Mary Ann Hunn is known to history as the disreputable actress mother of the politician George Canning, a footnote to his story. Many books have been written about George, perennially controversial, which either ignore his mother, or dismiss her with a few patronising words.
But here, usingher own 65,000-word memoir, and the remarkable 47-year correspondence between mother and son, supplemented by the scattered testimony of contemporaries, this new work uncovers the hidden history of a strong, passionate and intelligent woman.
It's a story of hardship, humiliation and resilience; of a mother and son forced to follow widely different paths over half a century, never entirely reconciled, and yet never losing their natural affection for each other. Mary Ann's marriage to a penniless poet, her fifteen years in the theatre, her eleven pregnancies - all play into the texture of their long and intense relationship.
Mary Ann read and admired Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman on publication and her own story provides a vivid illustration of those ideas. Her father, husbands, lover, father-in-law - all the men in her life, were weak, selfish, and inadequate, and yet society placed her in their power, helpless except for her own strength of character. Only George didn't quite let her down, and although she felt he did not love her enough, in the end she admitted that in her long, eventful life the balance of good predominated - `For George Canning is my Son'.
This is the story of a woman's struggle to survive in the man's world of late Georgian England. It makes a fascinating contribution to the history of the provincial theatre and our understanding of attitudes to the stage, and shines important new light on the background and character of George Canning, one of the dominant and most intriguing political figures of the early nineteenth century. But at its heart is the story of a mother who lost her son when he was six and spent the next half century struggling to regain her place in his life.