This is honestly one of the most riveting books I have read this year. Woodruff’s tale unexpectedly shatters the reader with its volatile mix of passion and thwarted love. The author romantically brings to life her unlikely heroine: Irish actress Dorothea Jordan (1761–1816)
- courtesan, mistress, and companion of future King William IV. Lovers for twenty years while William was the Duke of Clarence, Dora sired his ten illegitimate children even as she tried to become the most celebrated actress of the day.
From the first fluid pages, Woodruff’s compelling tale of love’s theatrical betrayals is almost as palpable as the ghost of Dora Jordan as she
comes to inhabit the life of American actress Georgie Connolly. Along with her husband, Peter, and her three little boys
- Fergus, Liam and Jack - Georgie is accompanying Peter to London on a three-year working assignment. Fresh from a life of acting and writing in New Jersey, Peter has thrown himself into his career as a business journalist while Georgie continues to play the role of “a mother,” delicately balancing her unbridled passions as she seeks to revitalize her career as an actress.
The first few weeks in London unfold with sheer pleasure. Graham, a local theatrical agent, tells Georgie of an offer to star in a new play by famous writer Piers Brighstone.
It’s a one-woman show called Shakespeare’s Woman, based on the life of Mrs. Dora Jordan. Although Georgie confesses she’s never heard of this eccentric woman who lived almost two hundred years ago
and was known for both her acting and “mistressing," she throws herself into the
role with fervor, turning herself into Dora, even performing for Peter, rehearsing in front of him in their tiny sitting room late into night.
Wanting to capture Dora’s every essence and charm and also to impress Piers, and Nicola, the play’s officious director, Georgie dramatically recreates Dora as she moves from poor, illegitimate Irish girl to famous London actress, mistress of a royal duke, and mother of thirteen children. Georgie’s great love affair with Dora, however, is only just beginning. Feeling
so dynamic and alive, just like Dora, Georgie’s life is defined by the infinite pressures of family.
Yet as she steps into the role of her new muse, she suddenly finds herself changing in small and permanent ways that she could never have expected.
With mesmerizing vigor, Georgie - now the “actress and wife” - is vulnerable to a rush of passion. Increasingly apathetic in attending to her boys and her husband, Georgie is torn between her guilt and her tiredness, too attuned to Mrs. Jordan in her own way as she seeks to shed her home life and take on this woman “as her own second skin.”
The play’s premiere is a phenomenal success, but Georgie’s unique connection to Piers
is a recipe for chaos. The seduction, when it comes, is traded for all her decades of domestic frustration and tedium. It's easy for Georgie to tell herself that Piers's first kiss is only an aberration.
Moving from London to bucolic Dorset, Peter narrates this sad tale with
twisted horror. Georgie pleads for forgiveness, her nights on the stage with Dora taking on a new meaning, the courtesan’s voice echoing from atop the pages. Yet this mother-cum-actress is deceiving herself if she thinks she can make peace with her husband and bind back together all of her marital obligations. With their lives spinning out of control, Georgie's permissive behavior finally calls her to account as
Peter's embittered actions lead him to shoulder his own fair share of the blame
for the angst, betrayal and heartache, the collateral damage of wrecked and shattered lives.