CBC News Interview: Will Meghan promise to ‘obey’ Harry?

In the latest edition of the CBC Royal Wedding Newsletter, I discussed the vows and music planned for the upcoming wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Meghan “has a strong interest in women’s equality, and that will influence her decision regarding the wording of the vows,” says Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris, who figures Meghan will likely drop “obey” on May 19. If she does, she would match the choice of both Kate, when she married Harry’s brother Prince William seven years ago, and Harry and William’s mother Diana, when she married Prince Charles in 1981.”

Click here to read Will Meghan promise to ‘obey’ Harry? at CBC News

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Hello! Canada/Chatelaine Magazine Interview: Just How Many Royal Wedding Rules Are Meghan And Harry Actually Breaking?

Prince Harry

I discussed the preparations for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with Mishal Cazmi, in an interview at the Fairmont Royal York hotel, which has been published online by Hello! Canada and Chatelaine Magazine. The interview includes the wedding cake, the guest list, the bride’s family and the venue.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“To set the record straight about Megan and Harry’s break with tradition, we tapped royal historian Carolyn Harris, who is well-versed in all things related to the crown. We caught up with Harris in Toronto, where she helped curate the window displays honouring the most iconic royal moments in the history of the Fairmont Royal York (everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Charles has passed through the hotel’s grand hallways) to celebrate the biggest wedding of the year.”

Click here to read “Just How Many Royal Wedding Rules Are Meghan And Harry Actually Breaking? We asked royal historian Carolyn Harris to weigh in on traditions the soon-to-be-wed couple will honour and the ones they’ll flush straight down the loo.” in Chatelaine Magazine

Click here to read Which traditions are Prince Harry and Meghan actually breaking at their royal wedding? in Hello! Canada

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Princess Margriet of the Netherlands

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands attending the Tulip Festival in Ottawa in 2002

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and the unique relationship between Canada and the Netherlands.

“Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet Francisca of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, Princess of Lippe-Biesterfeld (born 19 January 1943 in Ottawa, ON) spent her early childhood in Canada during the Second World War. The annual Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa emerged from gifts of thousands of tulip bulbs from the Dutch royal family. Margriet continues to make regular visits to Canada, strengthening ties between Canada and the Netherlands.”

Click here to read my article about Princess Margriet of the Netherlands in the Canadian Encyclopedia

 

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone

Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Her Royal Highness Princess Alice Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline of Albany, Countess of Athlone, viceregal consort of Canada from 1940 to 1946 (born 25 February 1883 in Berkshire, United Kingdom; died 3 January 1981 in London, United Kingdom).

Princess Alice promoted Canadian culture and women’s contributions to the Second World War. She was the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria and the last member of the royal family to serve as viceregal consort of Canada.

Click here to read Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone in the Canadian Encyclopedia

 

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Books I’ve Read This Week: Historical Fiction, Classics, Philosophy and Memoir

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 16: Historical Fiction, Classics, Philosophy and Memoir: The last seven books on my reading list came from a variety of genres. I began by reading three historical novels, set around the same time period (from the French Revolution to the American Civil Wars with Queen Victoria’s accession in between these two events) then some 20th century philosophy about the pursuit of happiness, followed by a Second World War historical novel, a modern prison memoir and a medieval epic poem. Here are the past week’s reviews:

#106 of 365 Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Listened: April 22-April 25, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 12 hours and 29 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review:  An enjoyable novel, which dramatizes the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign as a coming of age story. The best scenes are from Victoria’s perspective, showing her learning from her mistakes and growing into her new position as Queen. I liked the idea that Victoria was inspired by past Queens such as Mary II, who acquired Kensington Palace where Victoria grew up and Queen Elizabeth I.

In common with the PBS Victoria series inspired by the novel, however, there is too much scheming behind the scenes by the Duke of Cumberland and John Conroy, which moves the narrative away from Victoria’s own experiences. I found the fictionalized “romance” between Victoria and her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, unconvincing as well. Prince Albert is introduced too late in the novel, considering that Victoria had met him before her accession.

There are also some distracting historical inaccuracies. While the author made some changes to history to advance the plot of the novel, such as keeping the Duke of Cumberland in England after Victoria became Queen, when he in fact traveled to Hanover to take up his new position as King of Hanover in 1837, other historical inaccuracies seem unnecessary. The future Czar Alexander II, who indeed visited Queen Victoria’s court, is depicted as the son of Victoria’s godfather, Alexander I, when he was in fact the son of Alexander I’s brother Nicholas I and his betrothed is described as a Danish princess, when Alexander II actually married a Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt and it was his son who married a Danish princess.

I would have preferred the novel to follow the historical record more closely as the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign are a fascinating time period that does not require major changes to provide dramatic material for novelists.

#107 of 365 Varina by Charles Frazier

Genre: Historical Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from Indigo Books

Format: Paperback, 356 pages

Dates Read: April 25-26, 2018

Review: Cold Mountain is one of my favourite novels and so I was delighted to see that Charles Frazier had written a new historical novel about the American Civil War. The novel imagines the reminiscences of Varina Davis, First Lady of the Confederacy in her old age, after being contacted by James Blake, an African-American man who had once been a young boy in her care during her flight from Richmond.  In her conversation with James, Varina grapples with the society she grew up in and the decisions made by her stubborn, misguided husband, Jefferson Davis.

Frazier does not only focus on Varina’s relationship with her often absent husband but her friendships with the prominent women of her times, including the diarist Mary Chestnut and even, after the end of the Civil War, American First Lady Julia Grant. The strongest scenes in the novel depict Varina, her children and James attempting the flee the confederacy at the end of the Civil War, meeting a variety of characters from union deserters to a bigoted teenage plantation owner in scenes reminiscent of Cold Mountain. A very absorbing and well written novel.

#108 of 365 The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Genre: Classic Historical Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Listened: April 25-26, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 8 hours and 19 minutes

Review: The plot of The Scarlet Pimpernel resembles Zorro set during the French Revolution with a masked swordsman referred to as a fox who achieves daring rescues under the cover of darkness. The Scarlet Pimpernel in fact inspired Zorro and all subsequent stories about heroic figures with secret identities. The melodramatic plot is engaging but the characters are one dimensional and there are a lot of stereotypes, especially involving men and women or the English and the French. A fun but forgettable classic novel.

#109 of 365 The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell

Genre: Philosophy

Genre: Purchased from Indigo Books

Format: Paperback, 224 pages

Date Read: April 28, 2018

Review: My book club chose The Conquest of Happiness for this month and the book prompted a great deal of discussion. Russell presents a curious combination of ideas that remain relevant today and dated concepts that reflect the political conditions and stereotypes of his times. Perhaps the most insightful chapters concern the importance of thinking outside yourself to achieve happiness. Those who think of lifelong learning, world events, and other people in their lives will be happier than those who focus on their own deficiencies and the social pressure that surrounds them. In contrast, Russell’s judgment of childless people as cutting themselves off from “the stream of life” is dated and narrow minded. An interesting and influential book but very much a product of its times.

#110 of 365 The German Girl by Joy Osmanski

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Listened: April 26-28, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 10 hours and 48 minutes

Review: A melancholy novel about the St. Louis, a ship full of German refugees that was turned away from North America at the beginning of the Second World War. The scenes aboard the ship are very moving but the later scenes in Cuba could use more detail. The audiobook was generally well read but because there are two points of view alternated in the book – Hannah, a passenger on the St. Louis, and her great-niece Anna, who is searching for information about her father – two audiobook narrators would have been helpful to keeping the past and present scenes distinct, especially because there are so many parallels between Hannah and Anna.

#111 of 365 Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

Genre: Memoir

Acquired: Received as a Gift

Date Read: April 29, 2018

Format: Paperback, 352 pages

Review: I am enjoying the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black and found the memoir interesting and enjoyable to read but very different from the TV show. While the series provides the back stories for numerous inmates, the book focuses very closely on Piper’s experiences and how she is perceived by the guards and other prisoners because of her privileged background. The book describes daily life behind bars in detail including the bonds and rivalries that develop between the inmates, work assignments and hobbies, and the disconnect between the prison routine and the skills required to succeed in the outside world. I would have been interested to read more about the post-prison lives of Piper and her fellow inmates.

#112 of 365 Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney

Genre: Classic 

Format: Audiobook, 4 hours and 8 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Read: April 30-May 1, 2018

Review: Epic poetry, well read by George Guidall. The verse translation from Old English by Seamus Heaney captures the drama of Beowulf’s rise to power and battles. The final hour of the audiobook is an essay by the translator about the place of Beowulf in English literature, the reasons why the poem has not entered the cultural imagination in the manner of The Odyssey or the Iliad and how the language speaks to an earlier, more global history. Highly recommended.

 

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CNN Interview: America’s second ‘princess’: Why Meghan Markle is a modern Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly in the wedding dress she wore to the religious wedding ceremony on April 19, 1956

I discussed the parallels between Grace Kelly, who married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco in 1956, and Meghan Markle, with Judith Vonberg at CNN. Like Grace Kelly, Meghan Markle is leaving an established career as an actress and entering into a world of established palace traditions. As Americans embarking on married lives in Europe, Grace Kelly and Meghan Markle also faced cultural differences.

Click here to read America’s second ‘princess’: Why Meghan Markle is a modern Grace Kelly

 

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CBC News Interview: All about the dress

Charles and Diana, The Prince and Princess of Wales, on their wedding day in 1981

I was interviewed by Janet Davison at CBC News for The Royal Fascinator newsletter concerning the history of royal wedding dresses including the voluminous dress and train worn by Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

Click here to read “All About the Dress” at CBC News.

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CBC News Channel Interview: Prince William Will Be Prince Harry’s Best Man

Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge

The planning for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19 continues with the announcement that Prince William will be his brother’s best man. Prince Harry was the best man at the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton in 2011. I discussed royal wedding planning with the CBC News Network earlier this week.

Click here to watch “CBC News Network speaks with Royal Historian Carolyn Harris following the announcement that Prince William will be Prince Harry’s Best Man.”

 

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Princess Patricia of Connaught

Princess Patricia

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is a biography of Princess Patricia of Connaught.

Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth of Connaught (born 17 March 1886 in London, United Kingdom; died 12 January 1974 in Windlesham, Surrey, United Kingdom). Patricia resided in Canada from 1911 to 1916 and acted as hostess for her father, the Duke of Connaught, during his term as governor general. She gave her name to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and became honorary colonel-in-chief in 1918. A talented artist inspired by Canadian landscapes, she exhibited her paintings in Canadian art exhibitions, and examples of her work remain part of Canadian collections.

Click here to read my article on Princess Patricia of Connaught in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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Books I’ve Read This Week: Jane Austen and other Classics

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 15: Jane Austen and Other Classics: One of my goals this year was to finish reading Jane Austen’s novels. I had previously read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Emma but did not get around to reading Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey until this year. Once I finished reading the Austen novels, I read a couple of books about Austen including a study of how she incorporated the political, economic and cultural upheaval of her times into her books and an advice book written by a descendant of one of Austen’s brothers. I also read a few other classics this past week as well as a social history of marriages between American heiresses and British aristocrats, circumstances that inspired the television series, Downton Abbey. Here are this week’s reviews.

#99 of 365 Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Genre: Classic Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 8 hours and 16 minutes

Dates Listened: April 14-15, 2018

Review: My favourite Jane Austen novels remain Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice but Northanger Abbey includes a lot of fun moments including Catherine’s conviction that the Tilney estate is in fact the setting for a gothic novel and every chapter that includes the sarcastic wit of Henry Tilney. Henry delivers the most memorable dialogue in the novel including “Now I must give you one smirk, then we can be rational again” and “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” The story is not especially memorable but the gothic novel satire and characters are very entertaining. The audiobook is well read by Juliet Stevenson.

#100 of 365 Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

Genre: Literary Criticism

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Acquired: Received as a gift

Dates Read: April 15, 2018

Review: A fascinating and engaging book. Kelly places Jane Austen and her novels in the context of their times, and reads between the lines to observe the influence of the political, cultural and economic climate of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain on the plots and characters. The chapter concerning Sense and Sensibility was particularly interesting as it discussed how Ferrars, Brandon and Willoughby had more in common than readers (and viewers of the film adaptations) would at first notice. There were sections where I disagreed with Kelly’s interpretations but even the theories that seemed unlikely encouraged me to look at Jane Austen’s work from a different perspective. Highly recommended, after reading all six novels of course!

#101 of 365, Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas 

Genre: Advice Literature

Acquired: Purchased from Book City

Format: Hardcover, 226 pages

Date Read: April 18, 2018

Review:  Austen’s great-great-great-great-great niece Rebecca Smith, writer in residence at Chawton House makes creative use of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels and letters to answer questions about relationships, family, friends, work, household and travel. For example, dress for success as everyone encounters a Caroline Bingley in their career. The overall Georgian diet may not be recommended today but the regency enthusiasm for fresh fruit and tea is still recognized for its health benefits. It is best to read Austen’s novels first as their plots are outlined over the course of the book!

#102 of 365 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Genre: Classic Novel

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Read: April 15-20, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 13 hours and 24 minutes

Review: I greatly enjoyed Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. I thought that A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, however, was much less engaging. There are some fun moments in the beginning: (“Bridgeport?” said I. “Camelot!” said he.) but the plot seems to slow down mid way through the narrative and the novel becomes Mark Twain stating his views on politics and economics over and over again. There are repeated tirades against monarchical government and long digressions about comparative wages. Also, the novel seemed to replace one set of tired stereotypes about medieval times (Sir Walter Scott’s tales of romance and chivalry) with another set of stereotypes (a credulous society with excessive deference to authority). The narrator is excellent, and manages to make the material as entertaining as possible.

#103 of 365 The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Genre: Classic Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 3 hours and 28 minutes

Date Read: April 21, 2018

Review:  This short novel is well written, capturing the atmosphere of early 20th century Alaska and the Yukon, and well read by John Lee. However, I found the early chapters of the novel really difficult to listen to because of the upsetting scenes of cruelty to animals and the fights between the sled dogs. The last chapters are quite beautiful though, as Buck bonds with a kindly master, John Thornton, then answers the Call of the Wild.

#104 of 365 The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

Genre: Classic Fiction

Date Read: April 22, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 3 hours and 42 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: The Moon is Down is an absorbing short novel based on the German occupation of Norway during WWII (though the author is careful not to name the location or “The Leader”), examining how a town comes together to resist an occupation. The complicated feelings of both the occupiers and the occupied are interspersed before it becomes clear that the occupation will never succeed and resistance will continue until the war is won. The novel ends quite abruptly and I would have liked the author to have dramatized the very end of the war. 

#105 of 365 The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York by Anne de Courcy

Genre: Social History

Format: Hardcover, 320 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Ben McNally Books

Dates Read: April 21-22, 2018

Review:  Anne de Courcy’s social histories are always enjoyable to read. I have previously read 1939: The Last Season, Debs at War and The Fishing Fleet. The Husband Hunters is filled with fascinating details about elite society in late 19th and early 20th century Britain and the United States. The phenomenon of American heiresses marrying British and European nobleman has been covered in other books, including To Marry an English Lord, but de Courcy’s book is notable for focusing as closely on American social traditions as British ones. She is also interested in the mothers of the heiresses who often arranged glittering marriages for their daughters in the hope of being accepted by established social circles in New York or Boston. I would have been interested to read more about the marriages themselves as the focus of the book is courtship and weddings rather than later married life.

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