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Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Lesser Sacrifice: Edward VIII and Mrs.Simpson by Frances Donaldson

Donaldson analyses Edward VIII's complicated character very well in this old, but definitive biography. Remarkably even-handed, she shows the charm, the sense of honour and the selfishness and irresponsibility of the handsome prince. You have to be very interested in the story to read this book, however, because it is rather detailed and long-winded. It's not dull but it's a little bit heavy-going at times.

The young prince was actually very likeable, according to Donaldson. His desire to fight in the First World War and his anxiety to help the veterans afterwards show him in his best light. He started clubs and charities to help the veterans and the unemployed and his mistress, Freda Dudley did this as well. He also, famously, wanted to help the Welsh miners but he made promises to them which were unkept.

Edward annoyed his strict and rather cold parents by drinking at nightclubs and associating with married women. He could fulfill his royal duties with great charm, and he was very much loved by the people, but when they bored him he tended to be petulant and show his disinterest.

He met his match in Mrs.Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman, with whom he quickly became obsessed. According to this book, he thought that he could stay King and marry her as well, which is very surprising. The Dominions and the government, let alone the church, could not accept this. Even a morganatic marriage would cause a constitutional crisis and wasn't acceptable. In his autobiography, the Duke of Windsor, blames Baldwin for being against the idea, but he apparently took a long time to make up his mind and the PM gave him every chance to change it. Mrs.Simpson was willing to give him up, to her credit perhaps, when he found that he couldn't have a morganatic marriage, but he insisted on abdicating. Even his mother's reminding him of the veterans and asking him to make 'a lesser sacrifice' for his country didn't move him.

It was just as well that he wasn't King, because he was rather pro-Nazi and wanted to set himself up as a mini-dictator, according to Donaldson. He doesn't come out well in the last half of the book. He associated with Nazi's and made the Nazi salute; demanded a lot of money from his brother; wouldn't let black people inside the front door when he was Governor of Bermuda; and generally blamed the royal family for his problems and acted in a spoiled and petulant manner.

The story of Edward and Mrs.Simpson is often regarded as a great love story now, but anyone who reads this book will probably disagree. I am usually a romantic but not in this case.

The Queen Mother was often regarded as vindictive towards them, but it is rumoured that the Duchess was nasty about her and Edward disregarded his brother and his wife when he left the throne, leaving them to deal with it the best way that they could. A cartoon at the time of the Adbication summed it up well - it showed a labourer downing his tools and saying that he couldn't go on without the woman he loved!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Books Read In May

Tree of Angels by Penny Sumner. I've just reviewed this.

Dancers in Mourning by Margery Allingham: This was a rather dark mystery featuring Allingham's appealingly deep detective, Albert Campion. He becomes involved with a bohemian group of actors on a large estate. When one of them is murdered he attempts to solve it. Falling in love with the owner's wife, who is really Campion's true soulmate, doesn't help his investigations! I enjoyed this but I prefer Dorothy L.'s writing.

I am also reading King, Kaiser, Tsar by Catherine Clay and Anna Karenina again.

Well-Written Epic by Brisbane Author: Tree of Angels by Penny Sumnor

This is a well-written epic which sweeps from Russia to England and even Brisbane, Australia. It's a charming story and very good.

Nina is the main character for most of the book. When the novel begins, she is living an idyllic life on her family's large estate in Russia before the First World War. Her life quickly changes, however, when her mother dies and her father, who cannot overcome his grief, decides to run a hospital on the estate. He insists that Nina become a nurse and his personality begins to change. Nina has to find a way to escape...

I liked Nina, a very sympathetic character, so I was disappointed that the book wasn't entirely about her.

The only other faults that I can find with the book are that the Russian part didn't seem authentic enough to me - it was well-researched but I didn't feel that it was real for some reason. The Queensland part of the book certainly did, by contrast.

I also found the story somewhat sordid in parts but probably most people wouldn't mind that.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Eclectic Tastes

Some readers may be slightly shocked that I enjoy historical novels, mysteries, and even chick-let as well as classics and literary fiction. What can I say? I love to read many different types of books and this is reflected here.

My favourite author is Jane Austen, but I also like many other classic English writers. I'm also very interested in Russian literature and one of my all-time favourite books is the wonderful Dr.Zhivago.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Boycott Philippa Gregory's Books

Philippa Gregory has single-handedly practically ruined Anne Boleyn's reputation and is now accusing her of murder! Here is the article: Philippa Gregory's Article in the Age She writes that Anne Boleyn didn't 'shy away from murder in the past." Who did she murder? There is no evidence that she committed any murders! Most historians agree that she was innocent of the charges Henry VIII laid against her as well.

Philippa Gregory's book, The Other Boleyn Girl, has Anne going to bed with her brother in a desperate attempt to have a male heir to please Henry. The heroine is Anne's sister Mary who was certainly not the sweet and innocent girl that she is in the novel.

The author, Robyn Maxwell has defended Anne Boleyn in a recent article:

what excuse have author Philippa Gregory in The Other Boleyn Girl and screenwriter Michael Hirst in TV's The Tudors for perpetuating the scurrilous rumors and trumped-up charges that insured one of history's most remarkable women end her life on the wrong end of a sword?

Maybe the answer is that every good story needs a villain. And who better to target for that role than a beautiful, too-big-for-her-britches woman that ends up with her head on the chopping block? As far as I'm concerned, Anne Boleyn was the first feminist. The first woman with the strength and convictions to face-down the London Boys Club and have her own way. At least for a while.

Despite her untimely demise, this young lady's indomitable spirit and her not insubstantial accomplishments have been an inspiration in my art, as well as my life. So I say to her detractors, "Take your swiftboats, sail back into history and find someone else to pillory."

I prefer to read authors of historical novels who get their research right like Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton and Norah Lofts, rather than Philippa Gregory.