The Scandalous Lady W


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I remember thoroughly enjoying Hallie Rubenhold’s brilliant The Scandalous Lady W (originally published in the UK as Lady Worsley’s Whim) when I read it several years ago and so was absolutely thrilled when I heard that not only was it going to be dramatised for television but it would also be starring the excellent Natalie Dormer as the eponymous Seymour Fleming, Lady Worsley, who caused a furore in the eighteenth century when she eloped with one of her lovers, prompting her husband, who according to the mores of the day considered his wife to be his property, to sue the unfortunate young gentleman involved for damages. However, it all went awry when the ensuing court proved that nothing in the Worsley marriage was quite as it appeared and that although Lady Worsley had indeed taken several lovers, it had been at the full instigation and prompting of her husband.

Rubenhold’s book is a riveting and very entertaining read and so too is the television drama that it inspired, which by clever and ingenious use of flashbacks manages to tell the whole fascinating story is an hour long slot while at the same time sacrificing none of the candlelit ambience and glamour of the period. It really is a most beautiful feast for the eyes with Dormer’s costumes in particular worthy of praise as she really does look the part in her towering wig, lace chokers and shimmering silk gowns. I love Natalie Dormer – she has such a unique look and, unlike a lot of actresses, always looks perfect in period pieces although she hasn’t got what my grandmother used to call ‘an old fashioned face’. What does that even mean anyway? And yet even now I find myself seeing random women in the street and thinking, ‘Now, there’s an old fashioned face if ever I saw one.’

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I don’t want to spoil this drama for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet but suffice to say that things eventually go sadly awry for everyone concerned in Lady W’s scandal. However, the ending, which could be so depressing, is nonetheless upbeat in a bittersweet sort of way as Lady Worsley, who has seemingly lost everything including (and especially) her dignity, strides away from her old home with head held high, leaving her old life behind without a backward glance and looking forward to a future that she clearly hopes will be free of faithless men. Just as we are informed at the very beginning that at this time women were considered to be the legal property of their husbands, at the very end we are told that Lady Worsley would marry once again after her husband’s death and that her second spouse would take HER surname of Fleming. A nice touch.

Although The Scandalous Lady W obviously has a lot in common with the Kiera Knightley film The Duchess about Seymour’s contemporary and acquaintance Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, I found myself comparing it more to the wonderful A Royal Affair about the tragic love affair of George III’s younger sister Caroline Matilda, although thankfully Lady W’s story didn’t end with beheadings (it was a close shave though as she was in France during the Reign of Terror). All three stories share the same elements of naive young brides, uninterested husbands, unusual household arrangements (mènage à trois in other words), illegitimate babies and clandestine affairs and all three end with the hapless wife publicly humiliated all over the scandal sheets and, in the case of Lady W and Caroline Matilda, exiled. There are no winners though – the husbands are never happy at the end either and rightly so.

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A definite must see for any fans of Hallie Rubehold’s book, A Royal Affair, The Duchess and Garrow’s Law.

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As the youngest daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette was born into a world of almost unbelievable privilege and power. As wife of Louis XVI of France she was first feted and adored and then universally hated as tales of her dissipated lifestyle and extravagance pulled the already discredited monarchy into a maelstrom of revolution, disaster and tragedy. Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History is now available from Amazon US and Amazon UK

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One thought on “The Scandalous Lady W

  • Hester

    I’m really glad you posted this; I mostly watch NetFlix, so hadn’t heard of this at all, but it looks fabulous; I shall be checking it out on the iPlayer tonight!

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