A TV adaptation of this will be shown later this year, and, although it doesn’t look as if it’s going to bear much resemblance to the book, I thought I’d read the book anyway. In the early 1960s, our heroine Vivien moves from Manchester to London, where she finds that all the people she knows there, some old family friends and a young man on whom she’s very keen, are involved in the 62 Group, a militant Jewish group working to counter the threat of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. She also learns that her late father was involved in its predecessor, the 43 Group.
It’s not a particularly well-written book, but it’s well-meaning and it tells an important story. There’ve been some deeply unpleasant incidents recently: we’ve had thugs from Bradford coming over to predominantly Jewish areas of Manchester to vandalise cars and shout abuse at people, a Labour councillor in Blackburn making comments which aren’t even fit to repeat, and even worse incidents in London and other parts of the South. Some of the actors have spoken about the importance of the plotline, and I’m sure that Red Productions will have done it justice.
In the book, Vivien’s boyfriend Jack is a journalist who infiltrates the National Socialist Movement and helps to bring its leaders to justice, whilst Vivien works at a hairdressing salon. Bearing in mind that this is set in 1962 – and the book is based on real life events – that’s probably fairly realistic, but the TV series has got Vivien also being at the heart of the action and the danger, presumably because the idea of a strong female character was more appealing than one who was on the sidelines. And there’s a lot of danger – there’s considerable violence in the book, as the two groups clash at rallies, and young Jewish men and young black men are badly beaten up.
There’s a Swinging Sixties vibe to it all as well – the salon at which Vivien works is in Soho, and there’s quite a bit of talk about hair and clothes and music. And that does contrast sharply with everything that Jack’s finding out about what the neo-Nazis are up to. There are an awful lot of minor characters, and a rather unconvincing plot about an aspiring musician who fancies Vivien and follows her around.
It’s not brilliant, as I’ve said, but it’s worth reading because it draws attention to the periodic rise of extremist elements in society, and their attacks on minority groups. I’ll certainly be watching the TV series. In the meantime, if you fancy giving the book a whirl, it’s currently on offer at £2.99 for the Kindle version.
The Entente Cordiale wasn’t mentioned until the 79th minute of the 90, and the to-do over the People’s Budget wasn’t mentioned at all. But we heard an awful lot about waistcoat buttons, champagne baths, and, of course, ladies. However, even if there was way too much gossip and not enough serious stuff, this was a really lovely, positive portrayal of someone whose father said he was useless, whom a lot of puritanical courtiers and journalists said would make a rotten king, and who actually did a superb job, left the British monarchy in a very strong position ahead of what would turn out to be a difficult time for monarchies, and was genuinely popular amongst people of all backgrounds. Good old Teddy!
We were told that Downton Abbey typified people’s images of the time of Edward VII. Given that we tend to use “Edwardian” to mean 1901-1914 rather than 1901-1910, I suppose the fact that the first series of Downton Abbey was set during the reign of George V can be overlooked! Did it typify people’s images of the period? Well, I suppose it did if you were only thinking about stately homes. The Edwardian era’s actually seen as a very positive time for everyone – strangely so, given that a lot of people were struggling at the time. There’s even a song about it in Mary Poppins! The positive image is partly because, compared to the horrors of the Great War, what came before has to seen like a golden era. And it’s partly because the Victorian era, even by the 1890s, is seen as a very puritanical era, and people get really fed up of puritanical eras. Charles II, another slightly naughty king, is remembered fondly because he came after the nightmare of the Cromwellian era. But a lot of it’s because of Edward/Bertie. He really is seen as a very positive figure.
I would like to have heard more about his peacemaking/diplomatic skills, which were of crucial importance to … well, to the whole world, really, given what lay ahead. And about how his social circle included people far removed from traditional aristocratic circles. But, hey, the stuff about champagne baths, watching Can Can dancers, leaving his bottom waistcoat open because it strained over his tum tum, and, of course, his mistresses, was all quite entertaining. It was also good to hear the praise for Queen Alexandra, who had a lot to put up with it and did a wonderful job as Princess of Wales and then as Queen – although I’m not sure we needed to hear quite so much about her clothes and jewellery.
But, in between the gossip, we heard all about Edward’s interest in technology – he was on the receiving end of the first wireless message sent across the Atlantic, a greeting from another much-loved Teddy, President Roosevelt – and, most of all, his understanding of the need for the Royal Family to be visible, and how he was the one who established a lot of the pageantry that we still enjoy today. And how, when he died, there was genuine grief across the nation and beyond, from people of all backgrounds. He got it right. And, considering how many people thought he’d get it all wrong, that’s particularly impressive. As I said, good old Teddy!
I do love a good American Dream story! Max Factor, born Maksymilian Faktorowicz in a small town outside Lodz, started work at the age of 8 because his family were so poor, sailed steerage to Ellis Island to escape the pogroms, moved to LA because he was so taken by “the movies”, and pretty much created the modern make-up industry. Amazing. Meanwhile, his half-brother became a Chicago gangster who worked closely with Al Capone! The programme didn’t actually mention the gangster brother, but I thought I would!
I do not love 1920s fashion. It seems to have been designed for women who were no more than a size 6, and had no tummy, backside, waist, hips or bust. On top of that, it involved miniscule handbags. What a larger-sized female who couldn’t leave the house without carrying everything but the kitchen sink with her, i.e. someone like me, was supposed to do, I have no idea. Just look uncool, I suppose 😢! But, hey, at least women of any size could choose what sort of make-up they wore, and the 1920s/1930s was the era in which it became affordable for everyone.
It’s important for everyone to be able to choose a look which works for them. The current Coronation Street storyline, in which Nina was badly beaten up because of her choice of clothes, make-up and hairstyle, based on the horrific murder of Sophie Lancaster in Bacup in 2007, is reminding us how prejudiced people can be just based on someone else’s look. We’ve still got a long way to go, but the inter-war years were the period in which we at least really started to move towards each person choosing what worked for them.
But to get back to the point …
…. this was another fascinating episode, as we saw the make-up/cosmetics industry roll on into the days of mass marketing, getting people in white coats to convince you that it was all good for you, and setting up all those counters which still tend to be the first thing you see when you walk into a department store. On the one hand, women were rebelling, choosing their own looks, and having their hair cut short – despite schools suspending girls who turned up with short hair, employers sacking women with short hair, and clergymen preaching against the evils of having your crowning glory cut off. On the other hand, there was all this advertising making you feel that you didn’t look right.
And, of course, there was the obsession with the cinema! A lot of this was about film star looks. And a lot of it was about the actual science of make-up, and how people were influenced by the idea that this was all good for you. But I think the main theme was that, after the Great War, women were increasingly rebelling against the control of society and the patriarchy, and how changing hairstyles, styles of clothing and trends in make-up all showed that.
Like the previous two episodes, it said so much about the society of the day, and how trends involving hair and clothes and make-up were a part of that. This really has been a great series, and I’m only sorry that there’ve only been three episodes of it. Well done, Lisa Eldridge and BBC 2! Good stuff 🙂 .
I wasn’t sure how this was going to pan out, but Michael Portillo and BBC 2 have done an excellent job of adapting to Covid restrictions; and they managed to make Slough, Pinner, Hatch End and various other places which, with all due respect, don’t scream “glamour”, sound very interesting! Windsor, Winchester and Oxford added some rather more traditional interest, along with Downton Abbey (OK, Highclere Castle), and we even got to see Michael riding on Thomas the Tank Engine along the “Watercress Line” heritage railway in Hampshire.
The theme was the 1930s, and we heard about a wide range of subjects relating to that decade, although we did also cross into the 1920s and 1940s. We got the Abdication, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the establishment of the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville, the opening of a Mars factory 🙂 in Slough, Heath Robinson’s cartoons and the model village at Bekonscot, to name but a few. And, of course, we got Thomas the Tank Engine! The second week’s going to cover the Kindertransport, Sutton Hoo, the (in)famous Summerhill School and 1930s art in the first episode alone, so they really are packing a lot into each half hour slot.
The pandemic wasn’t really mentioned, but we did see Michael wearing his (garishly-coloured) mask on the trains, and he only spoke to one person at a time – no big groups, no joining in with dancing or other activities. And he’s unlikely to be filming abroad any time soon. But it didn’t spoil any of the programmes. This is what we’re all having to do at the moment – adapt as best we can, and try to find interesting things to see and do within the restrictions. It’s lovely to see another series of this, and it’s wonderful that they’ve been able to film it despite everything that’s been going on.
I am so impressed with this series! I thought it was just going to be, well, lipstick, powder and paint, but the episode on the Georgians was great and so too was this episode on the Victorians. I couldn’t help thinking how some of the Victorian ideas on appearance were still influencing children’s books written in the mid-20th century, which I was reading as a kid in the early 1980s. As Lisa Eldridge pointed out, Victorian ideas on being able to judge someone’s personality based on how they looked verged on the bonkers – but, in Enid Blyton adventure and mystery books, you always know that anyone with a thick neck or “eyes set too closely together” will turn out to be a baddie! And, at the Chalet School, wearing more than the slightest hint of make-up is a sign that you are a Very Bad Girl, and yet you’re supposed to look attractive at all times. As Lisa said, that works OK if you’re naturally stunning, but it really doesn’t for the rest of us! I do not have the nerve to go anywhere without make-up on.
All sorts of other things also made their way into this – from the Contagious Diseases Act, to people having issues with red hair because of Scottish and Irish nationalism, to soldiers being expected to have huge moustaches because it was thought that Indian men with lots of facial hair looked uber-virile and that British men should try to get the same look.
It started with fairly standard stuff about Victorians not being keen on the idea of make-up because it was associated with being on the stage, and also because the later Victorians were obsessed with the idea that cleanliness was next to godliness and thought that a clean face meant a bare face. But it went beyond that, to talk about how it was felt that, if you covered your face with make-up, you might be trying to hide something … like the fact that your face was ravaged by syphilis, and from there it got on to the Contagious Diseases Act, and how women were so frightened of being dragged in for those horrific speculum examinations that they were afraid to wear make-up in case it led to their being mistaken for prostitutes. Very interesting point. And it also talked about the general attitudes towards women, and how a lot of make-up looked as if you were putting yourself out there rather than fading into the background.
There was also some talk about phrenology, which always makes me think of Mr Rochester doing his “feeling your bumps” thing, and the general idea of being able to judge people by their appearance. It didn’t go into eugenics in too much detail, but it did touch on the idea. And it also mentioned the idea of TB being seen as making people look attractive – bright eyes, rosy cheeks, etc – and compared it to the heroin chic idea of the 1990s. It was just fascinating how the programme developed.
There was also some talk about hair. There are still some rules about facial hair in the Armed Services, aren’t there? Anyway, we heard about how, after the Crimean War, soldiers were banned from shaving above their top lips, and this was in force until 1916 … and how this was because Indian men with luxuriant beards and moustaches were thought to look very manly. I have to say that I am not a fan of men having either beards or moustaches, although I know that some people wear them for religious reasons, but each to their own!
And then the issue of red hair. I thought that prejudice against people with red hair was to do with religion, because Judas was supposed to have had red hair, and the Spanish Inquisition associated red hair with being Jewish, but the programme made the point that it was also associated with Scotland and Ireland – and presumably, by extension, with ideas of Irish and Scottish nationalism. If Nicola Sturgeon was watching, she was probably quite chuffed to hear that! Interesting idea. I don’t really know why, but everyone has this image of Jacobites as having bright red hair. You can even buy Jacobite tam o’shanters with a load of false red hair attached, which is utterly ridiculous: the Old Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie both wore white powdered wigs, and had brownish hair! Scotland and Ireland do both have far higher percentages of people with red hair than England does, though.
All this from talking about make-up! This series really is good. It’s a shame that there’s only one episode left.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this programme, presented by make-up artist Lisa Eldridge, but it turned out to be pretty interesting, as she discussed how upper-class High Georgian ladies piled their hair so high that they had to sit on the floor of their carriages rather than their seats, and were so obsessed with painting their faces with white lead that at least one woman died of lead poisoning as a result. The men got in on the act too, with the craze for “macaroni” dress – tall, powdered wigs, diamante buckles on shoes, et al.
Meanwhile, Georgian lads’ mags printed league tables ranking famous women according to their beauty, grace and elegance, with Georgiana Cavendish nee Spencer, the famous Duchess of Devonshire, always coming out on top. Georgiana actually employed a personal hairdresser, who was paid more than her lady’s maid, housekeeper, butler or coachmen. And such was the general interest in all these goings-on that shop windows were full of prints of pictures of the rich and famous, and people even rented hotel rooms so that they could hang out of the windows to watch their faves go by. And we think that obsession with celebs is a 21st century thing!
But, according to Lisa, the shock of the French Revolution caused such a reaction against excessive make-up that it wasn’t until the days of glam rock and the New Romantics that people went so OTT again. I can honestly say that I’d never really thought of it quite like that before, but I can see where she was coming from! I was going to mention Adam Ant, but dandy highwaymen and Prince Charming are more Regency than High Georgian 🙂 .
However overboard the whole make-up and hair thing went in Britain, it was far worse in France, where hundreds of courtiers would actually go and watch Marie Antoinette performing her toilette, because it was such a long and elaborate job. It’s fairly hard to argue that that in itself had much to do with the French Revolution, but, OK, it was all part of the culture of excess.
The general idea of the programme was that make-up says a lot about the era, and that, in this instance, the upper-classes used make-up to show off their wealth and power – an ordinary person would never have been able to afford those sorts of cosmetics, nor would they have had the time to apply them. The programme was as much about hairstyles as make-up, but, OK, the two things go together. I could have done without the attempts to make everything “relevant” to today – I’m sure we can all think about the Georgians without needing to think about the Kardashians – but it really was quite interesting.
This book about the Overbury Scandal, the alleged murder of Sir Thomas Overbury by the Countess of Essex, Frances Devereux nee Howard, who had her marriage annulled so that she could marry the Earl of Somerset, with whom she’d been having an affair, and who’d also been having an affair with James I/VI (keep up, keep up!), would have been very interesting had the author not infuriatingly referred throughout to Frances as “Frankie”. “Frankie”? In the 1610s? Seriously? It really did annoy me. Also, it means that I’m now being earwormed by Sister Sledge.
If Lucy Jago had just stuck to “Frances” (I did wonder if maybe she had some school playground-ish aversion to “Fanny”, but even “Fanny” wasn’t really used until the mid-18th century), the book would have been excellent. It was written from the point of view of Anne Turner, the impoverished widow of a doctor, who was hanged for being an accessory to the murder; and it really was entertaining. There was so much going on here, much of it aspects of society which haven’t changed very much. The title of the book reflects the fact that the aristocratic, influential Carrs – who, as the author points out several times, spent more on fripperies in an average month than most people could hope to earn in many years of hard work – were imprisoned for a few years but then pardoned, whereas the four “ordinary” people implicated went straight to the hangman’s noose.
The book gives a fascinating depiction of life both at Court and in the poorer areas of London, and brings in the effects on the Overbury trial of views of women and how they should behave, the Pendle Witch Trials, prejudice against Catholics – even though, or possibly because, the Howards, despite being Catholic, were able to dominate the Court – , rivalries between English and Scottish courtiers, and the difference in culture between the Whitehall bubble and everyone else.
To cut a long story short, Frances Howard was married off to the Earl of Essex, the marriage was unhappy, and she took up with Robert Carr, later Earl of Somerset, the lover of James I and close friend of Thomas Overbury. She wanted her marriage annulled, Overbury opposed it, the Howards turned on him, and he was imprisoned, possibly for refusing the position of ambassador to Tsar Michael of Russia. He then mysteriously died. The annulment and remarriage went ahead. It was later claimed that Frances had had Overbury poisoned, and that was what a trial found.
Anne Turner was some sort of companion to Frances. She was the widow of a doctor, and mistress of a politician, became well-known because she was the only supplier of a saffron starch used to make fashionable yellow ruffs, and is often said to have been a madam of “houses of ill repute”. However, in the book, her husband left her with a lot of debts, she genuinely expected her lover to marry her and was badly let down when he said that his position of court meant that he couldn’t be associated with her, and she made money by working as a general dressmaker.
Incidentally, Anne’s lover’s name was Arthur Mainwaring, but Lucy Jago’s changed it to Arthur Waring because she said that the name made her think of Dad’s Army, and sounded too silly alongside Frankie Howard (even spelt Howard rather than Howerd). Right. Let’s all change historical figures’ names because they remind us of TV characters. OK, OK, I would have kept waiting for him to say “Don’t tell him, Pike”, but even so. And Captain Mainwaring’s name wasn’t even Arthur! It was George. The actor who played him was called Arthur.
Anyway, to get back to the point 🙂 … so, Anne’s quite sympathetically portrayed. They’re actually both quite sympathetically portrayed – Anne as an impoverished widow let down by a man, Frances as a young woman forced into an unhappy marriage by family politics – and they’re shown as having a very close friendship despite their different positions in life, with Frances, at the end, trying to save Anne but being unable to do so.
Lucy Jago’s take on it is that Robert Carr wasn’t involved, and that Anne and Frances did send poison to the Tower but that it was never used. No-one’s really sure what’s happened. Overbury had health problems anyway. There was talk about poisoned enemas, poisoned cakes … and an interesting point’s made that poison was seen as a foreign, Catholic way of bumping people off! To this day, it’s associated with Lucrezia Borgia (probably unfairly) and Catherine de Medici (fairly). There was also some talk of witchcraft, which fitted the atmosphere of the times.
So there was a lot going on, and this book reflects this. It also brings in the death of Prince Henry and how devastated people were about that, and it’s just generally a very interesting depiction of the lives of different people at an interesting time. Even though the Gunpowder Plot’s one of the best-known events in British history, and even though the Pendle Witch Trials are so well-known too, James I and VI’s reign – and, of course, it was also crucial in that it was the start of the personal union between England and Scotland – does tend to get a bit overlooked, in between the Glorious Elizabethan Age and the build-up to the Civil War.
All in all, a very good book. But “Frankie”? Seriously?!
Whilst I could have done with a bit less Freudian psycho-analysis (we were told every two minutes during the first episode that Churchill had been desperate for his father’s approval, wanted to emulate his father, and was always “trapped in the moment of his father’s death”), the first two episodes of this have been very entertaining. I love Churchill as a historian, especially when he’s writing about the first Duke of Marlborough, but his own life was pretty interesting as well: the first episode took us from Blenheim Palace to the North West Frontier, to Oldham, to South Africa, to Westminster. Shame it didn’t mention the fact that one of the people who helped him hide from the Boers was an Oldham coal miner: I like that story 🙂 .
The interpretation of his life was quite strange – apart from the obsession with his father, the presenters’ idea was that he thought politicians had to be celebs. I’m not entirely convinced about that, but, yes, he probably did go off both to the Boer War and the Great War more with the aim of winning attention and popularity than anything else … rather drastic decisions! And it worked. You’d think that the wealthy aristocrat, turning up at the Front with a load of luggage including his own bath, and having been all over the papers after he was pushed under the bus and made the scapegoat for Gallipoli (for which he was partly to blame, but so were plenty of others), would have been resented by the ordinary soldiers, but it sounded as if they all thought he was great.
It’s unfortunate that his own father didn’t – we were shown extracts of letters in which Randolph Churchill said that young Winston would probably turn out to be a “social wastrel and a failure”. And his mother was more interested in her social life and affairs than in her children. So rather a sad start in life, despite the immense privilege. None of this was anything that most viewers wouldn’t already have known, but it was interesting.
So too was hearing about his Army service in India, and then the crazy escapade in South Africa in which he escaped from a Boer POW camp armed only with a bar of chocolate – you really couldn’t make it up! Then came his first forays into politics, but then the Gallipoli disaster, his rejoining the Army, and then his successful return to politics against all the odds.
I really did enjoy both episodes, and am looking forward to the rest of the series. I thought they might wokify it and make irrelevant criticisms, but they didn’t – they did make the point that some of his views on imperialism and race might not be acceptable now, but they also made it clear that the articles he wrote whilst in South Africa were very well-received, so he was only reflecting the views of the time. Instead, they focused on what a character he was – he really was one of a kind! Enjoying this, and looking forward to more 🙂 .
Mary Anning, whose work as a fossil hunter and palaeontologist in Lyme Regis in the first half of the 19th century had a significant impact on the understanding of prehistoric life, is about to be commemorated on three special edition coins, and, when cinemas finally reopen, we should be able to see a film about her. She’s the focal point of this book by Tracy Chevalier, although most of it’s written as if from the viewpoint of her friend and fellow palaeontologist, Elizabeth Philpot.
Mary, as a woman, an unmarried woman, a working-class woman and a Nonconformist, wasn’t able to become part of the scientific establishment, and her importance has been overlooked, and it’s interesting to see that come across in the book. It’s also interesting to see how people struggled to reconcile the finds made by her and others with what we now call Creationism: explanations mentioned in the book include rocks having been created with fossils already in them, and icthyosauri missing Noah’s Ark and so being wiped out by the Flood.
It’s frustrating, though, that the book includes a fictitious tale about Mary and Elizabeth falling out over some smooth-talking bloke whom they both fancied but who wasn’t interested in either of them, and then some rather Gothic melodrama about Elizabeth rushing to London, whilst ill, to defend Mary against allegations of faking her finds, swooning away at the Geological Society and nearly dying of pneumonia. Would anyone put something like that in a book about male scientists? And I gather that the forthcoming film centres not on Mary’s work but on a fictitious romance between her and the geologist Charlotte Murchison. See also “Becoming Jane [Austen]” and “Miss [Beatrix] Potter” – again, because they were women, the focus just had to be on their love lives rather than on their work!
There’s plenty to go off whilst sticking to the truth. Elements of Elizabeth Philpot’s life actually were rather like the plot of a Jane Austen novel – and the author makes that point several times, as we see Elizabeth and two of her sisters moving to Lyme Regis because they can’t afford to continue living in a genteel, suitably ladylike style in London. But, as the author points out, not everyone meets a handsome man and gets married. However, Elizabeth leads an interesting life as a fossil collector, and befriends Mary Anning, then only a child and twenty years her junior.
Mary’s life is even more fascinating. She and one of her brothers – the joint discover of their first ichthyosaur – were the only two surviving children of ten born to a working-class couple struggling for money, and her father died of TB when she was young. Most of the fossils she collected were sold to bring in an income – and what started as a little seaside souvenir shop attracted the attention of all the leading lights of British science. Her fame spread abroad too. Plenty of drama, as well – she was nearly buried alive by a landslip.
Parts of the book are told from Mary’s viewpoint, with the names of the creatures shortened (which seemed a bit patronising, as if a working-class person would say “ichie” and “plesie” because they couldn’t manage “iccthyosaurus” or “plesiosaurus”), and the narrative in what’s supposed to be Dorset dialect. It sounds like Yorkshire with a bit of Cockney thrown in to me, but I’ve never been to Lyme Regis, so I may be talking rubbish and it may be entirely accurate!
The story of Lt Colonel Birch, the bloke over whom they fall out in this book, seems to have been that he sold his collection of fossils, most of which he’d got from Mary, and donated the money to the Anning family as an act partly of recognition for their work and partly of charity. I’m not quite sure why that’s been made into a tale of Mary and Elizabeth both being obsessed with him, Mary seducing him and a lot of gossip, but, hey, I suppose romance, seduction and girly fallings-out make for better novels than fossils do!
This is an interesting book and it’s good to see both Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot getting the recognition that they deserved …. but would anyone writing a book about the collaboration between two male scientists chuck in a plotline about them falling out over a girl and then one of them swooning away at a scientific society?! It seems unlikely.
The idea for this was brilliant, the execution rather less so. It’s the author’s first novel, so maybe allowances should be made, but do editors just not proof-read the books? Using “England” and “Britain” interchangeably is a common problem in books by American authors, admittedly, but I’m pretty sure that no-one in the 1860s would have used the expression “golden ticket”! However, the subject matter, the life of Vicky, the Princess Royal, later the Empress Frederick, is fascinating: there’s an excellent biography of her, but she’s been overlooked by novelists.
The style of writing is more suited to a young adult novel than adult historical fiction – don’t be expecting anything of the calibre of Elizabeth Chadwick or Sharon Penman – but the characterisation is accurate and the factual information’s all in there … Vicky’s childhood, her early marriage, her rather unhappy life in Berlin, and the tragic story of how the unification of Germany, which Prince Albert mistakenly thought would be a force for good, turned into a triumph for Prussian militarism.
The book rather strangely stops short in 1871, as the Franco-Prussian war ends and Vicky’s father-in-law is proclaimed Emperor of Germany, with Bismarck as Chancellor. Maybe the author’s planning a sequel? At that point, things could still have turned differently, if Vicky and her husband Fritz had had their chance … but they never did. It’s one of the great “What ifs?” of modern history.
The rather childlike style of writing works quite well in the early chapters, when Vicky’s a young girl. However, it does become rather irritating later on, once she’s married. The actual content is so interesting, though – the hostility she faced in Berlin, the conflict within the Prussian royal family, her son Willy’s disability and the weird and rather horrific treatments he was subjected to (would he have turned out differently if he’d not been put through all that?), the wars against Denmark, Austria and Prussia, and the triumph of reaction and militarism.
It’s historically accurate, which is always a huge plus point, and the characters do come across well. It’s very biased towards Vicky, and against the Prussian court, but I’d have found it strange if it hadn’t been. The name “Prussia” was wiped off the map after the Second World War, and survives only, in is Latinised version, in the names of football teams: that’s how negative the view of Prussia was, especially in Anglophone countries, and I think that that feeling still lingers, one way and another. When you look at what went on, especially the attitude towards Catholics and Jews, it’s hard to find too much to praise in the regime of Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm I. The causes of the Great War are more debatable, but that was after Vicky’s time.
We also see a lot of her family life – and it does give quite a positive portrayal of her relationship with Willy, which became so difficult later on. Her sister Alice features quite a lot too, although it’s very odd that their brother Leopold’s haemophilia isn’t mentioned. Again, it’s all very accurate, but the style of writing really doesn’t work that well in what’s meant to be a historical novel for adults, and includes so much about political history.
All in all, not a bad first effort, and a brilliant choice of subject, but the style of writing really could have been a lot better.