Monday, September 15, 2014

The Marlborough House Set by Anita Leslie (1972)

At the end of this book, Anita Leslie quotes at length from the diaries of English poet and writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt on the death of King Edward VII, and used the turn of phrase "pleasant little wickednesses" in reference to monarch who gave his name to the era, and about whom the major and minor personages in this book revolved, the sun to their planets and moons and asteroids.  The phrase could have been the title of the book, because that's essentially what the book is about.  Anita Leslie knows her stuff here; her grandmother was Leonie Jerome Leslie, one of the Gilded Age American heiresses who shot into the British aristocracy of the later Victorian era; her great-aunt was Winston Churchill's mother Jennie, who may (or may not) have had an affair with the King (Anita thinks not, as the King wasn't really Jennie's type).  I wasn't enamored of the whole book; it reads almost like listening to scandalous but quiet talk at a dinner party given by someone's grandmother.  Not my grandmother, mind you.  But someone's rich, aristocrat grandmother. Anita Leslie saves a whole chapter for the long suffering Queen Alexandra, who she calls the most beautiful queen in English history; there is a bit of skewering here, as most biographers treat the Queen with kid gloves.  Not so Leslie, who points out how childish the Queen could be, and also how poorly she treated her adult children, particularly Princess Victoria, about whom Anita Leslie writes warmly (and more than a bit sadly) about.  There are some fascinating stories here, mostly about people who are long dead; Edwardian legends almost.  Leslie mostly condones the many extra-marital affairs she writes (gossips) about in her book; not only is this book 40some years old, but Leslie herself was an old woman at this time.  I don't think modern writers would be quite as forgiving (although maybe so).  The affairs, quite frankly, are a bit boring; it's the bitchery of some of these women that's interesting; the story of the revenge of Gladys, Countess de Grey on the Marchioness of Londonderry is something right out of a soap opera.  Not a great book by any means, but quite interesting all the same.

The Marlborough House setThe Marlborough House set by Anita Leslie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anita Leslie quotes at length from the diaries of English poet and writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt on the death of King Edward VII, and used the turn of phrase "pleasant little wickednesses" in reference to monarch who gave his name to the era, and about whom the major and minor personages in this book revolved, his sun to their planets and moons.  The phrase could have been the title of the book. She knows her stuff -- her grandmother was Leonie Jerome Leslie, one of the Gilded Age American heiresses who shot into the British aristocracy of the later Victorian era; her great-aunt was Winston Churchill's mother Jennie, who may (or may not) have had an affair with the King (Anita thinks not, as the King wasn't really Jennie's type).  I wasn't enamored of the whole book; it reads almost like listening to scandalous but quiet talk at a dinner party given by someone's grandmother.  Not my grandmother, mind you.  But someone's rich, aristocrat grandmother. Still, some fascinating stories here, Edwardian legend crossed with soap opera.


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