Nicholson does an excellent job with this bit of fascinating social history. Rather than trying to organize it chronologically or around any particula...moreNicholson does an excellent job with this bit of fascinating social history. Rather than trying to organize it chronologically or around any particular person, she uses a thematic approach, which works very well. The book is well researched, and her writing is fluid and colorful, a combination which allows for appreciation of both Nicholson's knowledge of her subject and ability to convey it interestingly.(less)
I associate Juliet Barker mostly with the Brontës, but she's also a medieval historian. I found this an engrossing, scholarly account of the battle of...moreI associate Juliet Barker mostly with the Brontës, but she's also a medieval historian. I found this an engrossing, scholarly account of the battle of Agincourt. Barker sets the stage with Henry V's ascent to the throne of England and decision to press his claim to the throne of France; she provides excellent background on the political scenes in England and France. Her analysis of Henry's march through Normandy and of the battle itself is well-researched and vivid, and I particularly liked her inclusion of details about the fate of many individual soldiers and nobles.(less)
Jenny Uglow is one of my favorite biographers, so I was really looking forward to this. It's not a full biography of Charles II; rather it focuses on...moreJenny Uglow is one of my favorite biographers, so I was really looking forward to this. It's not a full biography of Charles II; rather it focuses on the ten years after his restoration to the throne. (She does fill in details of his life before and after that time, so it's not without context.) It's occasionally confusing, as the chapters are organized more thematically than straight chronologically, but her character study of Charles is simply excellent.(less)
Aristocrats is a brilliant group biography of a family of noble sisters during the Hanoverian period in England. The Lennox sisters were great-grandda...moreAristocrats is a brilliant group biography of a family of noble sisters during the Hanoverian period in England. The Lennox sisters were great-granddaughters of Charles II (through his mistress Louise de Keroualle), daughters of the Duke of Richmond, and wives and mothers to politicians and peers, but also fascinating people in their own rights.
All their lives they wrote letters voluminously, to each other and to other family members, and it's these letters that Tillyard uses in her reconstruction of their lives and their world, quoting liberally so that we hear the sisters in their own words as often as possible. Tillyard's portrayal of Hanoverian England is wonderfully rich and engaging, from politics and society to the details of daily life, and her portraits of the sisters and their relationship are acutely realized.
Aristocrats is that rare and wonderful thing: a non-fiction book so engrossing that it's hard to put down. (less)
This social history of the Regency period (which Murray arbitrarily defines as 1788-1830) is an entertaining read, but with some issues. It's organize...moreThis social history of the Regency period (which Murray arbitrarily defines as 1788-1830) is an entertaining read, but with some issues. It's organized by topic rather than chronologically, which leads to a lot of jumping around and repetition, as well as inevitable confusion about how things actually changed over the long period she's considering (particularly as there aren't a lot of dates). There are flat-out errors; she confuses various members of the Spencer and Cavendish families, for instance, and a look at the reviews on Amazon leads me to believe that there are more errors I just didn't catch, not being terribly well-read in the period.
I mean, I can't say I didn't enjoy reading it, because it's fun and sprinkled with numerous quotations from letters and diaries, and it does provide some background for Heyer and other Regency romance writers. But I think I'd have been better off just reading some of the sources she quotes, or a good political history of the period, or a good biography of George IV.(less)
Harrisson was the cofounder of Mass Observation, an organization begun in Britain in 1937 which in Harrisson's words "sought to supply accurate observ...moreHarrisson was the cofounder of Mass Observation, an organization begun in Britain in 1937 which in Harrisson's words "sought to supply accurate observations of everyday life and real (not just published) public moods." In Living Through the Blitz, Harrisson uses these observations, by everyday people recording events and impressions, to form a picture of the Blitz from the point of view of the citizens who lived through it. It's very interesting and full of fascinating everyday details, and I think it would make excellent research reading for anyone writing fiction set in this period. (less)
This is one of the best biographies I've read in a long time. Georgiana was one of the most prominent women in 18th century British society. She began...moreThis is one of the best biographies I've read in a long time. Georgiana was one of the most prominent women in 18th century British society. She began as a social hostess and leader of fashion, before becoming active and influential in the world of politics; she was also a talented writer (Foreman quotes some witty poetry) and, later in life, interested in geology, amassing an impressive collection of rocks. Lest this make her sound a paragon, she was also highly insecure, addicted to gambling, and sometimes adulterous (as was her husband).
In presenting Georgiana's life, Foreman strikes an excellent balance between facts, analysis, and speculation, and she adds just enough context to be informative without overwhelming. The only small minus is that she's so taken with Georgiana that she occasionally loses her perspective; this is particularly apparent when she's writing about Georgiana's best friend and the Duke's longtime mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who despite committing sins really no worse than Georgiana's comes off as a devious, manipulative parasite. However, this is really a minor thing; overall, Foreman's enthusiasm for her subject has produced a vital, fascinating biography of an equally vital and fascinating woman. (less)
I was a little worried about Carolly Erickson, because the last of her books I read, Mistress Anne, didn't impress me much. Fortunately, Our Tempestuo...moreI was a little worried about Carolly Erickson, because the last of her books I read, Mistress Anne, didn't impress me much. Fortunately, Our Tempestuous Day was much better, perhaps because the period is better documented. At less than 300 pages, it's not a long book in which to document the ten tumultuous years of the Regency (when the future George IV ruled as regent for his mad father, George III), but Erickson skillfully mixes social, cultural, and political history to provide a good overview of the period. I'll go on to more detailed histories, but this was a very useful and readable starting point. (less)
I remember liking Carolly Erickson's biography of Elizabeth I, The First Elizabeth (though it's been a while since I read it); unfortunately, I can't...moreI remember liking Carolly Erickson's biography of Elizabeth I, The First Elizabeth (though it's been a while since I read it); unfortunately, I can't say the same for her biography of Elizabeth's mother Anne Boleyn.
Part of the problem, I think, is Erickson's avowed practice of allotting as much space to a subject's earlier years as to the later ones, which she refers to as trying "to preserve the natural arc of the life as my subject lived it". However, since very little is known about Anne Boleyn's early life, Erickson ends up spending a lot of time saying that Anne "must have" felt this or "might have" done that. Even when she gets to Anne's better-documented later years, her portrait is surprisingly shallow, lacking the detailed look at the politics of Henry VIII's court which I would have expected.
And why in the world did the publisher include in the illustrations portraits of Catherine Parr (Henry VIII's sixth wife) and Mary, Queen of Scots, neither of whom come into Anne's story at all?
Overall, Mistress Anne was a disappointment; I have yet to read Erickson's biographies of Henry VIII and Mary I (Great Harry and Bloody Mary), but I certainly hope they're better than Mistress Anne. (less)
The Moonstone is generally thought to be one of the finest English detective novels; T.S. Eliot, in fact, called it "the first, the longest, and the b...moreThe Moonstone is generally thought to be one of the finest English detective novels; T.S. Eliot, in fact, called it "the first, the longest, and the best". The relatively simple (for Collins) plot involves the Moonstone, a mystical yellow diamond; stolen from a shrine in India, it is eventually given to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday and stolen again that same night.
The search for the thief and for the Moonstone is narrated by several different characters; this is a device Collins also used to good effect in The Woman in White, and here he uses it again in order to limit the amount of information given out to the reader by each narrator. This isn't just a narrative gimmick, though; Collins takes care to make sure that the narrator's voices are wonderfully differentiated. The two most interesting narrators (and probably the two most dissimilar, yet utterly believable) are Gabriel Betteredge, the homely steward to the Verinder family, who has recourse to Robinson Crusoe and a pipe when troubled, and Miss Clack, their sanctimonious busybody of a cousin, given to strewing tracts everywhere and sermonizing. (There's a wonderful bit with Miss Clack and a cab driver: when she doesn't tip him, he swears at her, whereupon she instantly gives him a tract and he drives off in fury: "Quite useless, I am happy to say! I sowed the good seed, in spite of him, by throwing a second tract in at the window of the cab.")
Compared to Collins' other novels, The Moonstone is quieter, less contrived in plot, and less melodramatic, yet it is as gripping as any of them. (less)
I finished Amanda Foreman's excellent biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire with a wish to know more about her devoted friend, Lady Elizabeth...moreI finished Amanda Foreman's excellent biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire with a wish to know more about her devoted friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was also the Duke's lover and his second wife. I wondered whether Foreman's clear partiality for Georgiana had led her to paint Bess with a blacker brush than was warranted. Therefore, I was very pleased to find this book about both Bess and Georgiana; Chapman wrote in collaboration with Jane Dormer, a descendant of Bess, and with full access to Dormer's family collection of Bess's journals and letters.
Though there's still a clear element of the scheming social climber who appeared in Foreman's biography, this book does present a more well-rounded portrait of Bess, as a bright, curious, artistic woman, who genuinely loved both Georgiana and her Duke. Where Foreman's biography is full of the social and political world, the realms are where Georgiana reigned supreme, Chapman gives lots of interesting details about other areas in which Bess was more concerned: notably, art, literature, travel (an excellent description of what the Grand Tour was like), and archaeology, in which Bess was interested in her later years. Gaps in the records due to censorship of letters and journals mean that we may never get a full picture of either Bess or Georgiana, but Elizabeth and Georgiana makes an excellent companion to Foreman's biography.(less)