Book Review: The Prince Of Pleasure

The Prince Of Pleasure: The Prince Of Wales And The Making Of The Regency, by Saul David

As I mention from time to time, I am a fan of Jane Austen, and I regularly read books by or about her in some fashion [1]. So it would make sense that when I found a free book that served as a biography to the man who made the Regency period the Regency period by being the Regent, George IV (or “Prinny”), I would download it and read it. And so I did. This particular book is not for the faint of heart for several reasons. For one, this single volume biography of George IV is a long one. Second, there are some minor formatting difficulties (like insufficient quotation marks) which makes it sometimes difficult to tell exactly where a quotation (and this book has many quotations from primary sources like letters and diaries and minutes from Parliament and the like) begins or ends. These are minor quibbles, but as they are something that makes this book a bit harder to read than it would be otherwise, it is important to at least recognize these concerns.

As a whole, this book seeks to take a balanced approach to George IV that recognizes his moral failings (including cowardice, political opportunism, disloyalty to his wives and friends and family) as well as his unpopularity with the people and his virtues (including generosity to others and an eagerness at supporting art and literature). One of George IV’s early tutors thought that he would either be a great patron of the arts or be a notorious blackguard. He ended up being, in the judgment of the author, both of those things. The author does not take this on mere prejudiced opinions, though, but strives to support that judgment through voluminous research and a lengthy bibliography of both strong primary and secondary sources. This book has a generally chronological approach, although chapters often tend to be topical in nature. For example, one of the chapters examines the Regent’s support of authors, including his efforts to encourage Jane Austen (who loathed him on grounds of gender politics, and probably morality) as well as his immense expenditure on constantly improving his house, which sounds like something that a Willoughby would do, ending up hopelessly in debt for it as well. The book discusses his somewhat tedious love life, as well as the likely adultery of his second wife, and his troubled family relations (including a daughter who at seventeen was a willful and accomplished flirt who eventually married to try to get away from home from an overly protective father, before dying in childbirth).

This is in many ways a work to be appreciated and respected, but not necessarily enjoyed. This is an accomplished work, with a wide-ranging scope and keen eye for telling details, like the hypocritical views of society towards fallen women and the men who took advantage of them, the dark nature of the politics of the time, as well as endless conversations about dressing and bathing habits and wives and mistresses and parents and children. The historical research is impeccable, the writing style smooth, the use of language excellent, as is the frequency of quoted material from the period and from the key players. What tends to reduce the enjoyment of reading the material, except as a historical exercise, is the fact that this material itself deals with immense corruption, showing the massive divide between a prince who managed to wrack up a debt that was several orders of magnitude greater than my student loans (more debt than anyone should have to wrestle with) and people who were struggling to survive among the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars and the threat of debtor’s prison for those who could not have their debts paid for by taxpayers [2]. The immense moral hypocrisy of the age is simply something that limits the enjoyment of reading history about it, and makes the achievement of Jane Austen, in pointing out that hypocrisy through biting wit and humanity, even greater.

This particular book has at least a couple large areas of relevance. The end of the book explicitly connects the disastrous marriage of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, along with her emotional neediness and resulting adultery and the fact that the injured princess was beloved by the people while the adulterous prince was not, with the analogous problem of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. This is an astute conclusion to draw, even if Prince Charles is far less cavalier as an adulterer than Charles IV, who was a far more notorious rake, and a far more dishonorable man in many ways. The other relevance of this work is for those who, like me, are fond of reading regency fiction. After all, knowing the historical context of a given time helps one understand why books were written as they were, and also helps to explain the in-jokes and references that a writer would use to those who were familiar with the time. Knowing the setting and scene and background information helps to make greater sense of a given work or a given body of work (like that of Jane Austen). For these reasons, and no doubt others, this is a worthwhile book to read, so long as one does not find the prince or his behavior to be particularly sympathetic.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: The Prince Of Pleasure

  1. Pingback: A Henry Tilney Moment | Edge Induced Cohesion

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