The Disastrous Mrs. Weldon: The Life, Loves, and Lawsuits of a Legendary Victorian
The subject of this unusual biography was born Georgina Thomas, daughter of a delusional, cruel, and pretentious Briton who later assumed the genealogically more interesting surname Traherne. Her ambitious father expected his pretty, plump Georgina to marry a “ten-thousand-a-year man.” In 1860, she foolishly and impetuously eloped with a penniless lieutenant, Harry Weldon. Enraged, her father never saw her again. Undaunted by her barrenness, Georgina relied on her talents as vocalist and exploited her remaining social, artistic, and musical connections. She achieved a modicum of fame without ever rising above the level of amateur, warbling at parties and concert halls while her spouse pursued a career in the College of Heralds and whiled away his time at his club — or with his mistress. Georgina’s lilting soprano enchanted the renowned French composer Charles Gounod. Swept into the vortex of her adulation and ambition, he moved into his muse’s chaotic residence and attempted to compose great works, enduring shrieking orphans and barking dogs. The relationship soured; they parted acrimoniously, and litigiously, and he returned to his wife and country. Afterwards, Georgina devoted herself to her “orphanage,” which doubled as musical academy. As gullible as she was unstable, she was preyed upon by a French couple, and conned out of money and property. When her husband and mother conspired to commit her to an asylum, she evaded the “mad doctors” and transferred her orphans to France — with typically disastrous results. Her later involvement in lunacy laws, and the use she made of the Married Women’s Private Property Act, was historic, but in her pursuit of justice she invariably made herself ridiculous. Georgina was no reformer, she was motivated by her personal grievances and a lust for vengeance against the many men who had wronged her. She spent her final years composing her memoirs — in French, to avoid libel suits. Brian Thompson pokes at his subject’s inflated self-portrait to reveal a deeply flawed, wrong-headed woman with an unquenchable appetite for publicity and activity: the antithesis of a proper Victorian matron. A readable and entertaining life of an eccentric who probably deserved to be forgotten, but was too compelling and vital to lie quietly in her grave.