This review might be considered slightly spoilerish to those unfamiliar with Lillie Langtry’s history – consider yourself warned.
Born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, she was the only daughter of the Dean of Jersey and grew up amidst a passel of brothers. That made her into quite the tomboy, but eventually Lillie grew up and her natural beauty was knocking men on their arses – except perhaps her husband, Edward Langtry. Edward was supposed to be a well-to-do gentleman of leisure, but he turned out to a bit too fond of his leisure (he sure did like to fish) and a drunken boor at that.
…The man she had married. A failure as a lover and as a companion, his one saving grace had now vanished. He was not even rich!
Lillie is resigned to a dull life in the country, but after a long illness she convinces Edward to take her to London. Her dreams of making a splash in society seem rather dire until one day when the right door is opened and Lillie’s beauty attracts the attention of some rather famous artists (James Whistler and Millais among them), and she’s soon the latest rage among London’s Professional Beauties. No surprise that all the men want to become her lover, and she turns them away (including a king!), but eventually she attracts the attentions of the Prince of Wales and well…one thing leads to another…
She kept thinking…the Prince of Wales…She lay back on the bed and found she was excited. Not so much by the thought of the Prince himself, but by all that being loved by him could mean.
Bertie had a fondness for the ladies and the mistresses usually came and went, but Lillie’s beauty and intelligence holds his interest much longer, and that royal favor keeps the creditors at bay. Eventually his interest wains and the cost of living the high life catches up with Lillie and the perpetually drunken Edward and a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do to make a living (no, not that!). While not high literature, I found this very readable and I enjoyed hearing Lillie’s story as far as the novel takes it. The book ends as Lillie begins a new period of her life, and it was very refreshing to see her want to stand on her own two feet and keep her independence instead of falling back on a man to take care of life’s little problems. Good for her.
The list of famous people who were close to or crossed paths with Lillie is quite something – Millais, James Whistler, Oscar Wilde, King Leopold of Belgium, The Prince of Wales, Prince Louis of Battenberg (what a dish), Disraeli and Sarah Bernhardt to name a few. I really did like the glimpses of Bertie and the frustrations he must have felt at being shut out by Queen Victoria from any participation in governing the country and how this led likely led to his dissolute lifestyle. I also found it amazing that Bertie’s wife Alix and Lillie could have developed such a close friendship despite her being *the other woman*. I’d have liked to see Lillie’s very complicated friendship with Oscar Wilde dealt with in greater detail, but beggars can’t be choosers. One final caveat and that is that this book is fairly well infested with minor typos, and while they weren’t bad enough to throw me out of the story or send the book flying, they are there. An instead of and. New instead of knew. Gentelmen (no, I am not kidding). YMMV, but that might be a deal breaker for some.I’m fairly positive this book was a tie-in to the Masterpiece Theatre mini-series on Lillie (it is mentioned on the front cover), and while it has been a couple of years (well maybe thirty) since I’ve seen it, if you are interested in Lillie’s story I recommend hunting down a copy – most especially for the stunning performance by the actor who portrayed Oscar Wilde.
There are at least three non-fiction books on Lillie’s life I plan on hunting down, but I’d love to find a novel that covers her latter years as well. Any ideas? Or shall we find someone out there willing to write it for us?