In Regency London, the only way for a woman to succeed is to beat men at their own game. So when Mary Anne Clarke seeks an escape from her squalid surroundings in Bowling Inn Alley, she ventures first into the scurrilous world of the pamphleteers. Her personal charms are such, however, that before long she comes to the notice of the Duke of York. With her taste for luxury and power, Mary Anne, now a royal mistress, must aim higher. Her lofty connections allow her to establish a thriving trade in military commissions, provoking a scandal that rocks the government – and brings personal disgrace. A vivid portrait of overweening ambition, Mary Anne is set during the Napoleonic Wars and based on du Maurier’s own great-great- grandmother.
Rating: A for narration; B for content
Written in 1951, Mary Anne is the fictionalised account of the life of Mrs Mary Anne Clarke, who was the author’s great-grandmother, and who is famous principally for being the mistress of Frederick, Duke of York (second son of King George III).
Mary Anne Thompson was born in 1776 in the East End of London, and by her twenties, had become one of the most famous courtesans in London. Before I wrote this review, I looked her up on the internet, and quickly discovered that there are discrepancies between what is actually known of her early life, and how Ms du Maurier describes it – but as I’m reviewing the book rather than regurgitating a history lesson, it’s the author’s version I’m going to concentrate on.