Though the Earl of Elgin and his artists are blamed for stealing the statues from the Parthenon, it was his 21-year-old bride Mary (1777-1855) who financed the project; cajoled a captain to carry them back to England on a British naval vessel, directly disobeying Admiral Nelson who had ordered all ships ready for battle; and maybe even seduced the Ottoman sultan Selim III into letting her take them. These are among the revelations that Nagel (humanities, Marymount Manhattan College) makes in her biography. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
The lively and sharp-witted Scottish heiress Mary Nisbet (1778-1855) shone as the wife of Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin and Ambassador Extraordinaire to the Ottoman Empire-whose name became associated with the Parthenon friezes brought to England. In the earliest years of marriage, Mary was her husband's staunchest ally and participant in his diplomatic work, as her diaries and letters reveal. As Nagel shows, following Elgin's incarceration under Napoleon and after the tragic loss of their only son as an infant, Mary's feelings for Elgin began to cool. She resisted his demand for another heir, and their relationship collapsed when Elgin discovered Mary's affair with his best friend. The glamorous couple's marriage ended in scandal and a humiliating public divorce. Nagel, who has written for the stage, screen and scholarly journals, creates a sympathetic and emotionally charged portrait of Mary, tracing in vivid detail the couple's travels, the diplomatic challenges they faced and their growing marital tensions. Elgin's acquisition of the notorious "Elgin marbles" makes for dramatic reading, but the biography's chief merit is its wealth of domestic and intimate detail and Nagel's ability to chart the course of an elite marriage with insight and compassion yet without sentimentality. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Tina Bennett. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.