Wedlock, By Wendy Moore

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The Independent Culture

Beginning with a bloody duel and the deathbed marriage of one of the combatants, this torrent of a biography sweeps the reader along in a scarcely credible story that maintains its hectic pace for the next 400 pages.

Even during the marriage vows, the new bride "perhaps experienced the first cold feelings of foreboding." And no wonder, for Mary Eleanor Bowes was the richest heiress in 18th century England, possibly Europe, while her husband Andrew Robinson Stoney was a violent, psychopathic, philandering spendthrift (hence "stoney broke").

On the morning after the marriage, the apparently mortally wounded Stoney was fit enough for "a jubilant levee" and by the evening he had moved into Mary's Grosvenor Square house. Mary's prolonged, audacious struggle to extricate herself from this marriage is a natch for Hollywood.