By Will Barber Taylor
Poet and musician, artist and hostess, Lady Anne Barnard lived at the heart of Georgian society. High born yet egalitarian, she travelled to France to observe the Revolution, rejected numerous suitors and lived independently. Her curious ways attracted gossip right into her final years when she raised an illegitimate child at home in Berkley Square. Written with full access to her previously unseen private papers and unpublished memoirs, Defiance shows Lady Anne to be one of the unheralded chroniclers and pioneering women of her time.
Defiance: The Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard is like no other historical book you will read. Unlike other biographies, which reuse sources which have been utilised in other works time and time again, Stephen Taylor has pulled out a hat trick by gaining access to Lady Anne Barnard’s own private and unpublished memories. Combined with letters from Lady Anne and her friends, newspaper reports of the time and other documents from well-known figures such as Doctor Johnson and Henry Dundas, Taylor brings not only Lady Anne but 18th century high society bursting to life. Taylor is vivid in the descriptions he gives to the vast array of balls, soirees and important events that Lady Anne attended.
Rather than bring us a dull and pondering account of Lady Anne’s life, Taylor invests his book with a sense of awe and wonder. This awe and wonder is reflected by Lady Anne’s beautiful and fascinating accounts of the events Taylor recounts from her own perspective. This allows the reader to enjoy an almost dual narrative – Taylor’s well researched and fascinating look at events sometimes intertwines and sometimes contrasts Lady Anne’s very personal reflection on events. This allows the reader to enjoy the history that is being narrated by the author whilst also enjoying Lady Anne’s more personal and reflective account.
The pictures used throughout the book are a joy to behold and Taylor has chosen some excellent images from throughout Lady Anne’s life to illustrate the book, from the decadence of Lady Anne’s early life to the horror of the French Revolution. The book shows the dichotomy and wildness of Lady Anne’s tumultuous life.
In conclusion, Stephen Taylor’s riveting and illuminating book is a must for anyone who wants to discover more about Georgian women, Georgian society or simply how the reflections of one person can contrast those of others. It is as exciting, inviting, inventive and utterly delightful as Lady Anne herself and I highly recommend buying it.
With thanks to Faber and Faber, you can buy Defiance: The Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard from Amazon here.