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Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  151 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Filtered through some of its colourful and eccentric inhabitants, from Lady Caroline Lamb in the 18th-century to Princess Diana in the 20th, this work is a portrait of Britain as both empire and the customs and certainties of the old order came to an end.
Hardcover, 305 pages
Published August 1st 2007 by Faber & Faber (first published January 5th 2006)
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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 ·  151 ratings  ·  23 reviews

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Emma Rose Ribbons
Loved this so much, and it had a lot more than I expected. The scope of this is much bigger than the title suggests - it's essentially a book about the decline and fall of high society (to almost borrow David Cannadine's title, I still need to procure and read his book) in the fifties. It's glorious if, like me, you're addicted to learning about the upper classes. It's got names, places and details that no other book has and for good reason as it's written by someone who actually lived through i ...more
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've had this book on my to-read list for a while, but it was just old enough to not have a Kindle option and I wasn't interested in buying it as a physical copy. When I was in the store a few weeks ago, there was a big stack of them for $6 apiece, and for that much I bought it to read and then give away.

The book was very interesting, and I found it to be totally worth the time to read. My knowledge of the London Season and the debutantes therein is limited to Regency-style romance novels, and I
Gemma (Non Fic Books)
Feb 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This would be 3.5* is it would let me!

I'd rate this book 4* for how much I enjoyed it as I found the information fascinating and loved the number of photos, images of invitations and diary entries which really added a human element.

Where this loses a star is the lack of focus. Fiona MacCarthy has tried to make it a memoir, a look at 1958 in particular and a social history but the book is just too short to do any of these aspects justice. With a more defined aim I think this book could have been
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
undecided about this book. Interesting subject but poorly executed. After a while the name-dropping just makes your head spin (although it shows the importance of names in this world). Sadly the most interesting part - the careers of the debs post-1958 is confined to a few end pages.
Ruth Dipple
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a personal history of the author's experience as a debutante in the the last year of presentations to the Queen (1958) but also digs wider and deeper into the origins of 'The Season' and the causes of its demise in the post-War world. Some of it is very amusing, but it is also an informative social history of a certain stratum of society and its mores. Fiona MacCarthy adds an additional perspective, in that she was not a typical deb, having already secured a place at Oxford for the ...more
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Interesting social history of the world of curtseys, sweet bands, and too-tight shoes. You could easily toss it off as a lightweight memoir but in fact it may end up being a valuable account of a now-lost world. Reading it, you quickly come to understand how the British upper classes valued a closed world where everyone knew exactly what to say and do. So enjoy the read and know that you don’t have to worry about what to pack for a run of parties in the middle of Scotland with your virginity in ...more
Grace Hoffmann
Apr 15, 2021 rated it liked it
Not exactly what I was expecting -- short on style and long on people and place names. Still, I learned a lot and the historical perspective was interesting. I'd like to read more about Rose Dugdale. ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 10-fav-2018
Loved it.
Oct 28, 2020 marked it as to-read
Stephanie Patterson
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing

“The Last Curtsey” was a really satisfying read. Ms. MacCarthy went into the 1958 presentation season knowing that there was a place for her at Oxford in her future.
She describes the history and customs surrounding being presented at court (though I still don’t know why women had to wear those peculiar looking feathers in their hair) and her experiences during the final season in 1958. Queen Elizabeth announced that presentations would cease. Rumor had it that Prince Philip was trying to make
This book is a fascinating read; the last formal vestige of the “marriage market”; nowadays conducted with so very much more subtlety and informality; as indicated in Peter York & Ann Barr’s later Sloane Ranger Diary. Perhaps the most important change in the ‘marriage market’ is that since the invention of the contraceptive pill, families have not been required to worry about getting their ‘gals’ to the altar, unsullied. Who could have imagined the consequences to society of the discovery of tha ...more
Fiona MacCarthy is in a unique position to write this book - she was one of those last debutantes to curtsey before the Queen in 1958. And you may scoff and ask why should I be interested in a bunch of upper class women taking part in what was considered even then an outdated social practice.

To answer your question - because of the time. The world was rapidly changing, and with it, the role of women in society. During WW2 many women took on new roles, and the reluctance to give them up was obvi
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british-history
I found this book a lot more interesting than I'd anticipated. It's effectively about the end of an era, the end of the Season, the final débutantes to be presented to the Queen, the changing mores and attitudes of the aristocracy. The death-knell for the aristocracy was effectively cast by the First World War, but its death-throes lingered well into the 50s. In a way, the world painted in this book is more redolent of the pre-WW1 era than the 1950s.

MacCarthy herself was one of the last débutant
Erica Chambers
Mar 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It is the first book of Fiona MacCarthy's that I have read and I wanted to start with something slim before I took on the bag breaking tomes of William Morris and Byron. I discovered that she has a very accessible writing style.

MacCarthy went through the last official Season in 1958. She justifies the existence of the phenomenon whilst still sighing at the "silliness" of all the behaviours. She has led a pretty privileged lifestyle; but at no point does she seem to t
Kate Davis
Jun 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Fascinating to read about the debutants and their family lifestyles as it is so different to the society now and my family.

However, I felt this book didn't really know what it wanted to be. Was it Fiona MacCarthy's autobiography, was it is a review of the debutants in 1958 or was it a social history of debutants. It also got confusing at times as lots of names were mentioned that meant nothing to me so it was difficult to keep track of everyone.

I enjoyed the book and learnt a lot about the some
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyable read. Not especially in depth examination of the role of debs in history, but a clear sense of the tedium of the season. Would have liked more about the pre 20th C, the establishment of this glorified cattle market etc.
It is not short of references though (c. 45% of the book is source material references and indexing) so I might find some deeper analysis amongst the books listed in there.
I like her writing voice, it's rather like being taught history by Joyce Grenfell (appropr
Jun 27, 2009 rated it liked it
After visitng Kensington Palace and seeing the debutante exhibition - I really looked forward to reading this book. It was enjoyable to read, giving a debutante's view of the last curtsey. However, I did find it a bit too factual at times - lots of name dropping of people who I didn't know and at times it became confusing. ...more
Apr 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
British social history and the changes to the aristocracy after the second world war. An enjoyable read.
Dec 29, 2012 rated it liked it
A memoir by a member of the last group of young women to be presented at court, in 1958.
Arlan Wise
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting look at a piece of social history. It clarifies what life as a debutante was like. It is well written,
Jul 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
This was not worth reading. I bought it in Scotland, hoping for a social history, meaty analysis. Nope, it was overly precious, self-aggrandizing, and awful. Reinforced debutante stereotypes.
May 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: hist-bio
Interesting history.
Oct 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
An interesting and entertaining read!
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Jan 09, 2017
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Anna Warn
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Jun 21, 2018
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Marie Mckenna
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Jul 25, 2011
Ms B
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Jan 16, 2021
Ruth Fraser
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Apr 01, 2018
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Fiona MacCarthy was an English biographer and cultural historian best known for her studies of 19th- and 20th-Century art and design.

MacCarthy began her career on The Guardian in 1963 initially as an assistant to the women's editor Mary Stott. She was appointed as the newspaper's design correspondent, working as a features writer and columnist, sometimes using a pseudonymous byline to avoid two ar

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