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"Amanda Elyot" is the cover of choice for a hard-working professional author/actress from New York, Carroll Leslie, who makes an honest living writing (among other things) "romance" literature. All For Love is a long, leisurely stroll through the short life (dead at 43) of one of Georgian history's more interesting denizens (and a very busy one) - Mary Darby Robinson, who lived in palaces, "idyllic" English cottages and debtors' prison with equal verve, was married and deserted by one of the era's most loathsome human rats (Mr. Robinson) was, seriatum and sometimes simultaneously, actress trained by Garrick who soared as "Perdita", mistress of George, Prince of Wales, mistress of Banastre Tarleton (which is why I am writing this review), authoress, poet, feminist, friend of Coleridge and Wordsworth, demi-monde fashionista, mistress of Charles James Fox, model for Gainsborough, political speechwriter and campaigner (for Tarleton), newspaper editor (The Morning Post) and highly intelligent and spectacularly beautiful woman whose life has been dissected, reconstructed and detailed by no less than three current biographers.** And now she is the first-person narrator on a walk through her thoughts and emotions, courtesy of Amanda Elyot.
Although the "Elyot" name suggests the rarified wonders of Jane Austen, this is popular fiction, not literature; the Miss Eliot of Persuasion leaves no calling card here. All For Love is a perfectly pleasant way to spend a summer afternoon provided that light historical tales are to one's taste and one is not puzzled to find "persiflage" and "moiety" mid-sentence in a romance novel.
As to the part where Tarleton dominates Robinson's life (about the last third of the book), the basic premise is that he a) had her in some kind of overwhelming sexual thralldom (Svengali, without the mesmeric overtones) and b) let her pay all his expenses, gambling debts included, which she did despite a horror of debtor's prison and poverty because of a) above, and also c) coaxed her into writing his memoirs of the American Revolution, as well as his pro-slave trade speeches in Parliament although she was anti-slavery. That's the foreground; the background, including the struggle over the slave trade in Parliament and the French Revolution, is curiously bland; there is but a single paragraph rising to actual emotion on the horrors in France, and it stands out since the book assumes a grand passion in a turbulent life in a violent time but reads like, well, like a bright surface description of ditto.
Fair is fair; this is fiction, so Ms. Elyot can write what she pleases and say what she will. Those who flinch at inaccuracies and the author's conclusions regarding Tarleton will need to keep reminding themselves that this is but a novel.
For those who skip to the risque parts in novels featuring famous love affairs - trust me, for that stick to your college edition of Fanny Hill.
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* With fulsome apologies to the Bulwer-Lytton Contest for swiping their signature line. [ back ]
** Perdita, by Paula Byrne; Perdita, by Sarah Gristwood; The Prince's Mistress: A Life Of Mary Robinson, by Hester Davenport. [ back ]
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