Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Edward & Alexandra - Their Private and Public Lives

Yes, it's yet another Victorian era book review. I just can't help myself! Today's recommendation is Edward & Alexandra: Their Private and Public Lives by Richard Hough.

I will admit, I chose the book more for Alexandra than Edward. As we shared a name, I wanted to learn more about her. A pleasant surprise was Hough's passionate defense of the Marlborough set, and his nuanced portrayal of Edward as more than the fast, dissolute, and wild son of good Queen Victoria. While I find Queen Victoria fascinating, it does become tiresome to read saintly biographies of her which overlook her flaws as a person, parent, and monarch. With Edward, Hough does a great job at highlighting his strengths while acknowledging his weaknesses. He also gets in a few delicious digs at some of Victoria's antics, which I enjoyed.

Hough presents are more sympathetic side to Edward and Alexandra's Marlborough set, pointing out their inclusion of Jewish friends and intolerance of anti-Semitism. Edward always remembered a person, even after many years had passed from their meeting; Alexandra had a lovely disposition that made everyone feel warm and welcome, even after her hearing had started to fade. By the time she became Queen, Alexandra was profoundly deaf.

Another facet to Edward was his great diplomatic tendencies - he spoke quite a few languages, was capably of giving great, off-the-cuff speeches, and managed to charm just about everyone. All these factors played a large role in helping smooth over many strained relations with other countries over the years, possibly delaying the inevitable start to WWI. When one considers he was effectively blocked from any real training in being sovereign by his mother, who refused to release her iron grip on the throne while also secluding herself and refusing to engage in those duties - Edward did a magnificent job. For the child who was regarding by Queen Victoria and Price Albert as an abject failure, Edward rose above a terrible, constrained childhood to become a great King.

I highly recommend the book, if you're interested in the progression of England from Queen Victoria through WWI. There is tons of fascinating bits of history, as well as photographs and snarky editorial comments by Hough. Books like this make history interesting - full of human interest and relatable characters. One of my top picks for the year, so far.

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