"I should be very happy if I could borrow some friendly Sylph (if any are so kind to hover about Hardwick)..."
-Georgiana, in a letter to her mother
When Georgiana was a naive, young girl of sixteen with her whole life ahead of her she did something unusual for a daughter of an aristocrat: she wrote a book. Emma was published anonymously and tells a story similar to Austen's Pride and Prejudice in that first impressions are not always reliable. It tells of a young woman who finds herself in love with a man but forced to marry another. The book is often forgotten and there is little knowledge it in history.
Georgiana's second book was published during the height of her popularity when she was newly married and had just made her name for herself as a fashion icon (think: Victoria Beckham when she was a newlywed). Again, she published it anonymously, which given the scandalous details, could have ruined the reputation Georgiana was enjoying. It was called The Sylph and was so popular it went through four editions quickly. It was written in the form of letters, just like Fanny Burney's Evelina.* The story is that of the naive country girl, Julia, who marries a rich aristocrat but soon discovers him to be a rake who spends all his money on gambling and mistresses. To distract herself from her woes, Julia involves herself in the ton and fashion, making friends and frenimies with the elite. Meanwhile her home life only gets worse when her husband gets more and more abusive. Her fellow wives of the ton bring little consolidation because they are just as ill-used by their husbands. In her worst time of need an anonymous person calling himself The Slyph (a sylph was a mythical invisible spirit) writes to her offering her advice. Eventually, Julia is forced to run away from her husband (who promptly commits suicide) and she discovers the true identity of The Slyph and the two wed. Does the story sound familiar? The first half it anyway.
The Sylph was based on Georgiana's personal experiences as a debutant in high society. It didn't take a genius to recognize the similarity between the fictional Julia and the young Duchess of Devonshire so it wasn't long before everyone had figured out who the author was, although Georgiana would never publicly admit it. This only helped sales. Another part of the book's success was its scandalous details which were were labeled "obscene" by the Blue Stocking Group (one of the first feminists groups). The Gentleman's Magazine was made uncomfortable by the author's knowledge of the ton and the details of the physical and sexual abuse.
Although fiction, The Sylph stands as a great contemporary document into the ton. It is made up of many stories from Georgiana's personal life, stories of the abuse her friends suffered and the snobbery she herself was involved in. That, is possibly why the book was received with such shock. People to this day, always seem more frightened by fact than fiction; even if that fiction is fact.
*When it was first published, many thought The Sylph was Burney's work which her publisher didn't negate, only boosting sales further.