Dearest Reader,It is my sincerest hope you will not consider me a shameful gossip if I whisper to you in these brief lines some of the subjects elucidated in Janet Gleeson's Privilege and Scandal: The Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer, Sister of Georgiana. Many secrets, hitherto buried between the lines of Harriet's many letters (both to her and from her), are forthrightly revealed in Gleeson's edifying, yet thoroughly beguiling biography of this vivacious, attractive and intelligent woman. Harriet Spencer, (who became Countess of Bessborough and is a feisty ancestor of the famed, though ill-fated, Princess Di) turned heads and raised eyebrows in 18th-century Britain by embroiling herself (a married woman!) in many peccadilloes regarding her participation in politics, gambling and illicit amours. The salacious details of that which I can only hint at here her lifelong involvement with a younger man, the painful particulars of her dalliance with playwright Richard Sheridan and how she managed to keep secret the birth of two of her six children are to be discovered in Gleeson's detailed accounting.
But remember, dear reader, that a lady's reputation in the Regency era is everything, and that such a lady a dynamic and influential figure of the Whig aristocracy, who braved social condemnation by giving voice to the reasoning of her acute mind, who was ever a faithful sister and friend, and who was such a loving and devoted mother, that, upon hearing her son was wounded in the Battle of Waterloo, raced alone across war-torn Europe to be at his side to such a one should every courtesy of confidence be given. Therefore, lest my words insinuate more than they illuminate, I pray you, burn my letter, and buy the book! Linda Stankard, your faithful correspondent, writes from Nanuet, New York.