Too Great a Lady: The Notorious, Glorious Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton

Amanda Elyot, Author
Amanda Elyot, Author . NAL $14 (412p) ISBN 978-0-451-22054-7
Reviewed on: 12/18/2006
Release date: 02/01/2007

In order to eventually take her place in history as mistress of turn-of-the-19th-century English war hero Horatio "Hornblower" Nelson, Emma Hamilton must first socially ascend "rung by slippery rung" in Leslie Carroll's bright, meticulously researched novel (her third historical written as Elyot). A roadside coal peddler as a child in North Wales, Emma arrives in London at age 12 and works as a nursery maid, brothel entertainer, medicine-show chorus girl and mistress to several titled gentlemen before marrying Sir William Hamilton, "envoy extraordinary and ambassador plenipotentiary to the Court of the Two Sicilies." As Lady Hamilton, Emma becomes a close confidante of Queen Maria Carolina of Sicily and is pivotal in cementing England and Sicily's alliance as the Napoleonic wars get underway. Friendships with Haydn, Goethe and Marie Antoinette don't prepare Emma for Nelson, with whom she ultimately embarks on a scandalous five-year affair. Elyot gives Emma a rippingly bawdy, occasionally self-aggrandizing first-person, that, while sometimes grating, rings true. The result is an energetic portrait of a unique historical figure. (Feb.)