ready for today's book reviews? The first book is a Tudor romance, the second an etiquette manual, and the third a guide that will help young adults succeed in life. Let's get started:
Queen Elizabeth's Daughter by Anne Clinard Barnhill
Nope, the title doesn't refer to a fictional daughter of Elizabeth I. This is the story of Mary Sheldon, Elizabeth's favourite ward and cousin. Mary's parents died when she was very young, so Elizabeth took her in and brought her up like if she were her own child. And like all good mothers, Elizabeth wants what's best for her daughter. She believes that, for Mary, that's a marriage to a rich and powerful nobleman who can give her all the luxuries the young girl has grown accustomed to at her court. But Mary doesn't care about riches and, to Elizabeth's favourite candidate for her hand, Edward de La Vere, Earl of Oxford (who happens to be a nasty piece of work who treats Mary horribly when the Queen isn't around), she prefers John Skydemore, a widower with five children and a small fortune. Worse, he's a Catholic, at a time when Catholics plot to kill Elizabeth and put Mary of Scotland on the throne.
The mother-daughter relationship Elizabeth and Mary had, allows us to see the motherly side of the Tudor Queen. Elizabeth is very headstrong. Although she doesn't allow her "daughter" much freedom, she always has her best interests at heart, and believes that she's just doing what's best for her. Clinard Barnhill has done a great job at portrayed Elizabeth's interior struggles and contradictions. As a ruler she needs to show strength even when she'd like to be merciful, and her uncertain life has made her paranoid, weary of marriage and desirous to keep her loved one close to her. This has a huge impact both on her life and on those of the people she loves. As a result, Mary, a lovely and pure girl in the midst of a rapacious and lascivious court, is torn between her love and loyalty for the Queen and her determination to live her own life her own way.
Although this is a time of religious upheaval, political uncertainty, and all kinds of plot, the Queen's Daughter is mainly a romance novel. We get to see how the relationship between Mary and John blossoms and cheer the two lovers as they try to overcome all the obstacles put in their way. But as lovely as that is, there really isn't much action in the book, which, as a consequence, flows quite slowly at times.
The author has clearly done her research, and the book is full of small details that bring the Tudor court to life. At the same time, though, there are some passages, when she explains the political situation of the times, that read more like a textbook. I wish she had found a way to weave those into the narration seamlessly too.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it to those who love a good Tudor romance or are curious to see how Elizabeth I fares as a mother.
Available at: amazon
Do you think that etiquette is dead or has become useless? Well, think again. Although social conventions aren't as strict as they used to be, it's still important to know what's the most appropriate conduct in a variety of occasions. By doing so, we shows our respect for other people in everyday situations, and feel more comfortable when we find ourselves attending important social events.
In this book, Lucy Grays gives tips about how to dress for different events, how to behave when eating out or travelling, how to write different types of letters and emails, how to act when you're staying at someone else's place, and a lot more. A whole section is dedicated to the etiquette that regulates the "rites of passage", such as christenings, marriages, funerals, and other religious ceremonies. This is particularly helpful for people who are invited to a religious ceremony of a different religion.
Because, as mentioned above, etiquette isn't as strict as it used to be, a lot of the tips here are given more as general indications of how you should behave, rather than as rigid laws to be followed at all costs. If you make a mistake, no one will think badly of you, but, when in doubt about something, it's always best to ask someone before the event how you are expected to dress or behave, or, once there, to look what other people are doing and follow their example.
Because the book was written by a British author for The National Trust, the target audience is obviously British. However, just because social conventions have loosened up everywhere in the Western World, the book still provide enough tips that could be useful to those living in other countries as well.
The book is written in a straightforward and engaging manner and flows easily. A quick read, I devoured it all in one afternoon. Overall, it's an informative and interesting guide that I recommend to anyone who would like to know the proper code of conduct in different social situations, are planning to visit Britain for more than a weekend, or are simply interested in etiquette manuals.
Available at: amazon
We all want to be successful, yet few of us are. So, we convince ourselves that, to succeed in life and make our dreams come true, we need to be rich, beautiful, young, or lucky. But that's not true. Everyone can be successful if they have the right tools. According to Jacobson, these are: self-esteem, money and time management, and planning and goal-setting. All important skills employed by successful people that, however, aren't taught at school and rarely at home. Most people just pick up their parents' habits, unaware that even them weren't taught how to manage their money, or their time, or how to reach their goals. Thus, they create a vicious circle that causes them to fail and to settle for less than they want and deserve.
No one told Jacobson what the tools of success were or how to use them. Therefore, for too many years he too played it safe, living a life he didn't like. He made many mistakes, until he figured out "how to strategically prioritize, plan, and most importantly, execute your goals for success" to attract the life he desired. And now he's teaching you how to do the same. It's not easy. It requires a lot of hard work, soul-searching, and sacrifices. But the rewards are worth it.
The book is full of anecdotes about the author's life and those of his mentors and friends, which allows the reader to relate to Jacobson and make him/her realise that, if he succeeded, so can they. Every chapter ends with a "call to action". These are exercises that will allow you to put in practice what you have learned in the book and will, if done regularly, allow you to pick up the right habits to succeed in life.
Although the book is targeted to teenagers and young adults, it provides tips that can benefit people of any age. The book really demystifies success, showing you what it really takes to reach your goals. And that's something you can do at any age. It's never too late, although, of course, the soon you start, the better. Highly recommended.
Are you planning to read these books?
Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.
Tuesday, 22 April 2014
Joan Hassall was an English book illustrator and wood engraver. Between 1957 and 1962, the Folio Society commissioned her to create wood engravings for new editions of Jane Austen's works. Here are a few; aren't they marvellous?
PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Monday, 21 April 2014
Like many Christians, Madame Victoire, daughter of King Louis XV of France, struggled with the privations of Lent, as Madame Campan, recorded in her memoirs:
Madame Victoire, good, sweet-tempered, and affable, lived with the most amiable simplicity in a society wherein she was much caressed; she was adored by her household. Without quitting Versailles, without sacrificing her easy chair, she fulfilled the duties of religion with punctuality, gave to the poor all she possessed, and strictly observed Lent and the fasts. The table of Mesdames acquired a reputation for dishes of abstinence, spread abroad by the assiduous parasites at that of their maitre d'hotel.
Madame Victoire was not indifferent to good living, but she had the most religious scruples respecting dishes of which it was allowable to partake at penitential times. I saw her one day exceedingly tormented by her doubts about a water-fowl, which was often served up to her during Lent. The question to be determined was, whether it was 'maigre' or 'gras'. She consulted a bishop, who happened to be of the party: the prelate immediately assumed the grave attitude of a judge who is about to pronounce sentence. He answered the Princess that, in a similar case of doubt, it had been resolved that after dressing the bird it should be pricked over a very cold silver dish; if the gravy of the animal congealed within a quarter of an hour, the creature was to be accounted flesh; but if the gravy remained in an oily state, it might be eaten without scruple.
Madame Victoire immediately made the experiment: the gravy did not congeal; and this was a source of great joy to the Princess, who was very partial to that sort of game. The abstinence which so much occupied the attention of Madame Victoire was so disagreeable to her, that she listened with impatience for the midnight hour of Holy Saturday; and then she was immediately supplied with a good dish of fowl and rice, and sundry other succulent viands. She confessed with such amiable candour her taste for good cheer and the comforts of life, that it would have been necessary to be as severe in principle as insensible to the excellent qualities of the Princess, to consider it a crime in her.
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan
Friday, 18 April 2014
Over at Reading Treasure, Anne Gibson recommends seven fictional "Marie Antoinette" books for younger readers. To quote:
Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles by Kathryn Lasky
'Princess of Versailles,' first published under Scholastic's Royal Diaries series, is probably the most popular fictional book about Marie Antoinette aimed at younger readers. 'Princess of Versailles' is a fictional diary from the point of view from a young Marie Antoinette which covers her life from a Archduchess of Austria through the early years of her marriage to the future Louis XVI of France. This is definitely "the" Marie Antoinette novel for younger readers and, for many people from my generation, was the 'gateway' into an interest in French history.
To read the entire article, click here.
Thursday, 17 April 2014
Marie Antoinette (1938) is often touted to be the best movie made about the unfortunate Queen of France. After finally watching it last week, I can see why. Based on the biography by Stefan Zweig, the movie covers the life of Marie Antoinette, from her teen years, when her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, arranged her marriage to the Dauphin of France, to her death on the guillotine.
Norma Shearer gave one of her best performances, if not her best, as Marie Antoinette, perfectly capturing the Queen's charming and lively personality, and her evolution from a young and frivolous teenage girl into a dignified woman and devoted mother and wife. Her relationship with Louis changes over the years too. A painstakingly shy and reserved man, the Dauphin prefers to be alone than spend any time with his wife, who then turns to partying, gambling, and fashion to fill her lonely existence. But slowly, they learn to love and respect each other.
Shearer's face says it all when she watches her husband having dinner with her and their children for the last time before his execution. She's heartbroken, and so is the viewer, especially when their son asks Louis to fix his little tin soldier for him. The next scene, when just after Louis' death, their republican jailers come to take her son away from her, is even more harrowing. Marie Antoinette fought like a tiger to prevent it before finally being forced to give in. Shearer's performance is so moving in this scene and I defy anyone to watch it without shedding even a tiny tear.
Marie Antoinette's relationship with Fersen is, instead, still debated by historians. Here, the two are clearly in love and, when Louis XV decides to annul Marie Antoinette's marriage to Louis after the young girl insulted his mistress Madame Du Barry, it seems like there could be a chance for them after all. But their hopes are soon dashed when the King dies shortly afterwards. Marie Antoinette is now Queen, and she and Fersen say goodbye. But he never forgets her and, when the revolution breaks out, he comes back to help her and her family escape. The attempt fails, but the two manage to meet one last time just before her execution. That never happened, but it's a fitting end to their fictional relationship.
Usually, inaccuracies in movies irk me, but not here. Some events, like the Affair of the Necklace, were summed up in just a few scenes, while others, such as Marie Antoinette's first meeting with Fersen, re-imagined differently from how they happened. Dates and time-line are not always respected. Characters who played important parts in history are missing or appear only briefly. And yet, I didn't mind, and not just because a certain amount of artistic license is required in movies. No, it's because despite all its inaccuracies, the movie manages to be very historically accurate, perfectly capturing the personalities of the characters and the luxurious and decadent world they lived in. And that, being fair to historical figures, who were real people just like us, is the most important thing.
The costumes are amazing too. The designer, Adrian, studied Marie Antoinette's portraits very carefully to be able to accurately recreate her sumptuous and elaborate gowns. Unfortunately, because the movie ended up costing a lot of money to make, it was decided to shoot in black and white, which doesn't do the costumes justice. The settings are beautiful too. Part of the movie was filmed on the grounds of Versailles (apparently it was the first time a film crew was allowed that privilege), which only adds more poignancy to the story.
Marie Antoinette is a wonderful, albeit sometimes harrowing, movie that features talented actors (Tyrone Power played the charming Count Axel von Fersen; Robert Morley the shy Louis XVI, while John Barrymore makes the most of his few scenes as the ailing Louis XV), a poignant, mostly historically accurate plot, and marvelous scenery, costumes and music. I highly recommend to anyone interested in Marie Antoinette as well as lovers of epic historical films.
Wednesday, 16 April 2014
King Leopold I of the Belgians advised his niece, Queen Victoria, to study history:
Laeken, 18th October 1834
My dearest Love,—I am happy to learn that Tunbridge Wells has done you good. Health is the first and most important gift of Providence; without it we are poor, miserable creatures, though the whole earth were our property; therefore I trust that you will take great care of your own. I feel convinced that air and exercise are most useful for you. In your leisure moments I hope that you study a little; history is what I think the most important study for you. It will be difficult for you to learn human-kind's ways and manners otherwise than from that important source of knowledge.
Your position will more or less render practical knowledge extremely difficult for you, till you get old, and still if you do not prepare yourself for your position, you may become the victim of wicked and designing people, particularly at a period when party spirit runs so high. Our times resemble most those of the Protestant reformation; then people were moved by religious opinions, as they now undoubtedly are by political passions. Unfortunately history is rarely written by those who really were the chief movers of events, nor free from a party colouring; this is particularly the case in the works about English history.
In that respect France is much richer, because there we have authenticated memoirs of some of the most important men, and of others who really saw what passed and wrote it down at the time. Political feelings, besides, rarely created permanent parties like those in England, with the exception, perhaps, of the great distinctions of Catholics and Protestants. What I most should recommend is the period before the accession of Henry IV. of France to the throne, then the events after his death till the end of the minority of Louis XIV.; after that period, though interesting, matters have a character which is more personal, and therefore less applicable to the present times.
Still even that period may be studied with some profit to get knowledge of mankind. Intrigues and favouritism were the chief features of that period, and Madame de Maintenon's immense influence was very nearly the cause of the destruction of France. What I very particularly recommend to you is to study in the Memoirs of the great and good Sully* the last years of the reign of Henry IV. of France, and the events which followed his assassination. If you have not got the work, I will forward it to you from hence, or give you the edition which I must have at Claremont.
As my paper draws to a close, I shall finish also by giving you my best blessings, and remain ever, my dearest Love, your faithfully attached Friend and Uncle,
*Maximilien, Duc de Sully, was Henry's Minister of Finance. A curious feature of the Memoirs is the fact that they are written in the second person: the historian recounts the hero's adventures to him.
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Volume 1 (of 3)