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Privilege and Scandal: The Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer, Sister of Georgiana    by Janet Gleeson order for
Privilege and Scandal
by Janet Gleeson
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

We look back to the 1960s and talk of promiscuity and free love, as though this were something new. What was new was that this was happening outside marriage; in the eighteenth century sexual dalliances were just as frequent, but were kept secret within a marriage.

Harriet Spencer, and indeed her sister Georgiana, were women of consequence in the late seventeen hundreds. Their lives were indisputably privileged, and they both had a penchant for spending extravagantly by today's standards they would have been equally as important to the gossip columnists as Paris Hilton and her ilk.

In the social society that Harriet Spencer grew up in, there was no hope for a bright and intelligent woman to pursue a career; marriage was the only option and if this relationship did not work out there was no way out of the marriage. But 'once the wives produced the requisite heirs to ensure that the family line continued, they were granted surprising freedom ... flirtations and extramarital affairs reached epidemmic proportions.'

Harriet's story is fairly typical of many socialites of the day. She was extremely involved in politics, and even though women still had no vote, she and her sister had tremendous influence on politicians' views, discussing everything from world affairs to domestic policy.

One amazing aspect of Harriet's story is her twenty-year affair with Lord Granville, having two illegitimate children by him and living with her husband during the pregnancies, somehow managing to keep her condition a secret! Harriet's obsession with Granville remained with her throughout her life, even after he married.

Harriet Spencer's life was indeed remarkable and Janet Gleeson has captured the feel and moral climate of the day: 'She inhabited a world of sexual freedom and easy credit, in which the desire for stimulation led to decadence and overconsumption, that has many echoes in the twenty first century.'

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