This biography of the second most famous actress of the eighteenth century, Dorothy (or Dora) Jordan, concentrates on her most important and heartfelt role: as mother to the children of William, Duke of Clarence, who eventually became William IV of England. Her status as mistress, together with her disreputable (however lucrative and successful) occupation of actress, precluded her ever being accepted, or even presented, at the court of George III. The closest she could get to legitimacy and contentment was at Bushy House, where for twenty years she held her family of thirteen children (ten of them by the Duke) together in a semblance of domestic bliss.
At the same time she built a career for herself on the London stage, notably Drury Lane, where her comic roles won her the acclamation of critics and historians alike. In the “provinces,” too, she brought in large audiences and profits for her managers. She was noted not for her stunning good looks, but rather for her charm and wit and her ability to breathe life into the comic roles of the time, such as the title role in David Garrick’s version of William Wycherley’s THE COUNTRY GIRL. Sarah Siddons, the great tragic actress of the times, often worked with Mrs. Jordan in roles requiring two major female talents, and spoke very well, in her letters and journals, of her rival and friend.
Clare Tomalin’s treatment of her subject, chosen from an array of female stage figures of the...
(The entire section is 462 words.)