Ophelia Field’s ‘Kit-Cat Club’ is a story of a changing time in 17th-century Britain, during the reigns of Queen Anne and George I, when a group of men and their enterprising initiatives paved the way for new literary and political viewpoints, born out of the most unexpected circumstances. The Kit-Cat Club was founded in the late 1690s when Jacob Tonson, a bookseller of lowly birth, forged a partnership with the pie-maker Christopher (Kit) Cat. What began as an eccentric publishing rights deal – Tonson paying to feed hungry young writers and so receiving first option on their works – developed into a unique gathering of intellects and interests, then into the unofficial centre of Whig power during the reigns of William & Mary, Anne and George I. With consummate skill, Ophelia Field, author of the acclaimed biography of the first Duchess of Marlborough, ‘The Favourite’, portrays this formative period in British history through the club’s intimate lens. She describes the vicious Tory-Whig ‘paper wars’, the mechanics of aristocratic patronage, the London theatre world and its battles over sexual morality, England’s union with Scotland, Dublin society governed by a Kit-Cat and the hurly-burly of Westminster politics. Field expertly unravels the deceit, rivalry, friendships and fortunes lost and found through the club, along with wonderful descriptions of how its alcohol-fuelled, all-male meetings were conducted. Tracing the Kit-Cat Club’s far-reaching influence for the first time, this group biography illuminates a time when Britain was searching for its own identity.
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