The Magnificent Mrs Tennant The Adventurous Life of Gertrude Tennant, Victorian Grande Dame David Waller

Publication date:
16 Jan 2012
Yale University Press
308 pages: 229 x 152mm
40 b-w
Sales territories:

The discovery of a cache of thousands of letters and dozens of diaries brings to light the untold story of Mrs. Tennant and her glittering social world

Gertrude Tennant’s life was remarkable for its length (1819–1918), but even more so for the influence she achieved as an unsurpassed London hostess. The salon she established when widowed in her early fifties attracted legions of celebrities, among them William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Thomas Huxley, John Everett Millais, Henry James, and Robert Browning. In her youth she had a fling with Gustave Flaubert, and in her later years she became the redoubtable mother-in-law to the explorer Henry Morton Stanley. But as a woman in a male-dominated world, Mrs. Tennant has been remembered mainly as a footnote in the lives of eminent men.

This book recovers the lost life of Gertrude Tennant, drawing on a treasure trove of recently discovered family papers—thousands of letters, including two dozen original letters from Flaubert to Tennant; dozens of diaries; and many other unpublished documents relating to Stanley and other famous figures of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  David Waller presents Gertrude Tennant’s life in colorful detail, placing her not only at the heart of a multigenerational, matriarchal family epic but also at the center of European social, literary, and intellectual life for the best part of a century.

David Waller, an author and management consultant, has written two previous books and holds a postgraduate degree in Victorian studies from Birkbeck College, University of London. He lives in London.

David Waller's biography of Gertrude Tennant forces us to rework our notions of haute-bourgeois dowagers: Gertrude's life was one of rich variety, from friendship with Flaubert in youth to Oscar Wilde and Henry James in later years. David Waller, in this richly rewarding picture of late Victorian society, paints a portrait of a woman with appeal and grace."—Judith Flanders, author of Consuming Passions

"Alive to the perils and passions of the era, this book breathes fresh life into the supposedly corsetted and cossetted world of nineteenth-century literary high society." - Ian Kelly, author of Beau Brummell and the Sunday Times Biography of the Year 2008, Casanova

"David Waller has written an engaging biography about the marvellous Gertrude Tennant. We all need someone like Gertrude in our lives; failing that, having her for a quiet hour or two is a delicious treat." - Amanda Foreman

"Thoroughly engaging and extremely well written. The Magnificent Mrs Tennant is not only the story of a fascinating woman's rise through intelligent Victorian Society, but an eye-opening portrait of life amongst the great men of the day." - Frances Osborne, author of The Bolter

"How did the self-educated daughter of a penniless, half-pay naval officer become one of Victorian England's great  hostesses? This very unusual and remarkably engrossing story is impressively  researched and vividly told." - Tim Jeal, author of Stanley