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text 2018-12-17 13:49
Curse you, Hollywood!
Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion - Anne Somerset

This weekend my wife and I went to go see The Favourite, the new movie about the triangle between Queen Anne, Sarah Churchill, and Abigail Hill. It's a really good movie (Olivia Colman deserves an Oscar just on the basis of her physical performance in the role, so don't be surprised if she is completely snubbed) though as with just about every historical film Hollywood produces it takes its share liberties with history.

 

The thing is, I really couldn't say what those liberties were, as yet again I went into a historical film with only the vaguest familiarity of the personages and events depicted. This did absolutely nothing to detract from my enjoyment of the film as a film, yet barely a scene went by when I wasn't annoyed with myself for not being able to gauge the historical veracity of what was being shown. This was especially true of the depiction of Queen Anne, whom I had long thought of as the most capable of the Stuart monarchs (granted, the competition here wasn't fierce) yet in the film she comes across as anything but. So, what was truth and what was dramatic license?

 

I have a simple fix for this, of course, which is to read some books. I'm familiar enough with the context so that general historical works are unnecessary, so I'm going to focus on biographies of the major figures portrayed. This means starting with Queen Anne, and while I have long planned on reading Edward Gregg's biography of her I'm going to start with Anne Somerset's instead, for the simple reason that it's the more easily acquirable of the two. After that I'll probably tackle ones on Sidney Godolphin and Robert Harley before getting to Sarah Churchill, as I suspect sorting out which book about her to read is going to be a challenge.

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text 2015-02-17 22:25
Bookish Decisions from Someone About to Travel!
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America - Tony Goldwyn,Erik Larson
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America - David Hajdu
Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day - Anne Somerset
The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug - Bennett Alan Weinberg,Bonnie K. Bealer
Arabian Nights: The Marvels and Wonders of The Thousand and One Nights - Anonymous,Richard Francis Burton,Jack Zipes

So I Shadow Read - which is reading multiple books at once (see Bat Definition page for more on where I got that term). I've given up guilting myself out over it and just accepted that I'm always going to pick up multiple books because I read different content when in different moods. (Should probably add Book Moods to the definition list, huh.) But! The problem is moving. Since I knew this was coming I've ignored all of my ebooks for months and focused only on the paper books because they'd take up suitcase space. I'm in the middle of multiple books though, and now have to figure out what to leave behind.

 

First question to those who use Netgallery - I can redownload a gallery book on a different computer, right? I could rush through the book I'm working on but I'd rather just pick it up when I get to my destination and read on that computer. Yes, I could put it on my ereader - but it's kind of stuffed full atm and now is not the time to weed stuff out. (Because I would spend lots of time doing that!)

 

Anyway, back to the paper books - here's what's getting set aside. Unless I suddenly find extra time to finish them. [Insert laughter here.]

 

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

by: Erik Larson

This is actually a reread, so all I'm really missing on this go-round is a careful finishing of it. I skim-finished it last night. I'll actually blog up a review later today. Because no space in the luggage for a mere reread!

 

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America

by: David Hajdu

Was enjoying this and still want to go back to it - but it's a hardback book (heavy). Only have 80ish pages to go. Will probably cheat and read epilogue at least. This is history I studied multiple times in grad school and so my interest in it is wildly biased in favor. But it's important history for anyone interested in comics, censorship, and social science research. Read this page on wikipedia for more: Comics Code Authority.

 

Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day

by: Anne Somerset

This one I am annoyed not to have finished - I still have the court of George I through the current queen to get through, in only 110 pages. Short review: it was not easy being a lady at court, ever. Or at least what I've read - up to the 1700s. But definitely a more interesting life for a woman than being stuck at home.

 

The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug

by: Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer

This has been nice bedtime reading - weird and interesting history and nothing that'll so fascinate me that I give up on sleeping to read. 170 pages to go and it's hardback, so it's staying here.

 

Arabian Nights: The Marvels and Wonders of The Thousand and One Nights

by: Anonymous Anonymous (author) Richard Francis Burton (author) Jack Zipes (author)

This is actually a perfect book to pick up and put down because the stories never do end. I was last reading this in December when I had to post about an entire story because of the WTF. Which is why you should make sure and read a modern version of the Arabian Nights rather than anything older and prudish.

 

Warning, both of these are long (and this is after I've shortened and summed up!):

Reading in Progress: Arabian Nights - In Which I Must Share This One Story... (Part One)

Reading in Progress: Arabian Nights, Part Two of the Story

 

What is going along with me?

 

Next post for that. Because I've made the decision that listing them will help me decide - and this isn't procrastination because I don't want to do laundry or packing or (ugh) sewing up a few clothes items. Yup, all of this is actually productive! (Let me live in my delusion!)

 

 

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text 2015-01-12 20:41
Reading in Progress: Ladies in Waiting From the Tudors to the Present Day by Anne Somerset
Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day - Anne Somerset

Here's another bit you don't see in romances! Where did couriers urinate? Often in a very public area - sometimes in a corner (hopefully in a pot of some kind, but just as often directly on the floor) or behind a screen if there was one. There wasn't always a separate room. How much modesty was allowed depended on the particular time period and company.

 

Court of Charles II, the newly married queen is Catherine of Braganza. So far none of the foreign princesses bring ladies with them to the new court that the courtiers of that country like - and vice versa. (This has been true for all of the histories I've read so far.) Some grievances of Catherine's Portuguese ladies (sometime around 1662):

 

p 138:

"...They complained bitterly of English meat (too fatty) and English water ('so much poison') and caused difficulties by refusing to sleep in any bed which had previously been sullied by the presence of a man. They were also offended by their hosts' habit of  urinating in public, grumbling 'that they cannot stir abroad without seeing in every corner great beastly English pricks battering against every wall.' "

I'm still trying to figure out how the presence of a man in the same room as a bed automatically sullies the bed. Because it doesn't say that the man has physically been in that bed. That's a new one, maybe specific to Portuguese courtiers? (Because ladies often shared beds in these courts it could possibly mean that a couple had previously shared that bed and the Portuguese lady didn't want to sleep on er, messy sheets. Understandably. But as usual, this sort of thing is vague.)

 

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text 2015-01-11 21:53
Reading in Progress: Ladies in Waiting From the Tudors to the Present Day by Anne Somerset
Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day - Anne Somerset

If you have the idea that the English court was a hotbed of sex and intrigue - well, yes, it was. But it was also a lot less glittery than that mental image, and a lot more uncomfortable. I'm not getting this solely from Somerset btw [insert obligatory Lucy Worsley moment] - other court histories led me to her book (which I'm enjoying hugely).

 

A rough idea of the court: imagine something like a college dorm (in the US, as I'm not sure how this compares to elsewhere). Everyone involved lives in the same large building; men and women mostly live in different areas but are still (somewhat) accessible to each other. Forget having any privacy or time to yourself. If you're not attending your betters, then you're stuck waiting in the same room with your peers. Women might use that time to sew, but usually you'll be sitting and talking - and if you're younger the older ladies will be keeping an eye on you, expecting you to get into trouble (usually with men). As a lady "dancing attendance" might be literally what you do sometimes - to divert the queen you and some friends might do a few dances for her enjoyment, in her private chambers. (Depending on which queen this was of course - Henrietta enjoyed this.) If you talk to anyone else outside your usual group - women to men, for instance - usually there will be witnesses listening in. Nothing stays private for long and everyone gossips about everyone and everything because that's what most people do to kill time. Also gossip is usually directly related to your life and your future, so it's vital that you keep up to date. (There might be a quiz later from the queen.)

 

Everyone is stuck in this same small space, living in close quarters, for years. You may get to travel a bit - that's usually dictated by when the house/palace start to stink. Specifically when the building smells too much like a latrine. [insert moment of praise for modern sewage systems!]

 

Entertainment completely depends on what the royals want to do, but often you'll find yourself staying up very, very late. No matter how tired you are you're not allowed to go to bed - you have to wait for the word from the royals. Of course you'll still need to be up in the morning (depending on what your duties are).

 

Now Ladies of the Court - tons of great little history moments in here. (I foresee much quoting in my future.) Here's one I really wish I'd been able to post on New Year's, because it seems fitting.

 

The setup: It's 1606 and the court of James I is having a masque in honor of the visiting Danish king. Masques were elaborate productions of acting, song and dance - partly an excuse for the court ladies to dress up and show off in fantastic costumes, since they were the ones who usually performed the dancing parts. But because the previous court of Elizabeth I had been very serious and a tad stuffy, this younger court was a lot more wild in comparison. Everyone drank. A lot. And here is what happens when the ladies playing parts in a masque are drunk, and are dressed up as allegorical figures:

 

p 100:

"The Lady who did play the Queen's part did carry most precious gifts to both their Majesties; but forgetting the steps arising to the canopy overset her caskets into his Danish Majesty's lap, and fell at his feet... Now did appear in rich dress, Hope, Faith, and Charity: Hope did assay to speak, but wine rendered her endeavours so feeble that she withdrew and hoped the King would excuse her brevity; Faith was then all alone...and left the court in a staggering condition. Charity came to the King's feet, and seemed to cover the multitude of sins her sisters had committed; in some sort she made obeisance and brought gifts... She then returned to Hope and Faith, who were both sick and spewing in the lower hall."

[Somerset quotes that bit from John Harington's Nugae Antiquae, Ed. Thomas Park, 2 vols, 1804]

 

You know you're getting the grittier version when the ladies are spewing in the hall.

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review 2014-11-20 00:00
Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion
Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion - Anne Somerset It's certainly very detailed! As look at how politics worked as the UK was just starting to get the whole democracy thing going (kindasorta with a lot of wobbling on the way), it was excellent. I loved all the political detail and the back and forthing between parties, and various shenanigans they got up to trying to see how much power they really had (btw, it's still a monarchy: if you're consistently rude to the Queen, she's probably going to fire you).

As far as a biography of Anne went, I feel like I'm still trying to get a sense of her. I enjoyed all of the detail and man where there a lot of primary quotes here, which is great, but at times it felt a bit like a forest for the trees situation. The author clearly liked her subject, but didn't shy away from showing her bad side or criticising the bad things that she did. She did provide context for popular criticisms of Anne, but it never felt like trying to explain away problems, as some defensive biographers do. So it was detailed, full of citations, and balanced, and should therefore have been my favourite, but in the end I'm left not knowing what to think of its subject. It's possible that Anne really was just that hard to get a hold on. (My read on Anne at the end of it is similar to my opinion on Louis XIII: a fairly ordinary person who probably would have been happier doing something else, but did strive to do their duty to their country, even when it exceeded their ability. I feel like Louis had better advisers though).

On the topic of advisers, Somerset draws the supporting cast a little more clearly, and pretty much no one comes away covered in glory. Sarah Churchill especially comes under some pretty heavy fire from the author (usually by means of just posting excerpts of her letters), but very few of the ministers or lords come off as anything other than power hungry and selfish. Which is entertaining to read about, but in the end I'm glad I didn't know any of them.

Interesting book, highly entertaining in places, and a good look at the period, but possibly not the clearest view of the subject.
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