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Title: The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of a Legendary Victorian
Author: Brian Thompson
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A portrait of a true Victorian eccentric--an outrageous, flirtatious, unstoppable woman who survived a slew of misfortunes and wild adventures, most of them of her own making.
Born to fanatically snobbish parents on Princess Victoria's eighteenth birthday, Georgina Weldon grew up to wreak havoc on almost everyone she met. Her father was the first to miscalculate Georgina's maverick nature. After he lost both a run for Parliament and any chance of inheritance, he took his family off to Tuscany where he could watch and wait until his daughter became old enough to marry well and so repair his own fortunes.
Georgina had other ideas. Her scandalous affair with a married man and her defiant marriage to the less-than-prosperous young hussar officer Harry Weldon were just the first signs that she was no ordinary girl.
Harry and Georgina managed to better their position enough to move to Tavistock House, former home of Charles Dickens. There, Georgina took in a menagerie of animals and orphans and acquired a string of lovers, male and female, including the famous French composer Charles Gounod. In a plot that could have been constructed by Dickens himself, Georgina was stung by con artists, betrayed by her parents, and narrowly escaped being committed to a mental institution.
When an 1882 Act of Parliament gave her the legal right to represent herself in court, Georgina became one of the first Victorian women to sue her persecutors, and she helped to overturn England's infamous Lunacy Laws, which allowed patients to be committed without proper medical examination against their will.
Like the best Victorian novels, The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon marries the adventures of an intrepid protagonist with delightfully revealing behind-the-scenes glimpses of Victorian society. A tale of sex and scandal, bravado, and bravery, Mrs. Weldon's life story is wild, wicked, and totally irresistible.
Disastrous is precisely the right adjective to apply to Georgina Weldon (1837-1914), who caused trouble for everyone her path crossed, but most especially for herself. Yet the catalog of calamities that constitutes this eccentric Englishwoman's life is vastly entertaining to read, thanks to Brian Thompson's smooth prose and keen sense of the absurd. You can't help but laugh at poor Georgina, so sublimely self-absorbed and so pathetically inept at getting what she wants. There's something magnificent about the whirlwind way she pursues crackpot ventures, from establishing a "singing academy" (no one came to the concerts) to running a chaotic orphanage whose charges ran wild in her London home. Her behavior was so outrageous that she narrowly escaped being committed to an asylum by her infuriated husband. Indeed, Weldon's one claim to historical fame comes from her pioneering use of the 1882 Married Women's Property Act to sue the doctors who tried to put her away; the resulting court cases made public the arbitrary, often vindictive nature of England's lunacy laws. But Thompson, a novelist and scriptwriter who turned to biography after reading Weldon's over-the-top memoirs, is less interested in her lawsuits than in her turbulent affair with French composer Charles Gounod, her tangled relations with a pair of French con artists, and her overall inability to lead anything resembling a normal life. No need to feel guilty about enjoying her tale of woe, since Georgina seems never to have doubted herself and always to have blamed other people. It's all great fun, and it really ought to be made into an opera. --Wendy Smith
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