A Monkey Among Crocodiles: The Disastrous Life of Mrs Georgina Weldon, an eccentric Victorian

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9780006532200: A Monkey Among Crocodiles: The Disastrous Life of Mrs Georgina Weldon, an eccentric Victorian

'A hilarious, hugely enjoyable life of a Victorian eccentric.' Sunday Times, Summer Reading

'In 1889, Mrs Georgina Weldon, with a monkey called Titileehee, fled London and her lesbian lover, turned up at a convent in France and settled there for twelve years during which she wrote six volumes of preposterous autobiography. Her life, filled with incident (as Lady Bracknell might have disapprovingly described it), would have been a gift to Dickens. One of the lost voices of Victorian Woman, though only death could silence her garrulous pamphleteering, litigation and provocative egotism, now sings again, thanks to Thompson's wonderfully comic account.' IAIN FINLAYSON, The Times

’Georgina Weldon's life is a story so richly worth telling as to make the common run of biographies, with their high-achieving protagonists seem sadly dull. Thompson has distilled what he describes as her six volumes of incoherent self-justification, scandal-mongering, invective and misinformation into a life that is at once vastly entertaining and intelligently, uncensoriously illuminating of some of the murkier corners of Victorian society. His touch is deliciously light: Georgina's tyrannical father found nothing to interest him in Florence, his home for twelve years, except Dante, whom he studied "presumably for the pleasure of seeing sinners punished". Elegant in style, at once sensational and substantial in content, this book is a surprise and delight.' LUCY HUGHES-HALLETT, Sunday Times

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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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Brian Thompson
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