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The Background to my Childhood

Kate Williams’s biography of Emma Hamilton, England’s Mistress, felt very personal to me. Brought up in Merton, our childhood war-wounds were tended at the Nelson hospital’s A & E department (no longer there) and my local pub was called the Emma Hamilton (now boarded up). My partner was born near Emma Hamilton’s birthplace on the Wirral and he spent two years in Italy. Yes, I knew a little of the history, but the characters were two-dimensional.

Whilst I agree with other reviewers that there is speculation at the beginning of the book, so few facts of Emma’s early life are known (or have been deliberately concealed as she constantly reinvented herself). I don’t think it was unreasonable for the author to make the point that the odds against Emma’s surviving her impoverished childhood, let alone rising above the ranks of a London prostitute, were extraordinary. For those who know little 18th Century history the background information is essential to understanding Emma’s strength and determination. In fact, having read several books about the 18th Century sex industry, I might have saved my time and simply plumped for this.

Make no mistake: Emma kicked arse. The Times reviewer described her as ‘The first self-made superstar.’ You will follow her journey from the slums of Ness to the brothels of St James’s into the drawing rooms of society and the studios of artists such as George Romney and Elizabeth Vigee le Brun; into the arms of men who would mould her and then betray her. In order to find love and security with Sir William, her lover’s uncle, she was forced to leave a daughter behind. By this time she was a trend-setter and played a huge role in diplomatic circles in her own right. And then the most extraordinary love triangle unravels…    


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