The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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June 23, 2013

Bertie: a life of Edward VII

I may have mentioned before that I'm a Queen Victoria groupie, and even though I have two books about her sitting bought but unread on my bookshelves, I decided to ignore chronological order and read this one. {It was a good thing that it's a library book, because that meant I'd actually read it. :) Good for me, anyway ... it doesn't look like it will be published here, though it is available on Audible. Lyn has said that she enjoyed listening to it, which is a good recommendation.} People talk about reading cookbooks like novels (I think that's funny!), but you can enjoy biographies that way, too, especially biographies like this one.

It's essentially one story after another, beginning with Queen Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert {'Into this girlie court of late-night dancing, schoolgirl gossip, and immature politics walked Albert.'}, to a from a footnote reporting that his wet-nurse, Mrs. Brough, later murdered her own six children in a fit of madness, to Victoria's 'almost murderous' feelings towards her son, whom she blamed for Albert's death, to Bertie's philandering and womanizing, to his love of cigars and huge meals and shooting parties, to the correction of a myth that the coronation was postponed after Bertie was operated on for a burst appendix on the billiard table at Buckingham Palace {'He read novels, a sure sign that he was ill.'}, to his skill as a diplomat {and a leader with 'moral courage'} during his short reign.  Jane Ridley also paints an intriguing picture of Alexandra, Bertie's Danish wife, one that makes me want to read more about her {see quibble below}.

It was Bertie's generation, more than his mother's, that deliberately created a royal dynasty, so reading this book gave me more a sense of how the royal families, and the countries they ruled, were intertwined.  I knew that the German Kaiser Wilhelm was Victoria's grandson and Bertie's nephew, but I didn't know -- for example -- that Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra were Bertie's wife's nephew and Bertie's niece, respectively. Or that Camilla Parker-Bowles was the great-granddaughter of Alice Keppel, Bertie's bridge partner, political advisor and long-time mistress. {This is noted on the family tree, but nothing else is said -- or suggested -- about it. Darn. }

One of the most interesting chapters of this book was the last one -- 'Bertie and the Biographers' -- which describes the destruction {ordered by Bertie and his mother} of many letters and royal papers, an attempt at blackmail by one of his mistresses, now elderly and in need of money, and early efforts to get a suitably respectful biography written. So there are a lot of mentions of mistresses and scandals and illegitimate children {he did have at least one, apparently} and political intrigues that are described as not credible or without evidence or probably not true. That doesn't make them any less fun to read about!

My only complaint about this book, as a reader, is that there's no bibliography.  The first thing I do when I have a biography in my hands is to look for pictures [check], and there's extra credit for a family tree {check}, but if the story is as well-told as this one is, and the people in it as endlessly interesting, I find myself looking for where I can read about them next. Bertie has 80 pages of endnotes, which I guess I could look through, but I probably won't. :)

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Now I'm at a little bit of a loose end.  I have a slightly unsatisfying book to read on the bus {so I'll save it for that} and five books ready and waiting for Paris in July, which doesn't start till a week from tomorrow.  Should I leave for Paris early, or find something to fill the gap? 


Lisa said...

I'm also a groupie, and the more I read about Bertie, the more I feel for him. How frustrating that this won't be published in the US - and I share your frustration with missing bibliographies.

lyn said...

As I listened to Bertie, I didn't realise there was no bibliography but I did miss being able to read the footnotes. I love to do that. I did enjoy it though. I'm a Victorian groupie too. Georgina Battiscombe wrote an excellent biography of Alix but it was years ago & probably out of print now.

JoAnn said...

I do love a good family tree, and pictures are an absolute must... but I never think to look at the bibliography! Horrors! Glad you enjoyed the book.

On to Paris!

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