Life Mask

Today I finished reading 'Life Mask' by Emma Donoghue. It has taken me about 6 weeks to read it - quite unusual for me because normally I speed through books. However, it's a book that you really have to think about - not one to read when you are tired. So that really cut down on my reading time!

What is the story about? Well, it tells a true story set amongst the upper classes of London in the late eighteenth century. Its three main characters are Eliza Farren, an actress, the Earl of Derby, and a well-connected female sculptor, Anne Damer. Emma Donoghue states that she was inspired to write the story after reading some gossip from the time, linking Eliza and Anne romantically:

Her little stock of private Fame
Will fall a wreck to public Clamour
If Farren herds with her whose Name
Approaches very near to Damn her.

Obviously, at this time, "Sapphism" was something that no woman would admit to or want to be linked to. "The World" i.e. the social circles in which the women mixed would be scandalised at such a notion, even though many of them were conducting extra marital affairs themselves.

It is an interesting book for many reasons. Firstly, the fact that it is based upon a true story and people who actually lived and loved, pretty much as described in the book. It is interesting to see pictures of some of the paintings and sculptures featured in the story.

Secondly, the whole book is based pretty much on the political aspect of my history A-level. When I was doing my A-levels I found it all deathly dry and boring. But somehow this book has brought many of the characters to life, in particular Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and Walpole, who I grew quite fond of in the end (couldn't say the same about studying his foreign policy though!)

The third reason I enjoyed this book is that it gives a really good sense of how people conducted romantic relationships in those days. If you're looking for a bodice ripper of a book then you're not going to find it here. It's all very gentle and proper. Yes, there is some "action" towards the end of the book, but even then it's quite restrained. It really highlights how much people have changed in their attitudes to love and sex, and also, thankfully, to gay and lesbian relationships. It's interesting to note that there *were* gay and lesbian people around at that time. But it was all very hidden.