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REVIEWS331 Georgiana, Duchess ofDevonshire. TheSylph. Intro. Amanda Foreman. York: Henry Parker, 2001. viii + 223pp. £9.99. ISBN 1-904069-00-2. The Sylph was first published by T. Lowndes in London on 1 December 1778 (though the date on the tide-page of the novel indicates 1779). It furnished yet another illustration ofthe intrigue and debauchery common in London's upper circles. For the uninitiated, it was "an instructive tale" promoting virtue (London Magazine); those in the know, however, read it as a roman à clef. This epistolary novel—by "a young lady"—resembles in many respects Frances Burney's Evelina, published early in the same year and by the same publisher. It too describes how a virtuous young lady (Julia), bred in the country, does her best to resist the temptations of the fashionable society in town. Yet important differences—artistic merits aside—exist: whereas Evelina looks from outside in,Julia looks from inside out; consequendy, what is offered by Tlie Sylph represents an inside scoop and, as such, yields much immediacy and horror. TheSylph, with its uninhibited portrayal ofthe sordidness and viciousness ofthe fashionable society in London, reminds one ofSheridan's Schoolfor Scandal, which opened at Drury Lane the year before, the tragic twist excepted (Lady Stanley is not as lucky as Lady Teazle). The graphic exposé of the shockinglydepraved world, in which nothingwas permitted but everythingwas allowed, offended the sensibility ofsome contemporary readers. Mrs Thrale called the novel "obscene"; the reviewer for the Gentleman 's Magazine diought it displayed "too great a knowledge of the ton, and of the worst, though perhaps the highest, part of the world, to be the work of a young lady." Highlights include the scene in which Lady Stanley is decorated for her presentation at St James's Palace with "feathers, pins, wool, false curls, chignon, toque, pomades, flowers, wax-fruit, ribband" and by a French "dresser of the actresses" to boot, and the dissipated Sir William (Julia's husband), who has run up his gaming debts to the staggering amount of£14,600, who then steals his wife'sjewels and later forces her to resign her marriage articles so that he can raise cash to honour his debts, who then as a last resort signs his conjugal rights over to Lord Biddulph—a villain in the guise of"friend"—who has been eyeing Sir William's beautiful young wife for some time and even attempted to rape her on one occasion. The shocking effects are nevertheless assuaged by a series ofimprobabilities and by inconsistent characterization. In short, the novel recaps what is well-known about fashionable living in eighteenth-century London. As such, it is not really remarkable and can hardly be called "a great success" (introduction). The book did see a second English edition a fewyears later (1783), supplemented by three "pirated" Irish editions, and graced by a German (1779) and a French translation (1784). Many parallels exist between the fictional life ofJulia Stanley and the real life ofGeorgiana, Duchess ofDevonshire (1757-1806). Georgiana had been born into an illustrious family and married, when barely seventeen, into an 332 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION15:2 even more illustrious house (the fifth Duke of Devonshire was regarded as the first match in England). Despite the anonymity of the authorship, The Sylphwas imputed to Georgiana, though the Duchess ofDevonshire herself never publicly admitted authorship. There has been from time to time a lingering doubt about the identity of the author. The biographical sketch in the DNB does not list The Sylph as one of the Duchess's literary exploits. Brian Masters's biography, Georgiana Duchess ofDevonshire (1981), found it "almost incomprehensible" that "in all the mountain of letters written by Georgiana to her mother and others, there is not so much as a whisper about The Sylph." Amanda Foreman's recent biography asserts that Georgiana wrote this "thinly disguised autobiographical novel" as a gesture to reform her dissipated lifestyle (Georgiana Duchess ofDevonshire, 1998). But Foreman's most suggestive evidence is a quotation from one ofGeorgiana's letters to her mother, Lady Spencer: "I should be very happy if I could borrow some friendly Sylph (ifany are so kind as to hover about Hardwick) and a...