Too Great a Lady

Too Great A Lady

by Amanda Elyot

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Too Great A Lady by Amanda Elyot.

Life was different before cable, and I can prove it. The notorious Emma, Lady Hamilton, the toast of 18th century England (also Emy, Amy, Emily and ‘That Woman’) made her fame at a very young age by inventing and performing something called her Attitudes. Sort of a cross between acting, posing, and voguing, she stood on stage and struck poses depicting famous women like Cleopatra and Penelope, then quickly moving to the next — Medea, say, or Circe. She didn’t say anything, or do anything — she just struck a pose — there’s nothing to it. And people showed up in droves. As my grandmother once said, “From this you can make a living?” Oh, her costume was a see-through veil. Maybe that had something to do with it. (According to this book, this necessitated her inventing the bikini wax. Thanks, Emma.)

Emma’s life was such a rags to riches (to rags) tale that I’d be rolling my eyes at the grand drama of it all, if it wasn’t all true. (I can’t really confirm the waxing part.) She began as a poor girl in a Welsh mining town, and wound up the confidant of queens and the lover of Admiral Nelson, the greatest hero of England’s Napoleonic Wars.

Like many women in and out of fiction with good looks and no education, she was, in her youth, passed around like a bong. More than once, she was essentially sold to pay off Lord Somebody-or-Other’s debts. Far from holding it against her many ‘protectors,’ she managed to convince herself she was madly in love with each and every one of them. We know this because many of her letters have survived and they all go on about how so great a love couldn’t be contained by her perfect bosoms, mere mortals surely had never before been so enraptured, and her trembling heart should fly out of her chest posthaste, etc. (I’m telling you, things were different before cable).

This sort of single-minded devotion to Love, True Love might be expected from a 14-year old girl or Tom Cruise, but it made me wonder if Emma was perhaps not the brightest bulb on Broadway. For a woman who really did influence history — among many other things, she was the go between for Marie Antoinette and her sister, the Queen of Naples — she seemed stubbornly self deluded. For instance, all her life she remained proud of ‘er workin’ class accent, even when it clearly prevented her from truly entering the upper crust society she craved. I mean, come on — it only took three months for Madonna to stop sounding like the Lower East Side. And being deeply in debt didn’t stop her from going on living the high life — she threw lavish parties while in debtors’ prison! (Okay, show of hands Շ who’s really grateful they don’t have debtors’ prison anymore?)  (Now they call it ‘Mastercard.’)

It’s a little difficult to review a book about a real person without reviewing the life of that person. Too Great A Lady is a first-person narrative of Emma’s life, and it was all genuinely dramatic and exciting. Elyot does a fine job of recreating Emma’s circumstance, using those letters to good effect. My only quarrel is the constant stream of praise heaped on our heroine, from everyone from her own weirdly co-dependant and enabling mother, to nearly every man she meets. Emma has the greatest ‘eart in England, she is Britannia, her beauty and charm are unequaled, and she sings the birds out of the trees — I get it! I guess I wanted someone so praised to be just a little bit more sophisticated.

It would have helped Emma as well, because despite all the poems and paintings dedicated to her beauty, charm, etc., she was punished for her flamboyant and provocative behavior by the English government after the death of Nelson, her last ‘protector.’ Even though he used his dying breath in battle to make sure she’d be cared for, she was cut out of his will and left with nothing.  (How romantic is that? Even more romantic than a bouquet of roses from the off-ramp of the interstate!) (I mean the last breath part, not the dying in poverty part.) There’s a whole lot of settling X number of pounds per year on people which was very Jane Austen and I’ve never been completely clear on. But what was abundantly clear is that Emma got a royal screwing in every sense of the word. She died penniless before the age of 50.

Too Great A Lady‘s Emma was many things — drama queen, life of the party, Napoleonic Krystal Carrington — but probably even she wouldn’t have described herself as a Lady.

(By the way, Google ‘Emma Hamilton images’. She really was a total hottie.)

Too Great A Lady is by Amanda Elyot. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is Too Great A Lady by Amanda Elyot, the life story of Emma Lady Hamilton.

Emma was one of those women who rose from nothing to become the confidant of kings and queens, and had a scandalous affair with the heroic Admiral Nelson while both were married. In fact, her elderly husband was Nelson’s best friend, and at one point they all lived together — and this was in 1800! This is a first-person account, full of Emma’s actual letters, and we see a woman who was stubbornly unsophisticated, hanging on to her working class accent, but who craved the limelight and always made everything about her. Too Great A Lady takes place during England’s Napoleonic Wars — Emma calls him Boney — and there are exciting sea battles and daring escapes — it would all be just too much, but it’s all true. Emma lived quite a life. Too Great A Lady by Amanda Elyot. I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is Too Great A Lady by Amanda Elyot.

If you read a rags to riches book about the most beautiful girl in 18th century England who rose from nothing to become the potty-mouthed toast of the Continent, you’d think it was over the top. Throw in an endless stream of admirers from the greatest painters and poets of the day and add her being a heroine of the Napoleonic Wars, and you’d really be rolling your eyes. But Too Great A Lady is the true story of the notorious Emma Lady Hamilton, who lived a life that couldn’t be made up. Among other things, she brought the bikini wax to Europe and invented voguing.  This novelization of her life barely needs any fictional embellishments, and the author smartly lets Emma’s own words in her many surviving letters tell much of her scandalous tale. Too Great A Lady by Amanda Elyot. I’m Kim Alexander on Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


I’m Kim Alexander and this is a Fiction Nation minute. The book is Too Great A Lady by Amanda Elyot

How does a penniless girl rise above her circumstances in 18th century England? It helps if you have stunning good looks and a talent for spotting wealthy older gentlemen. This is the true story of Emma Lady Hamilton who started out in a brothel and wound up the most talked about woman of her age, the lover of the heroic Admiral Horatio Nelson, and an envoy between Britain and Italy during the Napoleonic Wars. Her heart was always in the right place, even if the rest of her strayed occasionally. Too Great a Lady‘s Emma Hamilton was devoted to her country; the way she was repaid for her years of being an unofficial ambassador was not England’s finest hour — she died in poverty before the age of 50. Too Great A Lady by Amanda Elyot. I’m Kim Alexander on Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.


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