Monday, March 6, 2017

Madwoman in the Attic #5 Marguerite Power, Countess of Blessington


Marguerite Power was born at Knockbrit, Clonmel, Co Tipperary in 1789. She was the daughter of Ellen Sheehy and Edmund Power who owned a small amount of land. According to her first biographer her father known as 'Buck' Power was a gambler and drinker and Maguerite had an unhappy childhood as the family were constantly in debt. Her father traded Marguerite in payment for gambling debts to Captain Maurice St Leger Farmer, so at 15 Marguerite went from unhappy child to unhappy bride. Her husband starved, beat and imprisoned his wife. The law at the time would offer her no protection and Marguerite's only option was to separate from her husband. When he was posted to India by the army she refused to go with him and instead  moved to London. She was immediately a cause for scandal as she was a 'separated woman' but still a teenager. However her good looks and sparking wit made her extremely popular as a society hostess. Marguerite began an affair with Charles John Gardiner, First Earl of Blessington while both of them were still married but his wife died in 1814 and Farmer died in debtor's prison in 1817 so the pair married in 1818. Blessington was a wealthy and indulgent husband and Marguerite was generous to a fault insisting on helping out a number of relatives in Ireland and England. In 1822 the Blessingtons set out on a Grand Tour. Marguerite was well known in literary circles and struck up a friendship with Byron at Genoa. She later wrote Conversations with Lord Byron. (1834) At Naples she met Irish writer Richard Robert Madden who later wrote her biography (1855). While they were travelling on the continent John invited the dashing Count D'Orsay who had been part of their London circle to join them. With all of them living together and indulging in a life of extravagance it was probably inevitable that D'Orsay and Marguerite began an affair but with a young and healthy husband Marguerite knew that it could be years before they could be together so she devised a plan. She persuaded her husband to arrange a match between his daughter Harriet from his first marriage to D'Orsay so that they could continue to spend time together without any gossip. Ironically just a few months after the marriage in 1829 Blessington suffered a sudden stroke and died  in Paris. He left Marguerite plenty of money, jewels and estates and she establishment her household back in London persuading D'Orsay and Harriet to live with her, after just three years though Harriet walked out exposing her husband and step mother to scandal. Typically D'Orsay was accepted quickly back into society but Marguerite was not. Marguerite turned to writing to support herself and her literary salons were revived. Her home Gore House is now the site of the Albert Hall and writers who visited her included Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli. Marguerite wrote novels; The Repealers or Grace Cassidy (1834), The Governess (1839),  Strathern (1845), The Fatal Error (1847) and travel books The Idler in France (1839) The Idler in Italy (1841) as well as contributing to newspapers and periodicals, she was one of the first writers to have her work serialised in The Sunday Times. Astute in her own business dealings but not in her private life Marguerite and D'Orsay had to leave London to escape their creditors in 1849. Just a few weeks later Marguerite was dead, like her husband before her she suffered a massive stroke in Paris. She is buried at St Germain. 

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