Gleeson brings Harriet Spencer out from the shadow of her sister, the notorious Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire (an ancestress to Princess Diana). In this meticulously researched, wonderfully written, lively biography Harriet shines. The ability to bring a historical personage to life so that you wish you had known her is a gift, and Gleeson demonstrates that she has the flair here.

Harriet follows her sister
into scandal shortly after she marries Viscount Duncannon and begins a series of affairs, including one with the playwright Sheridan. Her influence grows with a notorious liaison, a long affair with Lord Granville (12 years her
junior!) that results in two children. How she keeps her pregnancies a secret from her husband is quite an amazing feat.

Harriet is an eyewitness to the aftermath of Waterloo and lives through the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars and the Prince Regent's ascent to the throne. Her life is better than fiction: She made history and became a model for many fictional characters. (Crown, Jun., 380 pp., $24.95)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin