A Monkey Among Crocodiles: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of Mrs Georgina Weldon - a disastrous Victorian

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9780002571890: A Monkey Among Crocodiles: The Life, Loves and Lawsuits of Mrs Georgina Weldon - a disastrous Victorian

A hilariously funny history of a bizarre 19th-century life of the woman who was a proto-type Pankhurst. The non-fiction debut of one of the most talented comic historians of social manners.

Georgina Weldon was born in 1837 and, although almost no one will have heard of her, the only talent she really had was for self-advertisement. She is one of the great undiscovered and unsung eccentrics of the 19th-century.

Her ego was monstrous and manifested itself in the 6-volume record of her life which she sold through a spiritualistic medium. Her garrulous work was composed in a convent cell in Gisors where she lived with her pet monkey Titilehee. She was born to parents on the margins of aristocracy and spent her early life in Florence. After a string of liaisons which ‘ruined her reputation’ she had an affair with a penniless Hussar officer called Harry Weldon and eloped with him to a two-bedroom cottage in Beaumaris. She opened a singing academy in a house formerly owned by Dickens but, with things going characteristically awry, she met the composer Gounod, who came to live with them. The singing ladies were dumped in favour of orphans who drove around the West End of London in a converted milk float advertising their weekly concerts at the Langham Hotel. With her husband trying to commit her for lunacy, Georgina fled to France, only to flee back again when Harry threatened divorce. It was at this point that she discovered her metier – dragging people through courts. She published pamphlets, embraced spirtualism, had a lesbian affair with a French lady and eventually lived out her days in Gisors surrounded by 37 tea chests and many trunks filled with paper.

Brian Thompson’s gift is as a narrative historian. He excels at writing human-interest stories which embrace both his love of social history and his warm embrace of the eccentric, original, bizarre aspects of human nature.

There was no other Victorian woman like Georgina Weldon. With this book Brian Thompson will establish himself as a new original and utterly sublime commercial and hilariously funny historian.

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Review:

Georgina Weldon, née Thomas, was born to "manically snobbish parents" in 1837, the year Victoria took the throne. Possessed of a pretty, if unexceptional, voice, she sought the attention denied her by her parents through publicly singing for her supper. Married to Harry Weldon, a weak clubbable sort, she disastrously invested her manic energy in firstly a singing academy, then an orphanage, from a dilapidated house in Tavistock Square stuffed with children, dogs and her pet monkey. A peculiar menage à trois with the equally semi-detached French composer Gounod ensued, before she involved herself with another Frenchman, Menier, and a prostitute, Angele, who became her lover and companion. After surviving an attempt by Harry (now living with his concubine and son) to commit her, she longed to soar on the wings of fame but instead twice wound up a jailbird. Her day came with the 1882 Married Woman's Property Act, which allowed women to bring civil actions in their own name. No name was writ as large as Georgina's--at least, in her eyes--and she launched 25 lawsuits in the next year. Eventually she settled in a French nunnery to write her six-volume, 1,500-page Mémoires, which she published herself in 1901, to resounding indifference. In that obscurity she would have remained but for Brian Thompson discovering the volumes in 1996.

The filter he brings to her muddled French fashions the hysterical ramblings into a splendidly boisterous tale, bursting with as many gulls and tricksters as a Ben Jonson play. Amanda Foreman gives an appropriate endorsement to Thompson's achievement, and as with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire or Simon Winchester's The Surgeon of Crowthorne, another captivating figure has been plucked from the margins of conventional historiography. Thompson peers genially over his glasses on the inside cover, and it is with this air of bemused indulgence that he tackles so formidable a protagonist. It is the right approach. Although pausing little for historical or psychological context (such as her inability to bear children), this rollicking portrait, brimful of exuberance, finally gives this outrageous, litigious Victorian eccentric the memorial she at least always knew she deserved. --David Vincent

Review:

From Bad To The Bone: 'A dark and compleeing study of sexual obsession... Witty and rancorous about contemporary Britain... Thompson writes brilliantly about men and women hooked by their desires.' Philip Oakes, Literary Review

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