Town&Country Interview: Will Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Hire a Nanny When Their Baby Is Born?

Prince Charles in St. James’ Park on his second birthday with his nanny, Mabel Anderson

On Monday October 15, Kensington Palace announced that Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will become parents in the Spring of 2019. Although the arrival of the royal baby is months away, there is already speculation concerning the decisions that Harry and Meghan will make as parents, including childcare. I discussed royal nannies and how they are chosen with Town and Country magazine.

Click here to read Will Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Hire a Nanny When Their Baby Is Born? at Town and Country.

For more about how royal parents raised their children from medieval times to modern times, read my book Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting 

 

CBC News Interview: Princess Eugenie’s wedding: Why these royal nuptials are courting controversy

The Duke of York in the 2012 Trooping the Colour Parade with his younger daughter, Princess Eugenie

I discussed the controversy surrounding Princess Eugenie’s wedding with Janet Davison at CBC News. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“It’s bound to bring back royal wedding memories of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s carriage ride through the streets of Windsor.

Harry’s cousin Princess Eugenie, 28, and Jack Brooksbank, 32, are planning a horse-drawn jaunt after their wedding in St. George’s Chapel on Friday, perhaps in a glass coach if rain seems likely.

But while much shorter than Harry and Meghan’s, Eugenie’s ceremonial excursion, and the security it will require, have stirred controversy over the nuptials of this more junior royal who seems to be aiming for a wedding to rival the one her higher-ranking relative had in May.

“Princess Eugenie … is a private citizen in many respects,” said Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris. “She doesn’t have that range of public engagements, and so there’s some popular controversy about the perception that she’s trying to emulate the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.”

Click here to read Princess Eugenie’s wedding: Why these royal nuptials are courting controversy

 

BBC History Magazine Article: 8 unconventional royal wedding dresses in history

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at the time of their wedding in 1937.

My latest article in the BBC History Magazine is about unconventional royal wedding dresses from Marie Antoinette to Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. I discuss how wedding dresses at first considered unique or noteworthy set trends for future royal brides or contributed to the history of fashion.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“For centuries, royal women were married in sumptuous garments and glittering jewels intended to announce the bride’s wealth and status rather than reflect her own personal taste. But from the 18th century onwards, royal wedding dresses began to display more personal touches, some of which became traditions for future royal brides. As speculation mounts over the style and design of Princess Eugenie’s wedding dress when she marries wine merchant Jack Brooksbank on 12 October, historian Carolyn Harris reveals eight royal wedding dresses that were considered unusual, unconventional or innovative in their time…”

Click here to read “8 unconventional royal wedding dresses in history” in the BBC History Magazine

 

Books I’ve Read This Week: The Royal Family of Denmark

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 38: The Royal Family of Denmark When I visited the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen this past summer, I was pleased to see that there is a new series of short biographies in both Danish and English about Denmark’s monarchs and royal residences. In recent weeks, I have read six volumes from the Crown series about 19th and 20th century Danish Kings and Queens as well as Rosenborg Castle and treasury. I also read a scholarly history book from the Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy series, which examines the phenomemon of sailor princes in the 19th century, including Prince Waldemar of Denmark and his nephew, Prince George of Greece. Here are this week’s reviews:

#260 of 365 The ‘Sailor Prince’ in the Age of Empire: Creating a Monarchical Brand in Nineteenth-Century Europe  by Miriam Magdalena Schneider

Genre: History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Dates Read: September 17-18, 2018

Format: E-Book, 318 pages

Review: A well researched and insightful analysis of four 19th century Princes who pursued naval careers: Prince Alfred of the United Kingdom (2nd son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), Prince Heinrich of Germany (younger brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II), Prince Waldemar of Denmark (youngest son of King Christian IX) and Prince George of Greece (nephew of Prince Waldemar). These princes increased the popularity of their respective royal houses in the 19th century, became part of the celebrity culture of the era, cemented relationships between European and Asian royal houses, set precedents for the education of future royalty, and helped to connect global empires and communities. Schneider draws upon a broad range of sources and perspectives, revealing how complicated the lives and public images of these figures could be as they struggled to reconcile their identities as sailors and as princes. An essential book for anyone interested in 19th century European monarchies and their significance in a global context.

#261 of 365 Christian IX and Queen Louise: Europe’s Parents-in-Law by Jens Gunni Busck

Genre: History/Biography

Date Read: September 20, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at the Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Review: A beautifully illustrated short biography of King Christian IX and Queen Louise, whose royal descendants include Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Christian came to the throne amidst complicated circumstances that are well explained in the book. A series of constitutional reforms, international treaties and contingencies within the royal families of Denmark, Russia and various German states allowed the fourth son of a minor Danish prince, and the daughter of Danish king’s sister to become King and Queen of Denmark. The transformation of Christian IX from a contested monarch unpopular because of military defeats and German connections in his extended family to the beloved father of the nation and father-in-law of Europe is also well developed.

I would have been interested to learn more about the family gatherings in Denmark when the British, Russian, Danish and Greek royal houses came together for long summer holidays. The author notes that “In fact we know nothing of what was talked about over cigars after dinner and it would have been odd if major European political issues had not been mentioned…” The illustrations are excellent and include photographs, portraits, a floral painting by Queen Louise, and the interiors of royal residences that demonstrate the couple’s personal asthetic and the design trends of the 19th century.

#262 of 365 Frederik VIII and Queen Lovisa: The Overlooked Royal Couple by  Birgitte Louise Peiter Rosenhegn

Genre: History/Biography

Date Read: September 20, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at the Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Review: King Frederik VIII is a rare example of a past reigning monarch who is less well known today than his younger siblings. His sisters Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom (consort of King Edward VII), Empress Marie of Russia (consort of Czar Alexander III) and King George I of Greece (grandfather of Prince Philip) are all more famous as historical figures.

This short biography explains that there was far more to “The Eternal Crown Prince” than his brief time as King between the long reigns of his father Christian IX and son Christian X. Frederik had a key diplomatic role during his father’s reign, striking up an unlikely friendship with Crown Prince Frederick of Germany, and he devoted much of his time to charitable endeavours. His long incognito walks and ability to engage with people from all walks of life was sometimes criticized as “too folksy” for a future King of Denmark.

As the only child of King Charles XV of Sweden, Lovisa was a well known public figure in her own right and she became an accomplished amateur artist and intellectual. Both Frederik and Lovisa had a complicated relationship with Frederik’s more famous siblings and spent limited time at royal extended family gatherings instead carving out their own immediate family sphere. The book is beautifully illustrated with royal portraits and photographs as well as examples of Lovisa’s paintings and calligraphy.

#263 of 365 Christian X and Queen Alexandrine: Royal Couple Through the World Wars by Jens Gunni Busck

Genre: History/Biography

Date Read: September 22, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Review: A fascinating and beautifuly illustrated short biography of King Christian X, famous for his daily rides around Copenhagen during the Second World War German occupation of Denmark. The book does an excellent job of describing Christian X’s complicated personality. He was strongly influenced by his grandfather Christian IX and the strict upbringing that he received from his parents King Frederick VIII and Lovisa of Sweden. His military service also shaped his perspective on kingship. I would have been interested to read more about Queen Alexandrine, whose quieter character was overshadowed by that of her husband, as well as Denmark’s experience during the First and Second World Wars. The First World War is summarized especially quickly. The illustrations are lovely, especially a 1940 photograph of the elderly Christian X with his granddaughter, the future Queen Margarete II.

#264 of 365 Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid: The Modern Royal Couple by Jens Gunni Busck

Date Read: September 22, 2018

Genre: History/Biography

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Acquired: Purchased from the Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Review: A short biography of Queen Margarete II of Denmark’s parents, King Frederik IX and Queen Ingrid and their impact on the Danish monarchy. While previous Danish monarchs experienced some difficulties setting the right tone for their court, the author explains that Frederik and Ingrid mastered “formal informality” creating a balance between royal tradition and accessibility. Royal banquets were renamed parties and live music and buffets were added to previously dull palace occasions. Both Frederick and Ingrid were interesting people in their own right: Frederick was a trained symphony conductor who made recordings for charity and Ingrid was a keen sportswoman and trendsetter throughout her long life, even popularizing mobility devices for the elderly during her last years. In common with the other books in the Crown series, this book is beautifully illustrated, including numerous photographs of the royal couple and their three daughters.

#265 of 365 Power, Splendour, and Diamonds: Denmark’s Regalia and Crown Jewels by Peter Kristiansen

Date Read: September 25, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Purchased from Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 60 pages

Review: A short history of Danish coronations, and, since the mid-nineteeth century, accession proclamations. The book includes full descriptions of Denmark’s royal regalia and crown jewels. There are colourful illustrations that emphasize the intricate details of these pieces. The Danish royal regalia is on permanent display at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen and is now rarely used at official events except for the state funerals of monarchs. The Crown Jewels are worn by Queen Margarete II on certain official occasions including royal weddings and the annual New Year’s banquet. There is one notable piece not discussed in the book. The collection at Rosenborg Castle includes the world’s oldest surviving Order of the Garter and while this piece is not strictly part of the crown jewels or royal regalia, it would have been an interesting item to photograph and describe for this volume. Power, Splendour, and Diamonds is a valuable overview of the Danish Regalia and Crown Jewels and a great souvenir of Rosenborg Castle.

Rosenborg. Pleasure Palace and Treasure Chamber#266 of 365 Rosenborg. Pleasure Palace and Treasure Chamber by Heidi Laura

Genre: History/Art

Date Read: September 26, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 114 pages

Review: A beautifully illustrated guide to Rosenborg Castle. Visiting the castle can be an overwhelming experience as the royal apartments are filled with portraits and beautiful objects. The book places the rooms and their treasures within the context of Danish history from the reign of Christian IV to the development of Denmark’s constitution. The illustrations include details that visitors to the museum are likely to overlook including hidden speaking tubes in the walls for the royal residents to order food and drink from the palace kitchens. The decorative objects provide examples of changing trends in art patronage and collecting during the centuries that the Rosenborg was a working royal residence.  The provenance of key works of art in the Castle and the careers of little known court artists and intellectuals are well explained in the guidebook but I would have liked to have read a little more information about certain royal portraits and sculptures in the rooms. A fascinating and informative read.

Town and Country Interview: Why Princess Eugenie’s Role in the Royal Family Is Very Different From Prince Harry’s

Princess Eugenie

I discussed Princess Eugenie’s role in the royal family with Town and Country. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

“Prince Harry’s life will be filled with official engagements, as demonstrated by his role as a Commonwealth Youth Ambassador and his forthcoming tour of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga,” Carolyn Harris, a royal historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting, explains.

“In contrast, Eugenie will continue to be a guest at royal weddings and other family occasions but will be expected to continue to pursue her own independent career rather than represent the monarch at official engagements.”

Click here to read Why Princess Eugenie’s Role in the Royal Family Is Very Different From Prince Harry’s

 

Books I’ve Read This Week: The House of Windsor

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 37: The House of Windsor In recent weeks, I have read numerous books about the modern royal family including innovative new biographies of two of the most controversial members of the royal family in the 20th century: King Edward VIII and Princess Margaret. I also read a novel inspired by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, scholarly studies of broader themes in the history of the monarchy such as the establishment of the House of Windsor and royal last wills and testaments, a history of Anglo-Russian royal visits during the reign of Czar Nicholas II and a Canadian perspective on the Queen Mother. Here are this week’s reviews:

#253 of 365 Edward VIII: An American Life by Ted Powell

Date Read: October 1, 2018

Genre: History/Biography

Acquired: Received a Review Copy

Format: Hardcover, 322 pages

Review: A fresh perspective on King Edward VIII that examines the impact of American society and culture on his life and brief reign. The book includes excellent analysis of British vs. American press coverage of Edward’s activities as Prince of Wales, which remains relevant to present day royal coverage. There are also insightful conclusions concerning Edward’s inner turmoil and the increasing conflict between his public and private lives during his years as Prince of Wales, which eventually culminated in the abdication crisis once he succeeded to the throne in 1936.

The subtitle of the book, An American Life, however, does not quite capture the complexity of the material. The early chapters are more focused on Canada including his popular 1919 Canadian tour and his purchase of a ranch in Alberta. There are numerous instances of Edward describing his affinity to Canada rather than the United States quoted in the book. Edward’s public role was different in Canada than in the United States and there are also cultural differences. A little more analysis of Edward’s shift from an identification with Canadians to a more American social circle would have enhanced the book.

Edward’s visits to the United States after the abdication crisis are passed over quickly and I would have been interested to read more about this period of Edward’s life, including his term as Governor of the Bahamas. Edward VIII: An American Life is a thought provoking read that might have been better titled “King Edward VIII Abroad” as it goes beyond the United States to place Edward in the context of popular opinion in the wider British Empire and Dominions in the 1920s and 1930s.

#254 of 365 Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown

Genre: Biography

Date Listened: September 12-13, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 12 hours and 23 minutes

Review: A biography of Princess Margaret assembled from more than 99 perspectives on her life from the Home Secretary who witnessed her arrival at Glamis Castle in 1930 to the Christie’s auction catalog of her possessions at the time of her death in 2002. In between, Margaret struggled to find a satisfying public role, decided not to marry the divorced Peter Townsend amidst constitutional controversy, endured a turbulent marriage to Antony Armstong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon, spent holidays in Mustique, was asked to leave an event by a Beatle and snubbed Elizabeth Taylor. The anecdotes assembled in the book are entertaining, irreverent and sometimes inappropriate.

Although Margaret burned most of her correspondence, she was mentioned in the memoirs and diaries of numerous prominent figures over the course of the second half of the 20th century and always made an impression. The author draws upon a wide range of sources including his own musings about how her life would have unfolded if she had made a different marriage or become queen instead of her sister. However, there are key perspectives missing. Margaret traveled extensively around the Commonwealth but voices from these tours are limited. The absence of Canadian, Australian or Caribbean sources is notable.

Brown mentions that Margaret loved her children, encouraged them to pursue careers of their choice and that they have successful lives.  Their thoughts concerning their mother are entirely missing from the narrative. Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is an engaging, innovative but incomplete portrait of the Princess. The audiobook narrator, Eleanor Bron, manages a full range of British accents from clipped royal tones to the Liverpool voices of the Beatles.

#255 of 365 The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Genre: Fiction

Dates Listened: September 14-18, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 17 hours and 54 minutes

Review: A fun royal romance inspired by William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. While the characters are fictional, the authors have clearly researched the ambiance of Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace as well as the intense public scrutiny faced by the royal family and their social circle. At the centre of the novel is what happens when a regular person used to a private life becomes involved in a royal romance and is suddenly being literally chased through London by paparazzi. The authors have great fun with the way royal rumours circulate in the press. For example, “Some people swear Nicholas has a wooden leg and that’s why he never plays polo anymore.” The novel is filled with entertaining details satirizing the British upper classes. The couple’s Oxford classmate Penelope six names gets married and becomes Penelope eight names!

I especially enjoyed the royal couple’s group of university friends who do their best to form a protective bubble around them including Gaz (short for Garamonde, grandson of the man who invented the namesake font) and Joss, whose avant garde fashion designs always attract headlines. Trouble comes when one of these friends decides to make his career as a journalist by publicizing a royal scandal. Freddie (based on Prince Harry) is always charming and mischievous and finds himself at the centre of a few royal scandals of his own. A very entertaining novel that is especially enjoyable for readers who follow royal news!

#256 of 365 The Windsor Dynasty 1910 to the Present: ‘Long to Reign Over Us’? edited by  Matthew GlencrossJudith Rowbotham and Michael D. Kandiah

Date Read: September 19, 2018

Genre: History and Politics

 Format: E-Book, 299 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto 

Review: An excellent collection of scholarly articles concerning the enduring survival of the House of Windsor from the accession of King George V to the present day, a period that saw the overthrow of numerous other European monarchies. The contributors argue that the British monarchy should be taken seriously as a political insitution rather than being dismissed as an anachronism or a tourist attraction. The unique qualities that differentiated the Windsor monarchs from their predecessors are emphasized over the course of the book. Both King George V and King George VI were second sons who were educated for naval careers rather than kingship and they approached the role of king as a duty to the nation rather than a personal privilege, an outlook shared by Queen Elizabeth II.

There are numerous chapters concerning the mutually beneficial relationship between the monarchy and the military from the First World War to the careers of Prince William and Prince Harry in the 21st century. The surprisingly recent emergence of opinion polls concerning the popularity of the monarchy is the subject of a fascinating chapter. The constitutional advice received by King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936 also receives a thorough critique. Essential reading for anyone interested in British history and the modern monarchy.

#257 of 365 Imperial Tea Party by Frances Welch

Genre: History

Date Read: September 21, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Amazon.ca

Format: Hardcover, 288 pages

Review: An enjoyable book about the three major Anglo-Russian royal visits during Czar Nicholas II’s reign: Balmoral in 1896, Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia) in 1908 and Cowes in 1909. Welch captures the atmosphere of the tours with the heightened security surrounding the presence of the Russian Imperial family in Britain, misunderstandings between Russian and British officials, excited newspaper articles about large royal family gatherings and relations between the individual members of the Russian and British royal houses. The chapters are organized according to the daily itineraries of the visits. There are numerous anecdotes about the Russian Imperial children including Queen Alexandra’s efforts to match her grandson, the future King Edward VIII, with one of Czar Nicholas’s daughters.

The wider political context surrounding these royal visits, however, is summarized quickly and the brief account of George V’s reluctance to provide refuge for the Romanovs in Britain does not take into account the latest books about these complicated circumstances, including Helen Rappaport’s 2018 book The Race to Save the Romanovs. Imperial Tea Party is a good book that could have been even better with more political context and sources.

#258 of 365 The Queen Mother and Her Century by Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli

Date Read: September 25, 2018

Genre: Biography

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 177 pages

Review:  A Canadian perspective on the Queen Mother, written at the time of her 100th birthday. The book is richly illustrated with photographs and memoribilia from royal tours in addition to formal royal portraits. There are detailed itineraries of the Queen Mother’s Canadian tours, especially her 1939 tour with King George VI, which include the press coverage of the time. The impact of Canada on the royal family’s public image and approach to Commonwealth tours also receives extensive attention. For example, the nickname “Queen Mum” first appeared in print during a 1954 Canadian tour. The book was published in 2000 and is slightly dated today as the Queen Mother’s official biography and selections from her correspondence have been published since then, providing more details concerning her life and travels. Nevertheless, a good overview of the Queen Mother’s relationship with Canada with some rarely seen illustrations.

#259 of 365 Royal Wills in Britain from 1509 to 2008 by Michael L. Nash

Dates Read: September 27-30, 2018

Genre: History

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Format: E-Book, 225 pages

Review: A good analysis of key themes in the history of last royal wills and testaments. Nash examines how royal wills were a means of establishing the difference between state and personal property, and expressing preferences concerning the succession. Distinct themes in the history of wills drafted by royal women are also highlighted in the text. Since royal wills have been sealed since 1911, there is little new information concerning modern royal wills beyond observing that the recipients of certain bequests, such as the Burmese ruby bracelet owned by Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise, remain unknown. I would have been interested to read more about the structure of early royal wills and how they were drawn up and witnessed. There is some very interesting material in this book but due to restrictions on source material, a complete history of royal wills has yet to be written.

Books I’ve Read This Week: Women in History and Literature

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 36: Women in History and Literature: In recent weeks, I have been reading books about famous women. There is a strong focus on literature including books about Charlotte Bronte, Emily Dickinson, Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare’s Wife), and the female characters in Shakespeare’s plays as well as a lesser known novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery. In addition to these books about women and literature, I also read a novel about Lady Jane Grey and a biography of Clementine Churchill. Here are this week’s reviews:

#246 of 365 Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell

Genre: History/Biography

Dates Listened: September 4-10, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 17 hours and 32 minutes

Review: An engaging biography of Clementine Churchill that might also have been titled “The Churchills at Home” or “The Churchills and the Roosevelts” as the author devotes the most attention to Clementine’s influence over her husband, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the couple’s often difficult relationship with their children and the Churchill family’s rapport with American President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt during the Second World War. Clementine emerges as a strong personality in her own right who supported her husband’s political career while also challenging him in private and assuming an unprecedented public role of her own during wartime.

Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King praised Clementine’s accomplishments and thought that her achievements during the war deserved to be better known. However, the author’s use of the term “First Lady” to describe Clementine in the introduction to the book is sometimes distracting as the spouse of a Prime Minister in a constitutional monarchy has a different role than the spouse of a President in a republic. Otherwise, an insightful and interesting biography of a historical figure who should occupy a more prominent place in histories of Britain during the Second World War.

#247 of 365 Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

Genre: Literary Criticism

Date Read: September 8-11, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Fanfare Books, Stratford, Ontario

Format: Hardcover, 312 pages

Review: A engaging study of how portrayals of women evolved in Shakespeare’s plays over the course of his career, informed by the author’s extensive experience performing, directing and teaching all the plays except Cymbeline. Although Packer has conducted a wide range of research concerning Shakespeare’s life and work, the narrative is very much a personal one, incorporating her feelings while performing the female roles and the decisions that she has made as a director. The book is strongest when it focuses closely on the plays. Packer’s speculation concerning what Shakespeare might have been thinking at any given time in his life is sometimes distracting as there is so much that is still unknown about his life experiences. A fascinating read, especially immediately after watching a Shakespeare performance.

#248 of 365 Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds by Lyndall Gordon

Dates Listened: September 10-14, 2018

Genre: Biography/History

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 15 hours and 10 minutes

Review: The popular image of American poet Emily Dickinson is of a reclusive figure who kept herself apart from the wider world. Lyndall Gordon, however, places Dickinson at the centre of a wide circle of friends and correspondents as well as a dysfunctional family who fought with each other for generations to control the poet’s legacy. The title is a reference to Dickinson’s grandmother Gunn, who was renowned for her fierce temper. The strong personalities and passions of Dickinson’s relatives come alive in the text as well as the momentum of the family conflicts that were passed from parent to child. In addition to documenting the conflicts within the poet’s family and wider circle, Gordon also discusses the possible reasons for Dickinson’s period of seclusion, presenting research that she may have suffered from epilepsy. An interesting biography of a literary family that reads like a 19th century novel.

#249 of 365 Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer

Genre: History/Literary Criticism

Date Read: September 11-13, 2018

Acquired: Purchased at the Stratford Festival

Format: Hardcover, 406 pages

Review: A fascinating biography of Anne Hathaway that places her and her daughters Susanna and Judith within the context of the social history of Stratford-upon-Avon. Greer’s conclusions are necessarily speculative because so little is known about Shakespeare’s personal life and his relationship with his family. Nevertheless, her analysis is a welcome counterpoint to longstanding assumptions that Shakespeare was pressured into his marriage and left town as soon as possible. In addition to examining how Anne Hathaway’s experiences compared with that her neighbours, Greer also examines portrayals of marriage in Shakespeare’s plays, especially The Merry Wives of Windsor. Like the author, I hope that new sources concerning Anne Hathaway will emerge, providing more details about the life she led in Stratford-upon-Avon.

#250 of 365 Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

Dates Read: September 14-25, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Fanfare Books, Stratford, Ontario

Genre: Literary Biography

Format: Hardcover, 480 pages

Review: A well researched and engaging biography of Charlotte Bronte with a strong focus on her emotions and inner life. Harman begins with Charlotte’s unrequited fascination with Constantin Heger (the inspiration for Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre) during her time studying and teaching at his school in Brussels, and the contrast between her placid exterior and strong emotions.

For Charlotte, her extended time in Brussels was a rare period away from her family. The isolation of the Haworth parsonage and the insular world created by the Bronte siblings is at the centre of the book. Charlotte, however, was the most sociable member of her family, forming outside friendships and studying abroad and she is therefore the Bronte sibling who left the greatest amount of source material about her thoughts and preoccupations.

In addition to examining Charlotte’s correspondence, novels and other writings, Harman includes the latest research concerning Bronte’s health including the likelihood that her death was caused by hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy complication suffered in recent years by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. A fascinating look at the inner turmoil experienced by the author of Jane Eyre.

#251 of 365 The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

Genre: Classic Fiction

Date Read: September 20, 2018

Acquired: Free E-Book from Faded Page

Format: E-Book, 174 pages

Review: A beautiful and comparatively obscure novel by LM Montgomery who is best known for writing Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon. The Blue Castle is the only one of Montgomery’s novels set entirely outside Prince Edward Island and the book is filled with evocative descriptions of Muskoka in all four seasons. While most of Montgomery’s heroines are children, at least at the beginning of their stories, Valancy Stirling is 29 at the start of The Blue Castle and feels that her life has little purpose. Montgomery provides a sensitive portrayal of her unhappiness at the beginning of the novel and how she finds gradually finds fufillment after receiving alarming news about her health.

Although there are serious themes addressed in the book including family estrangement, depression, alcoholism and the social stigma attached to unwed motherhood in the 1920s, the novel is also filled with moments of dry humour, especially when Valancy decides to stop trying to meet the expectations of her overbearing relatives and just be herself. A satisfying read with engaging characters.

#252 of 365 Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 18 hours and 14 minutes

Dates Listened: September 20-24, 2018

Review: A mediocre novel about a fascinating historical figure. Weir adopts multiple first person narration and the result is a sprawling narrative that sometimes loses sight of Lady Jane Grey to follow extended tagents concerning other characters such as Catherine Parr, Queen Mary I or the Duke of Northumberland. The narrators also adopt a similar narrative style, heavily foreshadowing historical events that would not have seemed inevitable to the people involved in them and describing their clothing and residences with the detached tone of an outside observer. Even four year old Lady Jane Grey describes “the clasp of the jewelled gidle, with its hanging pomander, at my waist.”

The novel also repeats some tired Tudor stereotypes. For example, Anne of Cleves is depicted as having strong body odour, Frances Grey subjects her children to corporal punishment at every opportunity in the novel and Lady Jane Grey is constantly surprised by events, even though she overhears numerous conversations about court intrigue over the course of the narrative and her parents openly scheme for their own advancement. There are distasteful scenes concerning Jane’s marriage to Guildford Dudley. Only in the final chapters is there real character development for the central figures in the novel. The audiobook is poorly organized by hour instead of by chapter.

Toronto Public Library Lecture on September 19, 2018: Royal Weddings from Victoria and Albert to Harry and Meghan

George Hayter’s painting of the wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert

I will delivering a lecture at Toronto Public Library, Leaside Branch on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 at 2pm about the history of Royal Weddings from Victoria and Albert to Harry and Meghan followed by the sale and signing of my most recent book Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting. All are welcome.

Click here for more information

Books I’ve Read This Week: Nordic History and Culture

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 35: Nordic History and Culture: While traveling in northern Europe in August, I visited Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland and read numerous books about the society and culture of these Nordic nations. I also read a couple of history books about Finland and a Nobel Prize winning work of Icelandic literature. Here are this week’s reviews:

#239 of 365 The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids by  Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Sandahl

Genre: Society and Culture

Format: Paperback, 208 pages

Date Read: August 30, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Politikens Boghal, Copenhagen

Review:  A relaxing read, especially in the Rosenborg Castle cafe on a rainy day in Copenhagen. The authors examine Danish culture and its effect on how children in Denmark grow up. The advice they provide is not just applicable to parents but to anyone seeking to live a less stressful life. They observe that Danes practice rational optimism, not necessarily ignoring difficult circumstances but finding a silver lining. The importance of spending plenty of time outside and keeping up social connections is also emphasized. I was interested to read about the role of Denmark’s royal family in the education system. Crown Princess Mary spearheaded an anti-bullying initiative that more than 90% of Danish teachers would recommend to other educators. A quick and interesting read.

#240 of 365 The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth 

Genre: Travel/Society and Culture

Date Read: August 30-31, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Politikens Boghal, Copenhagen

Format: Paperback, 406 pages

Review:  An entertaining read that passed the time on the train between Copenhagen and a visit to Hamlet’s Castle Kronborg in Helsingor. Michael Booth is a British journalist married to a Dane who has spent time living in Denmark and traveled to the other Nordic countries. He analyzes how these nations differ from one another in terms of their history and culture. I enjoyed how he explored the individual and collective histories of the region and speculates about how past political upheavals, little discussed today, continue to shape Nordic culture.

As a travelogue, the book is very funny as Booth struggles with visiting a Finnish sauna, joining a Danish choir and finding the right clothes for Norwegian National Day. The book becomes less enjoyable when the author’s personal biases prevent him from providing a balanced perspective on certain aspects of Nordic politics and culture. For example, Booth is strongly anti-monarchy and cannot conceive of why there is so much support for the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish monarchies. As a result, he focuses on the few republicans he meets rather than all the people who have more positive views of their royal family and could speak to their charity work or diplomatic role. There are other instances in the book when the author has real trouble looking beyond his own worldview. An entertaining book but it should be read alongside other perspectives about Northern Europe.

#241 of 365 An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland by Jonathan Clements

Genre: Travel/History

Date Read: August 31. 2018

Acquired: Purchased from the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in Helsinki

Format: Hardcover, 179 pages

Review:  I bought this book at the Academic Bookstore in Helsinki last week and greatly enjoyed learning more about Finnish history and culture. The author is a British travel writer married to a Finn who explains the various periods of Finnish history with insight and humour. The Swedish and Russian influences are especially well explained. The book also contains an extensive discussion of Finnish food and drink, (which the author does not consider to be very good), and various points of interest in Finnish cities. There is a useful further reading section and Finnish film suggestions at the end. There are maps but the inclusion of a few phrases of the language would have been useful. A very helpful book for travelers and other readers seeking an introduction to Finland’s history.

#242 of 365 The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

Genre: Advice

Date Read: August 31, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Politikens Boghal, Copenhagen

Format: Hardcover, 287 pages

Review: A relaxing read, especially for a cozy evening in Copenhagen. This witty and beautifully illustrated book explains the Danish concept of Hygge and provides suggestions for incorporating more quiet moments of happiness into everyday life. I enjoyed the descriptions of Danish traditions including the cakeman at children’s birthday parties and the search for the almond at Christmas dinner. A breezy read, best enjoyed indoors with a hot drink.

#243 of 365 No Particular Hurry: British Travellers in Finland 1830–1917 by Tony Lurcock

Genre: History/Travel

Date Read: September 1-3, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in Helsinki

Format: Paperback, 258 pages

Review:  I am pleased that I bought this book in Helsinki last month and read it in Iceland because it provides a fascinating portrait of how Finland was perceived by 19th century travelers. Each chapter is devoted to the reminiscences of a single traveler and there are a few famous figures including Lord Dufferin, the future Governor General of Canada. Although Finland was a Grand Duchy ruled by Russian Czars during this time period, the British tourists excerpted in the book describe a society with many similarities to 21st century Finland including gender equality (Finnish women were the first European women to receive the vote), a strong education system, breathtaking scenery, a comparatively egalitarian society and a thriving sauna culture. I was fascinated by the chapters devoted to the Baltic front of the Crimean War as these naval engagements are little known outside the region. An interesting and informative book, filled with the observations of 19th century tourists!

#244 of 365 The Little Book of the Icelanders by Alda Sigmundsdottir

Date Read: September 2, 2018

Genre: Travel/Society

Acquired: Purchased from the Geysir Gift Shop in Iceland

Format: Hardcover, 142 pages

Review:  I bought this book at the Geysir gift shop in Iceland for the bus trip back to Reykjavik. The Icelandic born author, who has lived in many places around the world and written a blog about Iceland’s financial crisis, includes many entertaining anecdotes about Icelandic society including “the shower police” at public swimming pools, buses not always arriving on time and everything happening at the last minute. I would have liked a little more historical context and comparisons with other Nordic countries but The Little Book of the Icelanders is a fun read and a good introduction to Icelandic society for travelers.

#245 of 365 Independent People by Halldor Laxness

Genre: Classic Literature

Date Read: September 3, 2018

Acquired: Eymundsson Books, Reykjavik

Format: Paperback, 512 pages

Review: A classic in Icelandic literature and perfect the flight back to Toronto on Icelandair. A stubborn sheep farmer is determined to maintain his independence and property at all costs, even if his goals lead to the breakdown of his family. The novel, which won the Nobel Prize for Literature, captures the atmosphere of rural Iceland with its sheep farms and mountains. It was interesting to read how the First World War was perceived in Iceland. There seems to have been a feeling of being remote from wider European events until “the Blessed War” led to skyrocketing demand for Icelandic wool and mutton, bringing small farmers out of poverty. Aside from the references to the war and the Russian Revolution, there is a timelessness to the narrative and a clear atmosphere of centuries of Icelandic farmers struggling to survive in an often hostile climate. Well worth reading, especially for visitors to Iceland.

Books I’ve Read This Week: The Cruise Ship Library

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 34: The Cruise Ship Library: I spent the last couple weeks of August lecturing on a Baltic Sea cruise. While I brought a few books with me, I made good use of the ship’s library and found a number of interesting titles there. Mostly historical fiction but also some royal history and society and culture. Here are this week’s reviews:

#232 of 365 Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter

Dates Read: August 19-22, 2018

Genre: Business/Society

Acquired: Borrowed from the Cruise Ship Library

Format: Hardcover, 352 pages

Review: A thoughtful and nuanced examination of gender, work and caregiving and why work-life balance remains elusive. In addition to sharing her own experiences navigating work and family responsibilities, Slaughter provides suggestions concerning how careers and workplaces might be re-envisioned to take into account the full range of the human experience including parenting and caring for aging parents. She also observes how existing solutions such as flexible work policies on paper are inadequate as many do not feel comfortable using them. Slaughter focuses almost exclusively on the United States with a few comparisons with other countries and I would have been interested to read more about the global context for the issues discussed in the book. An interesting read, especially after reading The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partenen.

#233 of 365 Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Read: August 22-25, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from the Cruise Ship Library

Format: Hardcover, 544 pages

Review:  While I enjoyed Alison Weir’s novels about King Henry VIII’s wives, I found her dramatization of the tumultuous life of Eleanor of Aquitaine disappointing. As Weir states in her afterword, her focus is on Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II. As a result, she leaves out some of the most interesting periods of Eleanor’s life including her participation in the Second Crusade and her efforts to raise a ransom to free her son King Richard I during the Third Crusade. Both Henry and Eleanor are presented as one dimensional figures governed by their physical passions to the exclusion of almost all other considerations, especially during the first half of the book. Weir repeats every rumour about Eleanor’s personal life to such an extent that the novel reads as though it was written by one of her detractors. The book improves during the scenes with Eleanor’s children and during the Queen’s time in captivity but there are far better novels about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, including the works of Sharon Kay Penman.

#234 of 365 My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage by Ingrid Seward

Date Read: August 25, 2018

Genre: Biography

Acquired: Borrowed from Cruise Ship Library

Format: Hardcover, 296 pages

Review: A good overview of major themes in the lives of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh including their interests, parenting and social lives. For readers who have read other books about the royal family, however, there is little new material and a lot of repetition. The speculation concerning Prince Philip’s personal life has already been examined in detail in Gyles Brandreth’s book, Philip and Elizabeth. Prince Charles’s childhood difficulties received extensive attention in biographies of Charles by Jonathan Dimbleby and Sally Bedell Smith. The book also devotes more than one chapter to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, another topic that has been the subject of numerous other books. A well known narrative, published in honour of the Queen’s 70th wedding anniversary.

#235 of 365 Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Date Read: August 28-30, 2018

Genre: Historical Fiction

Acquired: Borrowed from Cruise Ship Library

Format: Hardcover, 340 pages

Review: A beautifully written novel about the artist Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf and the origins of the Bloomsbury group. The novel is written as Vanessa’s diary and the letters and telegrams of her friends and family. Vanessa acknowledges Virginia’s genius but Virginia’s possessive attitude toward Vanessa causes them both a great deal of unhappiness and heartbreak. I liked how the changing culture of the times are woven into the story including post-impressionism and the prominence of the younger generation of European royalty after the death of Edward VII. Fascinating afterword by the author about the lives and careers of the characters after the end of the novel.

#236 of 365 The Angry Tide (Poldark: Book 7) by Winston Graham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Read: August 25-26, 2018

Format: Paperback, 612 pages

Acquired: Purchased from BMV Books, Toronto

Review:  One of my favourite books in the Poldark series. I have not yet watched Season 4 of Poldark on PBS so I did not know how events would unfold in the novel and enjoyed both the surprises and the heavily foreshadowed developments. It was good to see the return of Verity, one of my favourite characters from the early books to counsel Ross and Demelza as their marriage faces difficulties yet again. The relationship between Morwenna and Drake continues to be touching and tragic. In addition to the engaging characters, Graham captures the atmosphere and changing culture of the times. For example, there is a scene on a visit to London where Demelza tries the latest fashions and Ross mistakes the empire waist dresses of the early 1800s for petticoats as they are so different from heavier 18th century fashions. An enjoyable read. I look forward to finishing the series.

#237 of 365 The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

Genre: Historical Fiction

Acquired: Borrowed from Cruise Ship Library

Date Read: August 26-27, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 468 pages

Review: As a novel, I prefer The Fortune Hunter to Daisy Goodwin’s other books because it focuses on a single event, Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s visiting Britain, rather than a years long time frame. As historical fiction, however, the novel is best described as inspired by true events but mostly a work of the author’s imagination. Some of the dramatic embellishments are more convincing than others. I enjoyed Charlotte Baird’s fascination with photography and the manner in which the royalty of the time period were coming to terms with photographs shaping their public image. The relationship between Bay Middleton and the Empress of Austria was unrealistic though and does not really match Elisabeth’s character. A fun read with a satisfying ending but some unbelievable scenes.

#238 of 365 Brooklyn by Colm Toibin 

Dates Read: September 3-5, 2018

Acquired: The book swap table on the cruise ship

Format: Paperback, 262 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Review: A peaceful, relaxing read, much like the film based on the novel. Eilis emigrates from small town Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950s and gradually builds a new for herself then must decide whether it would be possible to resume her old life after all the changes she has experienced. As in the film, I enjoyed all the small cultural differences between Ireland and the United States including customer service and how to spend a day at the beach. In contrast to the film, the novel ends quite abruptly and I thought that Eilis’s thoughts on her decision should have been expanded. Perhaps a chapter set six months or a year after the end of the novel would give a better sense of closure on the characters.