My final book to squeeze in a post about before 2006 ends, anything else will have to tip over into 2007 and it was with a real sense of sadness that I edged towards the final pages of England's Mistress : The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams.It's been a great and hugely enjoyable book.This is a life presented in such a way that I think anyone could enjoy reading it.
I'm not sure where I'd reached in my rather light-hearted potted resume but sit yourselves down because Nelson dies.
He had made very flimsy and easily contestable arrangements for Emma's well-being should he die in battle and of course he popped his clogs at Trafalgar, died a national hero and got a square and a column all to himself. Add in his flagship HMS Victory preserved for posterity and that's quite a public legacy.
Poor Emma does her best to keep up appearances after Horatio's death, including taking the blood-encrusted coat with relevant left shoulder bullet hole everywhere with her as a relic. With a diminishing income, trying to sustain her lavish lifestyle was going to end in tears and she tragically comes a real cropper, dying an agonisingly painful death in Paris in January 1815 having fled there to escape her creditors.
Such a final irony, to spend her last days in the "land of her lover's enemy".
It's clear that Kate Williams' sympathies lie with Emma and so do your own by the end of the book.Kate's research for the book was phenomenal and she has accessed previously unpublished letters and documents that add a great deal to our knowledge of this remarkable woman.
It's quite a revelation to see just what influence Emma had over the Vice-Admiral and how that in turn inspired many of his heroic activities.
A book that has so much relevance today.As you read you can't help but call to mind similar situations that make the gossip pages of the press on a daily basis.
As Kate Williams suggests,
"Today when women have more opportunities than ever before to realise their ambitions, but still feel terrible compunction about doing so, her story has even more resonance than it ever had"
Equally poignant and sad as Kate Williams observes
"It is still Nelson's mistress - not Nelson - who is judged and must suffer for the affair."