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[published by Pan Books, Ltd.; 1969]
Jean Plaidy was a hugely popular author a couple of decades ago, writing in different genres under various pen names. (Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr are two others I'm aware of.) As "Jean Plaidy" she produced a number of multi-volume historical sagas, focusing on everything from the Plantagenets to Lucrezia Borgia.
Perdita's Prince is the final volume (I think?) of her Georgian Saga, a fictionalized account of the lives of Georges I - IV. As you can guess from the title, it tells the story of Mary Robinson's year-long affair with George, Prince of Wales.
Plaidy's strength as a writer is her ability to bring people and places to life. Her portrayal of the teenaged Prinny (he wasn't yet eighteen when he first saw Mary on stage as "Perdita") is especially delightful -- even if you do want to box his ears on numerous occasions for being a twit. Mary is presented as self-absorbed, melodramatic and unable to take effective control of her own existence. Seen through Plaidy's eyes, she's a woman to pity but not particularly to like, which is how I've always felt about the real Mary.
A rich supporting cast of historical figures swirls around the lovers. Plaidy's portrayal of poor, well-intentioned, hopeless George III is sometimes funny but more often heartbreakingly sad. Richard Sheridan, Charles James Fox, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Mrs. Armistead -- who later married Fox -- are all given interesting roles.
The story itself is driven by the characters rather than any overall cohesive plot, but as the relationship between Prinny and Mary develops it becomes the center of considerable court intrigue. With Prinny nearing his majority and on bad terms with his father, he is an obvious focus for Whig politicians like Fox, who initially sees Mary as a potential tool through which to influence her lover. The Fox/Armistead subplot in particular had me wishing Plaidy was a stronger writer. It was well handled as far as it went, but it deserved more depth than it was given.
Banastre Tarleton, naturally, gets just a tiny bit of air time in the epilogue. His life with Mary began after all the fuss, muss and aftermath of her affair with Prinny had blown over. Plaidy means well by him, which is a lovely change, but she does some, um, interesting? things with his time line. For one thing, he arrives home from America as a general. (He would've loved that!) For another, he somehow manages to be home and cuddled up with Mary while Cornwallis is still chasing Lafayette across Virginia. (He might have preferred that, too, given the option.) And so on. I think the problem lies not in a lack of research on Plaidy's part but rather in her choice of research materials. Her views of both him and Mary seems to be drawn primarily from Marguerite Steen's The Lost One: A Biography of Mary Robinson, which is well meant but wildly inaccurate.
Like all of Plaidy's books, Perdita's Prince falls towards the fluff end of the spectrum. It's a quick read -- enjoyable, if not especially memorable. It's highly untrustworthy on details, but it is above average in its general presentation of the events and personalities of George III's court. It's the type of lively little story which can spark an initial interest, and from there you go off to the library to discover the hard facts. A good lazy-day read.
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