cover image Emma, Lady Hamilton

Emma, Lady Hamilton

Flora Fraser. Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95 (356pp) ISBN 978-0-394-53053-6

Lady Emma Hamilton scandalized the British public when she took Lord Nelson as her lover under the same roof that she shared with her husband, the ambassador to Naples. How could this diplomat's wife, embodiment of the neoclassical ideal, whom George Romney painted as Circe, behave so outrageously? The public followed her every move, and that is apparently what Fraser has done. Every mood, every dinner party, each bit of gossip is relived in this busy biography. A blacksmith's daughter, beautiful, high-spirited Emma drifted into poverty after the deaths of Nelson and her husband; she even disavowed her two daughters in an effort to fend off disgrace. In the end, her long struggle for respectability and acceptance is the tragedy of an original who tried to be ""her own woman'' while remaining financially dependent on her husband. The author is an English journalist and daughter of writer Antonia Fraser. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC alternate. (April 10)