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George Canning Is My Son

By Julian Crowe

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A new biography of the remarkable Mary Ann Hunn.

Publication date: March 2021
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About the book

This is the story of Mary Ann Hunn, actress, novelist, purveyor of patent medicine, and mother of the politician George Canning. Many books have been written about George, which either ignore his mother, or dismiss her with a few patronising words.

Mary Ann’s own story is available in her own words, written in 1803. Her 65,000 word letter to her son is at the heart of my book, together with the 2000 or so letters that George wrote to her over almost fifty years.

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. The book follows Mary Ann’s youth and marriage to a penniless poet, her fifteen years in the theatre, her eleven pregnancies, many years of bitter conflict with her son George, followed by twenty years of retirement in Bath. It is tempting to turn the tables on the Canning biographers and leave the glorious George out of Mary Ann’s story. Mary Ann is the star and heroine, but we must tell something of George’s life in order to feel the texture of their long and intense relationship.

The book explores the background to the perennially controversial career of George Canning, and makes a small but significant contribution to the history of the eighteenth century theatre, but above all it is the story of a strong and intelligent woman.

Mary Ann read and admired Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman as soon as it came out, and her story provides a vivid illustration of Wollstonecraft’s ideas. 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’. 

I came across the story by accident twenty-five years ago, and have been immersed in it ever since. The result is a long book, which will cost a lot to publish. If you pledge in advance to buy a copy (or several) you will help bring Mary Ann’s life into the light of day.

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