If you think the tv series Bridgerton is scandalous, you underestimate the upper classes of the eighteenth century. Catherine Curzon has taken the most outrageous happenings and placed them in a collection, each verified by historical evidence, it is a well-written account of the era.

However, I found the repetitive nature of the scandals wearying. It gives little away to say the vast majority involve a powerful (through wealth or status) man having sex with one (or multiple) other than his wife mostly because he wants to (it’s rarely an affair of love). The damage done through his behaviour is borne, predominantly, by the females (mistress and wife alike) involved. He usually gets off with little more than rapped knuckles and a fine. The more I read the more frustrating it became, the women were constantly taken advantage of, consistently treated like property, consistently overlooked by the courts, and undervalued or abused by their peers.

The few exceptions stand out for creating a way around the system which required they sell themselves to build up the social currency to be financially secure. It is a stark reminder of how far women’s rights had to come, and how far we still have to go.

Those who were homosexual couldn’t identify as such and bore far more outrage and punishment for genuinely loving their partners than their philandering heterosexual counterparts. In the back cover copy, the book refers to it as a “tumultuous, unforgiving era” and this can’t be denied. Ostraciousing, public humiliation, and shaming were everyday tools, reputation once lost was nearly impossible to restore. One can’t help but feel sad for the women who endured this culture, they had so few choices in their lives and so little protection from those who wielded control.

Enjoy feels like the wrong word for this book, it was interesting and easy to read because it’s carefully crafted by the author. It sheds a different light on a time in history more often associated with prim and proper than salacious scandal. If history interests you…or tv series like Bridgerton (though this had none of the light, fluffy humour), this one is for you. It’s a four out of five.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Pen & Sword through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in these reviews are completely my own.

From the back cover:

As millions of viewers across the globe thrill to the assembly room exploits of the Bridgerton family and wait with bated breath for Lady Whistledown’s latest despatch from Almack’s, scandal has never been so delicious. In a world where appearances were everything and gossip was currency, everyone had their price.

From a divorce case that hinged on a public demonstration of masturbation to the irresistible exploits of the New Female Coterie, via the Prince Regent’s dropped drawers and Lady Hamilton’s diaphanous unmentionables, The Real Bridgerton pulls back the sheets on the eighteenth century’s most outrageous scandals. Within these pages Lord Byron meets his match, the richest commoner in England falls for a swindler with a heart of stone, and forbidden love between half-siblings leaves a wife and her children reeling.

Behind the headlines and the breathless whispers in Regency ballrooms were real people living real lives in a tumultuous, unforgiving era. The fall from the very pinnacle of society to the gutter could be as quick as it was brutal. If you thought that Bridgerton was as shocking as the Georgians got, it’s time to think again.

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