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Alexis Hall

AJH diligently fails to get to grips with yet more social media.

The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London - Hannah Greig

So this is … um, scholarly, which is not remotely a complaint but I might have been slightly dazzled by the waistcoat on the front. I think I'm used to slightly more personalised accounts of history, but Greig (for perfectly sensible reasons) has chosen to eschew this in favour of something closer to ethnography. Essentially, this an exploration of the quite self-conscious creation, and maintenance, of a privileged elite, and its intersections with fashion, politics and economics.

 

While Greig judiciously avoids relevancy-hunting, and views with suspicion easy correspondences between Georgian high society and modern day celebrity culture, she nevertheless paints a picture of what is essentially a quite deliberate re-branding exercise on the part of the aristocracy.

 

It's, honestly, pretty fascinating stuff, and Grieg writes engagingly, drawing from an interesting selection of letters, diaries, memorandum books and accounting records. The chapters I found most interesting where the ones that focused on politics, the role of women, and social exiles (which includes some pretty exciting tales of Georgian conmen).

 

What The Beau Monde it isn't, however, is sex, and scandal, and Georgians behaving badly. Which tends to be what I'm looking for in a history book.

 

Also Grieg's relationship with the term 'beau monde' seems peculiarly troubled - there's a little essay on the origin and development of term at the back of the book, which struck me a slightly artificial and unhelpful attempt to isolate language from culture. Particularly strange in a book that is all about the development, and the power, of culture.