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Catherine Layton, The Life and Times of Mary, Dowager Duchess of Sutherland: Power Play

The Life and Times of Mary, Dowager Duchess of Sutherland

Power Play

Catherine Layton

This definitive biography depicts one Victorian woman’s struggle to stay afloat in a rising tide of prurient scandalmongering and snobbery. Could it be that this woman’s character and circumstances informed Oscar Wilde’s social comedies? She was the daughter of a leading Conservative Oxford don, vilified as an arrogant fortune-hunter. Her liaison dangereuse with a Duke resulted in ostracism by Queen Victoria’s cronies, as well as protracted, widely publicised legal disputes with his family. One battle put her in Holloway Gaol for six weeks. Her supporters, over time, included Disraeli, the Khedival family of Egypt, the de Lesseps, and Sir Albert Kaye Rollit (a promoter of women’s suffrage, later her third husband). Her life and that of her family drew in British and European colonialism, and even Reilly, the “Ace of Spies”.

Various previously untapped letters, diaries and journals allow the reader to navigate through the sensationalist fog of the primarily Liberal press of her time. The book will appeal to anyone interested in Victorian and journalism history, and gender and celebrity studies.

Dr Catherine Layton is a retired academic. She taught French and worked on social justice projects in education, employment and access to services. She was a Head of School and a Sub-Dean (Learning and Teaching) at Charles Sturt University, Australia, before her last position in academic development at the University of Wollongong. Her publications are primarily in the field of adult learning, with the most recent addressing teaching police about vulnerability and assisting academics in developing teaching excellence award applications. Her latest article, on the impact of housing policies in the mid- to late-twentieth century on one artist’s life and identity, reflects her passion for family history that incorporates the dynamics of political and social inequality. This re-evaluation of the life and circumstances of a once notorious Duchess is her first book.

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