Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Long Live the King

Long Live the King by Fay Weldon
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really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, reviewed
Recommended for: fans of Downton Abbey and its ilk

Long Live the King
by Fay Weldon

Each winter, Downton Abby gives us a few episodes depicting life among the aristocracy in early 20th century England, and really, we fans need more. Fortunately for us, Fay Weldon provides it with her trilogy (it is referred to as such, but I could not discover a name for it), the second of which is Long Live the King.

Weldon is a serious and much-awarded writer, but her hand is just as sure with this much lighter work. The coronation of King Edward VII (Queen Victoria’s successor in 1901) is the axis around which many subplots swirl. We meet Adela, the repressed sixteen-year-old daughter of Rector Edwin Hedleigh (estranged brother of Lord Robert) and an Austrian princess.
Once it had been a love match - a chance meeting on a cross-Channel steamer in a storm between an Austrian princess and and fourth son of an Earl - but both dedicated to the service of God. The flesh had won over the spirit, the Anglican over the Catholic; they had married impetuously and neither had ever quite forgiven themselves or each other. The proof of their spiritual weakness was the sixteen-year-old Adela. And now she was growing fast, for all her mother could stop it, and worse, turning into a veritable vehicle of concupiscence. It was all her husband, all that any man, could do, and he was the most saintly of men, to keep his eyes away from her changing body. The sooner the girl could be packed off to the Sisters of Bethany the better.
But Adela is orphaned by a fire and thus saved from the convent. Lord Robert takes the news of his estranged brother’s death in stride: “‘So poor old Edwin. Gone. The Hedleigh vault at Dilberne will open up again. He’ll be at one with his ancestors and let’s hope he finds someone he can get on with.’” Still angry at his brother, he declines to open his heart or home to Adela, who winds up first in the household of the local Bishop, and then, through a comic turn of affairs, in the comfortable but larcenous clutches of her former maid Ivy and George, her husband, as a spiritualist offering séances to - who else? - the nobility.

In the meantime, Lady Isobel frets about Adela’s welfare and the three invitations to the coronation that she has unaccountably lost. Here she is, spending Christmas with the King and Queen:
Isobel felt reprimanded. She reflected that breakfasting with royalty was even more tiring than dining with them. At breakfast, natural impulses and the remnants of dreams were too close. The very ceremony of dinner imposed a more reasonable formality and a degree of forethought. One so wanted to be liked and approved of by one’s superiors in rank it became impossible just to speak or act naturally.
The Hedleigh household hurtles toward the coronation, beset by quandaries such as Minnie’s pregnancy (she is a Chicago pork heiress and the wife of his Lordship’s eldest son), which prevents her from attending the ceremony, and Isobel’s worry about His Lordship’s possible infatuation with the irresistible Conseulo. And where can Adela have disappeared to?

As I hope you can tell from the excerpts, this is a funny book, and rife with the kind of detail about British nobility so dear to the heart of the American reader.


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Reading Progress

July 6, 2013 – Started Reading
July 6, 2013 – Finished Reading
July 8, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
July 8, 2013 – Shelved
July 20, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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