England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton

Kate Williams, Author . Ballantine $26.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-345-46194-0

In this absorbing, well-crafted biography, British historian, lecturer and TV consultant Williams charts the rise of 18th-century England's most celebrated sex symbol, best known as Admiral Nelson's mistress. Setting the rags-to-riches story of Emma Hamilton (1765–1815) in social and historical context, Williams vividly evokes her impoverished childhood and struggle to survive in London as a servant, theater maid and dancer. Williams details the debacle of Emma's life as a high-class courtesan, rescued while pregnant at age 16 by a calculating young aristocrat, Charles Greville, who transformed Emma into a trendsetting star by commissioning a fashionable artist to produce ravishing portraits of her. Creating a convincing psychological portrait of a seductive, ambitious Emma, Williams entertains with an intimate portrayal of her subject's marriage to William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples (and Greville's much older uncle), who shocked high society by making her his wife. Describing Emma's stage-managed seduction of Nelson, and the pair's passionate affair (which was famously tolerated by William Hamilton), culminating in a love child and a shared residence, Williams conveys the fickle nature of Emma's acceptance by high society. Williams's biography is well paced and pitch perfect, as competent in its storytelling as it is in its authoritative analysis of 18th-century class distinctions. Color photo insert. (Oct. 17)

Reviewed on: 08/07/2006
Release date: 10/01/2006
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