of Napoleon, another of the Duke of Wellington, and even one of Marie-Antoinette, made with wax - I won't give up until I find it!

    Júlia

    http://www.coloursofthepast.blogspot.com/

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  19. I don't know of any death mask of Georgiana, she probably wouldn't have wanted one by the time of her death anyway. She was deformed from her eye surgery and spent the last years of her life with her hair flopped over her missing eye, which made her face a little droopy. Poor G!

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  20. YES so beautiful that she had to have her hair down to cover her missing eye !

    French visitors were shocked by her very public backing for the Whigs who were liberal, anti establishment and out to nobble the Aristocracy ....of whom Georgiana was one of their cheif ornaments.

    Bye the bye , that menage a trois... was the other woman the daughter of Hervey the Earl of Bristol... ?


    Any chance of awarding me posting rights to this blog ?
    I could make the odd 18th cent type post.. if at any time you did nt approve.... it would be easy to delete the post and cut off my posting privilege.

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  21. You aren't a beautiful human being if you WILLINGLY abandon your kid because you love your husband's power and position more.

    The Duchess of Devonshire abandoned her kid.
    She was only slightly better than her sick, sleazy sister, who married her own daughter to a man she knew to be related to her. (she didn't even know which men fathered HER kids she was such a flagrant slut)

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