Sunday, January 30, 2011

Was Elizabeth I A Man?

Okay, this was a new one on me, the idea that Queen Elizabeth I might actually be a man.  I had actually never heard this rumor before until I watched The National Geographic Channel's special THE SECRETS OF THE VIRGIN QUEEN.  Guess what? There were no real secrets in this special, just a bunch of rehashed stuff about whether or not she and Dudley ever had a child, and why she never married.  The only new information (at least for me) was the story of the Bisley Boy.

According to THE SECRETS OF THE VIRGIN QUEEN, Elizabeth (then a princess) had died aged 10 while staying at Berkeley Castle, in  Gloucestershire (the same castle where Edward II was murdered). Her minders, terrified of the retribution of her father, Henry VIII, made a substitution. A lookalike boy from the nearby village of Bisley was put in her place and sworn to secrecy. This legend 'explained' why Elizabeth never married or had children. In fact, the tale was apparently invented as a joke by a local clergyman in the 19th century.  Bram Stoker picked it up and wrote about the story in his book about Famous Imposters.

The show contained interviews with the residents of Bisley who apparently do consider the idea that Elizabeth I was actually a dude.  One more cynical resident admitted that it was good for tourism.  They tried to pass it off by suggesting that she wore all those ruffs to hide her Adam's Apple, and that the white make-up she wore was to cover up her stubble. The one valid point that was brought up was the fact that Elizabeth I didn't want an autopsy of her body after her death. Although that could have been because she didn't want anyone cutting her up, or she wanted to conceal the fact that she wasn't actually a virgin, which is more likely.

This is my question, given the fact that Elizabeth spent her life surrounded by women who dressed her and undressed her everday, and the doctors who examined during her lifetime, how could she conceal that she was a man? I think people would have noticed that she had a penis! Especially since she did apparently get her period, if not regularly, then often enough. Plus even though Henry might have been a neglectful father, I think he would have noticed that his daughter now had an Adam's apple!

Has anyone ever heard this story before?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Winner of January Giveaway - Mistress of Nothing

The Winner of January's Giveaway is


I will be emailing you in the next few days to get your address.  Thanks to everyone who entered!

Scandalous Women in Fiction: Exit the Actress

Author:  Priya Parmar
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, February 1, 2010

From the back cover:  While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater’s proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England. Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn’t enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance. Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen’s diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.

Scandalous Women says: When I first heard about this book, I thought, does the world need another book about Nell Gwynn? Especially after Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell just came out in January. And I was a little put off by the notion that the novel was going to be partly narrated by Nell's diary, since from my research, I had read that she was pretty much illiterate.  The author, Priya Parmar, writes in her afterward that she had a hard time with the idea that Nell could be an actress and illiterate but given how many bards memorized huge poems like The Iliad and The Odyssey who couldn't read, I have no problem with that idea that Nell could perform 2 or 3 plays a week without being able to read. Some heavy weight names in historical fiction provided blurbs for the book including Sandra Gulland, Philippa Gregory and one of my idols Sharon Kay Penman, so naturally I was curious to see what they saw in the book.

So I decided to give the book a try and I'm glad I did. From the first page I was sucked into this book and I couldn't put it down until I finished it. Parmar has perfectly captured the effervescent, spunky, and delightful personality of Ellen Gwynn as she calls her in the book. Her decision to also use playbills, letters and gossip columns (Ambrose Pink of The London Gazette) was genious, I really got a sense of the period and what was happening in the outside world without having to have characters either discuss it in dialogue or huge amounts of story thrown at me in narrative. I particularly loved the letters from King Charles's mother Henriette Maria, the busybody who keeps sending unwanted and unsolicited advice and the tender letters from Madame of France, the King's beloved baby sister Henriette Anne who died tragically too young.

I have to say that my favorite parts of this book and why it became an automatic keeper for me were all the scenes backstage at the theatre.  Nell's interaction with her fellow actors, the description of the plays that they were doing, the playwrights of the age including John Dryden (who knew he was such a dandy) and Etherege were exciting. I felt as if I was eavesdropping in the Green Room. I could smell the greasepaint, and the grotty rehearsal clothes, the candle wax dripping on the stage, the need for the actresses to provide their own costumes. As a former actress, I felt instantly at home in this world that Nell leaves behnd when she falls in love with the King. At the heart of the book is a story of a woman forced to choose between the profession that she loves and the man that she loves. Who can't relate to that? This is the first book where I really felt that I got to know Nell Gwynn the actress, and not just Nell Gwynn, royal mistress. We finally get to see Nell's struggles to get on the stage, her first tentative forays into this career that became a passion, how she was miscast as a tragedienne when she really excelled at comedy and how she finall;y convinced the powers that be to give her a chance to do what she was really good at.

All the usual suspects are here, Barbara Palmer, Rochester, Buckingham, but the characterizations never felt stale in Parmar's hands.  Nell's affection and respect for Catherine of Braganza touched my heart. Nell finds herself wanting to befriend the Queen at the same time that she is falling for her husband, which she knows cannot end well. My heart broke as Nell's did when she realizes how she's hurt the Queen.

Parmar won me over in the end, and I'm excited to see what she writes next. She has a natural feel for narrative drive as well as for portraying characters that the audience roots for.  Who doesn't want to see Nell win the King's heart? In Parmar's hands, Nell's conquering of the King is not a slamdunk, she bungles the first attempt, and Buckingham of all people, tries to give her advice to woo the King! Parmar's book is going on my keeper shelf next to Jean Plaidy's series set during the reign of Charles II, and Susan Holloway Scott's books.

Verdict:  Highly recommended. A behind the scenes peek at the world of Restoration Theatre seen through the eyes of pretty, witty Nell Gwnn.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Scoundrel of the Month: Robert Burns

This month starts a new feature on Scandalous Women, the Scoundrel of the Month. First up is the Scottish poet and champion shagger of Scotland, Robert Burns.

Robert Burns is pretty much the patron saint of Scotland (along with St. Andrew and Sean Connery, professional Scotsman) or near enough. He's known by many names, Rabbie Burns, Scotland's favorite son, The Ploughman Poet amongst others. A poet and chick magnet (what is with women and poets?), Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 two miles south of Ayr, in Alloway, South Ayrshire Scotland, the eldest of 7 children. He grew up poor on a farm, and the manual labor left him with a premature stoop and a weakened constiution. Still he managed to get a decent education from his father who was self-educated and well read.  Young Robert learned history, reading, writing, and geography, when he managed to attend school, he added Latin, Frenchand mathematics to his knowledge. By the age of 15, his formal schooling was over, and he was the principal laborer on a farm. He also wrote his first poem, inspired by what else, a woman named Nellie Kilpatrick, entitled O, Once I Lov'd A Bonnie Lass.

His poems are written chiefly in Scottish language although he also wrote in English as well as a 'light' Scots dialect. Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, revising them and adapting them and preserving them for future generations. Besides writing poetry, his interests included drinking a lot of whisky and shagging many women. Apparently, he was such a dude with the ladies, that other men used to have Burns write love letters for them like Cyrano de Bergerac. Looking at the above picture you can see why so many women fell for him, he wasn't half bad looking, rather sensitive and sweet, with those puppy dog eyes. What woman could resist a man who has written a poem inspired by them? Robert's reputation with the ladies got him into a lot of trouble with the elders of the local church who considered him a bit of a reprobate.  He knocked up his mother's servant Elizabeth Paton who gave birth to his first child also named Elizabeth in 1785.  Meanwhile he had been courting another woman named Jean Armour who later became his wife.  Jean gave birth to twins but that didn't keep Burns faithful.

Although he and Jean had gone through a marriage ceremony and he signed a paper to that effect, her parents weren't happy at the idea, so Burns felt free to go a roaming! He had made plans to travel to Jamaica to take a job but couldn't afford the fare, so he spent his time courting Mary Campbell who he had met in church. He wrote more poems dedicated to Mary including The Highland Lassie, Highland Mary, and To Mary in Heaven.  Rumor has it that Burns and Mary exchanged bibles and plighted their troth over the Water of Fail. Unfortunately Mary died of Typhus in October of 1786 leaving Burns free again.

Next up Burns headed to Edinburgh where his poems were published under the title Poems, Cheifly in the Scottish Dialect. He was now a literary celebrity, invited everywhere,, hobnobbing with the glitterati as well as the aristocracy of Scottish society, impressing the young 16 year old future writer Walter Scott.  Women now doubt threw themselves at his feet, and he began a platonic affair with a married woman who was seperated named Agnes "Nancy" McLehose who he called 'Clarinda.' However Nancy wasn't quite so willing to drop her pantaloons so Burns moved on to her servant Jenny Clow who bore him a son. When Nancy sailed for Jamaica to reconcile with her husband, Burns finally returned to the ever faithful Jean Armour who bore him 9 children in total, the last born on the day that Burns died.

Although famous, he was still broke, not having such things as royalties back then. So he took a job as an exciseman (like another writer Herman Melville who was forced to toil at the Customs House in New York). He died at the rather young age of 37 of heart disease exacerbated by a life of excess and hard manual labor.

When he died, 10,000 people came to watch and pay their respects. This was back when Scotland wasn’t exactly running over with people. He was the equivalent of a modern day rock star. Can you imagine 10,000 people turning up for a poet’s death today? Every year on the anniversary of his birth, Scots celebrate Burns with a supper, where they address the haggis, and drink lots of whiskey. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 Burns was voted by the public as being the Greatest Scot. Scottish actor Gerard Butler is supposed to be playing Burns in a new movie, which is sort of fitting since he has a bit of a reputation with the ladies as well.


Robert Burns Country

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Last Bonaparte: The Extraordinary Life of Princess Marie Bonaparte

"If ever anyone writes the story of my life, it should be called The Last Bonaparte, for I am the last.  My cousins of the Imperial line are only Napoleons." - Marie Bonaparte

Wife, mother, Royal Princess, great-great niece of Napoleon Bonaparte, friend and rescuer of Sigmund Freud, and psychoanalyst. These are just some of the roles that Marie Bonaparte (1882-1962) played during her eighty-years on the planet.  She was also passionate, glamorous, reckless, intelligent and wealthy. Her enthusiasms in life were for sex, her chow dogs, and Sigmund Freud. Marie Bonaparte was the daughter of Prince Roland Bonaparte and Marie-Felix Blanc.  Prince Roland was the grandson of Napoleon's younger brother Lucien, who was the most rebellious of the brothers Bonaparte.  While Jerome fell in line with Napoleon's wishes, divorcing Betsy Patterson and marrying Princess Catherine of Wurtemberg, Lucien refused to put aside either of his wives.  Consequently, he was disinherited by his brother.  While Lucien was made a prince by the Pope in Rome, he and his descendents were not part of the Imperial line. 

Prince Roland's father, Prince Pierre Bonaparte, also married a woman who was lower-class and barely literate, but not until after she had given birth to Prince Roland and his sister Princess Jeanne.  The couple were not married with Imperial consent by Napoleon III, and he refused to recognize the marriage or the legitimacy of the two children. It wasn't until the Third Republic that their marriage was recognized and his wife entitled to bear the title of Princess. Still the Princess was not recognized by Parisian society which galled her for the rest of her life.  Princess Pierre arranged her son Roland's marriage to the daughter of Francois Blanc, who was the principal real-estate developer of Monaco, also co-owning the Casino in Monte Carlo as well as one in Homburg (Pierre's brother Prince Charles-Lucien Bonaparte broke the bank at Homburg winning 180,000 francs, the first person to do so.)  Marie-Felix had a fortune of almost 14 million francs.  She was also suffering from tuberculosis which was kept from her.  The race was on to get Marie-Felix pregnant before she died.  On July 2nd 1882, she gave birth to a daughter Princess Marie Bonaparte known to her family as Mimi.  A month later, but not before making out a will in her husband's favor, Marie-Felix died in his arms of an embolism.

Princess Marie was brought up isolated at St. Cloud, outside of Paris, her only companions were her wet-nurse and then later her governess.  She rarely saw her father, who she adored, since he spent most of his time with his work with the Geographical Society (he also discovered several species of ferns) and her grandmother had little use for her.  When Marie was child, she showed symptons of tuberculosis which meant that she was even more isolated until her father and grandmother were assured that she would survive.  Because of this isolation, Marie grew up a bit neurotic, worrying that she might die at any moment like her mother.  It wasn't until she was older, that Marie learned that her isolation was partly because her grandmother and father were not accepted in Parisian society.

At the age of 25, her father arranged her marriage to Prince George of Greece and Denmark, the second son of King George I of the Hellenes.  Prince George was 13 years older than his bride, incredibly tall and handsome.  Marie fell head over heels in love with him, although from the beginning she sensed that they had nothing in common, that while she was happy to listen to her husband, he had absolutely no interest in her or her life.  She also didn't want to leave her life in Paris and move to Athens, where she was afraid that she would be bored by Athenian society. However, she wanted to please her father who was adamant that teh marriage take place. To her father's surprise, Prince George signed a document giving up all rights to Marie's fortune, leaving it in her hands to do with what she wished.  Despite her misgivings, she married her Prince on November 21, 1907 in Paris in a civil ceremony and then in a religious ceremony in Athens on December 12, 1907 becoming HRH Princess George of Greece and Denmark.

Marie's fears proved to be well-founded.  Her husband was emotionallly as well as physically distant, he brooded constantly over his former role as Governor of Cyprus, and he was a little too attached to his Uncle Waldemar, who he spent every summer with in Denmark.  Despite the lack of affection, the couple managed to have 2 children, Prince Peter born in 1908 and Princess Eugenie born in 1910.  Seeking the love and affection denied her by her husband, Marie indulged in a series of discreet affairs with among others Aristide Briand, the French Prime Minister and one of Freud's disciples Rudolph Loewenstein but she still remained unfufilled sexually. During the Balkan wars and World War I, Marie occupied herself with setting up hospital ships in Athens and serving with the Women's Emergency Canteens for Soldiers in Compiegne in France.

Marie became interested in psychoanalysis through Rudolph Loewenstein.   She hoped that by being psychoanalyzed by Freud, it might help with her frigidity.  She had already undergone an operation to have her clitoris moved closer to her vagina, after undertaking a study of 243 women which showed that women who had theirs closer easily achieved orgasm during intercourse.  She published her findings in the medical journal Bruxelles-Meidcal under the pseudonym A.E. Narjani.  It was the beginning of a life-long study into female sexuality that culminated in her book Feminine Sexuality that was published in 1953 and republished in 1979.

Her meetings with Freud began a life-long friendship and led her to a new career as a psychoanalyst.  Freud's famous remark "The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine sould, is 'What does a woman want?" was asked of Marie. Freud helped Marie remember that as a child she had seen her wet-nurse and her father's half-brother Pascal who worked in the stables, not only having sex but also that they had drugged her to keep her quiet while they snuck off to have their affair.  Marie spent increasing time in Vienna not just being psychoanalyzed but also studying with Freud, much to the dismay of her children who were increasingly resentful and jealous of their mother being away.

She became one of Freud's closest friends, lavishing gifts on him.  When things looked dicey for Freud in Vienna, because of Hitler, Marie later paid the money that Freud needed to get out of Austria, as well as paying to set him and his family up in Hampstead.  She also bought Freud's letters to Wilhelm Fleiss to preserve them despite Freud's wish that they be destroyed. When Freud died, his ashes were placed in an urn that Marie had given him.  She later became very good friends with Freud's daughter Anna. Marie also spent a considerable part of her fortune to help rescue at least 200 Jewish families leave Germany, saving them from the Nazi's.  She also used her money to help set up a school in Paris to train psychoanalysts. Her wealth contributed to the popularity of psychoanalysis in France, becoming a pivotal figure in the French Psychoanalytical Society.  During her career, Marie only took on 5 or 6 patients at a time, crocheting while they talked.  Most of her sessions took place outside in her garden, and then later on in life when she got older she would see her patients in her boudoir while wearing a lovely peignoir. Later in life, when she and Prince George attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England, Marie spent her time psychoanalyzing the gentleman next to her who turned out to be Francois Mitterand, the future President of France.

During Prince Philip's childhood, after his family was forced to leave Greece, Marie and her husband Prince George gave them a home in St. Cloud and Marie later helped pay for Prince Philip's schooling. She maintained a lifelong and affectionate interest in her nephew.  When his mother Princess Alice was diagnosed as schizophrenic, Marie arranged for her treatment in a clinic in Switzerland. Over the years, the royal couple managed to grow closer, although Marie build her husband a house where he could live and spend time with his uncle Waldemar.  After the war, however Marie's fortune was not what it used to be, and she had to sell the house. 

Marie had a long time interest in the criminal mind, interviewing Madame Lefebrve who had shot and killed her pregnant daughter-in-law in cold blood.  Marie wrote an article on the convicted criminal for the Revue Francaise de psychanalyse.  Her interest continued with the case of Caryl Chessman in California who had been on death row for a number of years. She also adored the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and wrote a book entitled The Life and Works of E.A. Poe in 1949.

Marie died of leukemia at the age of 80 in 1962, and is buried inext to her husband Prince George, who died in 1957 a year away from their 50th wedding anniversary, in the royal cemetary at Tatoi in Greece.


Marie Bonaparte: A Life - Celia Bertin, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1982

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January Giveaway: The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Scandalous Women is pleased to be giving away a copy of THE MISTRESS OF NOTHING by Kate Pullinger. Winner of The Governor General's Literary Award, this is the American debut of an award-winning novel about a lady’s maid’s awakening as she journeys from the confines of Victorian England to the uncharted far reaches of Egypt’s Nile Valley

When Lady Duff Gordon, paragon of London society, departs for the hot, dry climate of Egypt to seek relief from her debilitating tuberculosis, her lady’s maid, Sally, doesn’t hesitate to leave the only world she has known in order to remain at her mistress’s side. As Sally gets farther and farther from home, she experiences freedoms she has never known—forgoing corsets and wearing native dress, learning Arabic, and having her first taste of romance.

But freedom is a luxury that a lady’s maid can ill afford, and when Sally’s newfound passion for life causes her to forget what she is entitled to, she is brutally reminded she is mistress of nothing. Ultimately she must choose her master and a way back home—or a way to an unknown future. Based on the real lives of Lady Duff Gordon and her maid, The Mistress of Nothing is a lush, erotic, and compelling story about the power of race, class, and love

What people are saying:

"Pullinger successfully imagines an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances" - Publishers Weekly

"A highly sensusal evocation of place and time, Kate Pullinger's THE MISTRESS OF NOTHINGS is a journey down the Nile that explores the subtle complexities of power, race, class and love during the Victoria era." - Governor General's Literary Award Jury Citation

Here are the rules for the giveaway. Sorry, this is only for Canadian and American readers! The contest runs from today through Monday, January 24th.
1. Leave your name and email in the comments. Email is very important so that I can contact you for your address.

2. If you are not a follower and become one, you get an extra entry

3. If you tweet about the giveaway, you get an extra entry.
Good luck

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou

The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou
Author: Susan Higginbotham
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 1, 2011
Highly Recommended

From the back cover:
Margaret of Anjou, queen of England, cannot give up on her husband-even when he slips into insanity. And as mother to the House of Lancaster's last hope, she cannot give up on her son-even when England turns against them. This gripping tale of a queen forced to stand strong in the face of overwhelming odds is at its heart a tender tale of love.

Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham will once again ask readers to question everything they know about right and wrong, compassion and hope, duty to one's country and the desire of one's own heart.

My thoughts:  I have a confession to make, I am a Plantagenetaholic.  I will basically read any novel that is set starting with Henry II all the way to Richard III (I'm also a Ricardian as well).  From the moment, that I first saw A Lion in Winter, through Jean Plaidy's series, Sharon Kay Penman, and Thomas B. Costain, I have been hopelessly addicted to the Plantagenet dynasty. I even sat through all 3 parts of Shakespeare's Henry VI. The 300 years of Plantagenet history is filled with amazing and fascnating women from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Margaret Beaufort. So I was quite happy to sit down with Susan Higginbotham's new novel about Margaret of Anjou.  I had the pleasure of reading Susan's last book THE STOLEN CROWN and giving it a blurb, about Elizabeth Woodville's younger sister, Katherine Woodville.  It was incredibly interesting seeing the War of the Roses through a relatively minor character in the drama.

With her new book Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, takes center stage. When we first meet Margaret she is a young bride of fifteen, newly arrived in England, and meeting her husband for the first time, a man who is less a warrior like his father but more of a saint. As the newly crowned Queen of England, Margaret has to not only endure the prejudices against a foreign Queen, but also eight long years of barreness before she finally bears the long awaited heir.

Higginbotham skillfully crafts a fast moving tale, bringing Margaret, Henry VI, and a host of other historical characters vividly to life, so real that at times I felt that they were in the room talking to me. What I loved about this book was that she manages to make the complex background of the War of the Roses where people seemed to change sides as fast as some pople change underwear, easy to understand. There are so many characters, some readers might get lost, but fortunately there is a handy list of characters at the front of the book for easy reference. At times, even I had to refer to it, just to get all my Beauforts straight. My interest in the story only flagged at times when the narrative moved away from Margaret's first person POV to Hal, Duke of Somerset and earlier to the Duke of Suffolk. I was more interested in Margaret's version of events then seeing them through their eyes.

Margaret's reputation over the years as suffered at the hands of historians, called 'the she-wolf' (you would think that the country that gave the world Shakespeae, Kipling, Milton, and Pope could come up with a better epithet) for daring to continue to fight for the throne for her husband and later for her son, instead of giving up and accepting a life in exile or letting the men do all the work. Higginbotham's novel does much to restore Margaret's reputation. Her Margaret of Anjou is strong, determined, loyal and a loving mother and wife.  She has flaws, she can be incredibly unforgiving and ruthless, all qualities which would be applauded in a man, but abhored in a woman.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I was incredibly sad when I came to the end which is the sign of a story well told.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Gypsy Rose Lee Centennial

Tonight the NYPL will be celeberating the 100th birthday of Gypsy Rose Lee and yours truly will be there. GYPSY ROSE LEE: An American Icon Laid Bare A Centennial Celebration with Karen Abbott, Jo "Boobs" Weldon, Miss Tickle and others Saturday, Januray 8, 2011 at 7:00 PM in the Celeste Bartos Forum

"On January 8, 2011, the world's most famous burlesque performer turns 100 years old. Join LIVE from the NYPL for a centennial celebration of the birth of Gypsy Rose Lee: novelist, playwright, New Yorker essayist, fashion icon, actress, activist, member of New York’s literati, world-famous “ecdysiast" and subject of one of the best-loved musicals in American history. Be amused and appalled by dramatic readings from never-before-published letters in Gypsy’s archives, housed in the New York Public Library.

Special guests include Jo "Boobs" Weldon (author of The Burlesque Handbook and Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque) who will perform a burlesque tribute to Gypsy, Miss Tickle (three-time "Burlesque Hall of Fame" Trophy Winner in 2010) who will honor the birthday in true burlesque style—by popping out of a cake, burlesque legend Bambi Jones, The Rhinestone Follies, burlesque musician and historian Albert Garzon, “King of Boylesque” Tigger! (voted the “performer most likely to be shut down by the law” by the New York Burlesque Festival), “Burlesque Mayor of NYC” Jonny Porkpie and others!

To top it off, a conversation with Paul Holdengraber, the director of LIVE from the NYPL and Karen Abbott, author of AMERICAN ROSE, A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee. Abbott will strip Gypsy to the bone on a rollicking trip through time, from Gypsy's early years on the vaudeville circuit with Harry Houdini and Fanny Brice... to her time in New York City during the Roaring Twenties and The Great Depression among some of the Big Apple's most colorful characters.
KAREN ABBOTT is the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second
City and AMERICAN ROSE, A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy
Rose Lee. A native of Philadelphia, she now lives in New York City with her

JO "BOOBS" WELDON is the Headmistress and Founder of the New York School of
Burlesque. She has worked with performers from Leonard Cohen to Spinal Tap
and is the author of The Pocket Book of Burlesque: A Backstage Guide.

PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER is the Director of LIVE from the NYPL.

Sounds like fun, no?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Scandalous Women on Screen: Hearts Divided (1936)

Hearts Divided (1936)
Warner Bros. Studios
Director: Frank Borzage
Screenplay by: Laird Doyle & Casey Robinson from the play "Glorious Betsy" by Rida Johnson Young

Marion Davies as Elizabeth Patterson

Dick Powell as Captain Jerome Bonaparte Charles Ruggles as Senator Henry Ruggles
Claude Rains as Napoleon Bonaparte
Edward Everett Horton as Senator John Hathaway
Arthur Treacher as Sir Harry
Henry Stephenson as Charles Patterson
Clara Blandick as Aunt Ellen Patterson
John Larkin as Isham
Walter Kingsford as Monsieur Pichon
Etienne Girardot as Monsieur Du Fresne
Halliwell Hobbes as Cambaceres
George Irving as President Thomas Jefferson
Beulah Bondi as Madame Letizia Bonaparte

Synopsis:  Napoleon (Claude Rains) needs money in order to continue his quest for world domination in Europe so he wants 20 million dollars for the Louisiana Territory in the United States. To help the negotiations, he sends his brother, Jerome (Dick Powell), to the U.S. on a goodwill tour. At a Maryland Horse Track, Jerome and local beauty Betsy Patterson (Marion Davies) meet cute when he criticizes her French accent. He quickly falls for her, but she will have little to do with him. She is currently being courted by two Senators who spend more time in Baltimore than they do in Washington and a baronet named Sir Harry. The next day, Jerome gets a job teaching Betsy French, dancing, fencing and whatever else he can think of. Betsy tries to resist him, but he woos her through song and they soon fall in love. The family is totally against the relationship because they believe that he is nothing but a tutor. When they meet again at a reception in Washington, Jerome asks Betsy to marry him before revealing that he is Bonaparte's brother who has now become Emperor of the French. Betsy consents to marriage, but Napoleon wants Jerome to marry into European Royalty and demands that Jerome do what is in the best interests of France. He and Betsy have a deep talk and Betsy is convinced that the best thing for her to do is to give him up.  She goes back to the States, where she is very unhappy. Napoleon still tries to convince Jerome to marry the Princess of Wurtenmburg but Mama Bonaparte convinces Napoleon to let his brother be happy, and Napoleon, the big softie agrees.  Jerome and Betsy are reunited in the requisite Hollywood happy ending.

My thoughts: A few years ago, I wrote a post about Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, not realizing that a movie had been made about her love story with Jerome Bonaparte, although I knew that a stage play, Glorious Betsy, had been written. Imagine my surprise when I opened the Turner Classic Movies bulletin and discovered that it had been filmed and was on TV! I eagerly set my DVR to record it. Although it falls short in terms of historical accuracy, and plays more like a traditional romantic comedy, it was still a pleasure to watch mainly because of the performances of Marion Davies as Betsy and Claude Rains as Napoleon.

Marion Davies is mainly known today for her relationship of over thirty years with newspaper and magazine tycoon William Randolph Hearst, but in her day, she was also known as gifted comedienne in such films as Peg O' My Heart.  Orson Welles unfortunately immortalized her in his film Citizen Kane as the untalented mistress of his Hearst doppelganger Charles Foster Kane. Hearts Divided is one of the last films she made before she retired from the screen for good in 1937.  Although she's pushing 40 in this film, she radiates youthful charm.  Her portrayal of Betsy is full of spunk and wit.  In her scene with Napoleon, she holds her own against him, not willing to back down for a second, until Napoleon pulls a guilt trip on her.  If only the real Betsy Patterson had had the chance in real life to meet Napoleon, she would have wiped the floor with him!

Unfortunately for Marion Davies, she's saddled with crooner Dick Powell as Jerome Bonaparte. While he wears the clothes well, he's just too American to pull the role off. You get the feeling that the closest this Bonaparte has been to France, is French Lick, Indiana. And the added songs don't help either or the romantic comedy convention of Jerome pretending to be a lowly tutor to win Betsy's heart because he just wants to be an ordinary guy.  The role really calls for someone with the continental charm of Maurice Chevalier or Charles Boyer.  Claude Rains is excellent as Napoleon, wily and domineering, stealing almost every scene that he's in. It's a shame that he never got to play the role in a full length movie biography.

One last note, the costumes in this film are strange.  While the men are wearing accurate period dress, as are most of the women, Betsy's dresses, hair and make-up look distinctly 1930's particularly the evening gown that she wears to the ball where it is revealed that Jerome, the tutor, is actually Jerome Bonaparte. I wouldn't be surprised if Hearst decided he wanted to see his Marion in something other than the Empire waist that was fashionable in 1804.

Verdict:  While not historically accurate, it is worth seeing because it tells the story of Betsy Patterson and Jerome Bonaparte, and for the performances of Davies and Rain.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Scandalous Women Welcomes Author Carol K. Carr

Scandalous Women is pleased to welcome Carol K. Carr, author of the fabulous new series from Berkley Prime Crime, the India Black Espionage mysteries. When Carol contacted me and told me that she had a new mystery series set during the Victorian era featuring a madam as the main character coming out, she didn't have to ask twice if I wanted to read it.

Here is a little taste from the back cover:

When Sir Archibald Latham of the War Office dies from a heart attack while visiting her brothel, Madam India Black is unexpectedly thrust into a deadly game between Russian and British agents who are seeking the military secrets Latham carried. Blackmailed into recovering the missing documents by the British spy known as French, India finds herself dodging Russian agents—and the attraction she starts to feel for her handsome conspirator.

I was intrigued from the very first page. India is a fascinating, mysterious, sarcastic, clever, and stubborn character. The book takes the reader on a joyride from the seemier side of London to the halls of power at Whitehall. If you love history and you love mysteries, run out and purchase a copy of this book.

Welcome to Scandalous Women Carol. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started writing?

I grew up and attended college in Missouri, and then moved to Washington, D.C., where I obtained a law degree from George Washington University in 1982. I practiced law and served as a corporate executive for several years, and then retired back to the Ozarks with my husband and our two German Shepherds. I’d always had an interest in writing, but couldn’t seem to find the time for it (climbing the corporate ladder is sooo time-consuming). After I stopped working, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. The first was terrible, the second found an agent but no publisher, and the third was India Black.

India Black is an interesting choice for the protagonist in a mystery series being the madam of a brothel and a former whore. What was your inspiration for India? Was there a real-life madam who inspired the character?

There were some notable madams during the Victorian Era. Mrs. Jeffries, who lived in Westminster, was renowned for her aristocratic clientele, including certain royal “personages.” I also wanted India to have an upper class clientele, though she hasn’t reached the top rung yet. But the real inspiration for her is a character named Harry Flashman, who featured in a series of novels by George Macdonald Fraser. Flashman is despicable, but hilarious. I wanted to write a sort of female counterpart to him, with a heroine who was street smart, adventurous, acerbic, and inclined to flout Victorian conventions, but just a bit nicer than Flashman. A madam in a brothel fit the bill perfectly.

I’m a huge lover of the Victorian era; I swear I must have lived during that period in a former life. On the surface there is sheen of respectability, the rise of industrialization and technological advancement, but there’s a darker underbelly to the period. Can you tell us about the research? Was there anything you learned about the period that you didn’t know before?

I share your fascination. The Victorian age is by far my favorite period of British history. I’ve been a history buff since grade school, and consequently I’ve read a lot of material about this period. I have a lot of useless, but interesting, facts crammed into my brain (taking up valuable space, by the way), and so I was familiar with the major events and people of the era. There were specific questions I researched, however, to ensure the book has the level of detail and authenticity I enjoy in historical fiction. I had to spend some time studying British revolvers, Cossack guards, and Russian aristocratic names. The most surprising thing I encountered was Gladstone’s habit of prowling the streets trying to “convert” prostitutes. Then he went home and wrote up an account of his temptations in his diary.

I was intrigued by the backdrop of the novel, the fact that it involved espionage. French is an intriguing and mysterious character, much like India herself. Was there an organized system of spies the way there is now with MI-5, MI-6 etc?

By no means am I an expert on this topic, but generally militaries would have had an intelligence organization devoted to discovering the capabilities of potential foes. Domestic security and counterintelligence in England were fairly informal at this time, with both Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police of London (and other police departments, as well) keeping tabs on rabble-rousers and foreign agents in their areas. I did not think it stretching the point too much to have the prime minister have his own agents, like French, keeping an eye on intelligence efforts generally.

The novel involves several real life characters including Disraeli and his great rivalry with Gladstone. I find Disraeli to be one of the most fascinating men in English history. Was it easy or hard incorporating real life historical personages in the book?

I love Disraeli, too. And including these two men was not difficult at all. Both were larger than life characters, with some quirky character traits that translate really well to fiction – Disraeli’s verbosity and ego, for example, and Gladstone’s pious instincts.

India Black deals with a time in English history that most Americans know little about, the war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and England's role in the conflict. What intrigued you about it?

One of my other interests is British colonial history, and you don’t read many books about that before you stumble on to “The Great Game,” played by Britain and Russia during the Victorian era. Britain was paranoid that Russia would invade India through Afghanistan, or seal off British access to the Suez Canal. The Russians believed the British were intent on expanding their empire into Central Asia, at Russian expense. So when the Russians began to mutter about the Ottoman massacres of Orthodox Christians, the British assumed the real objective was a warm water port on Ottoman Territory from which the Russians could attack the Suez Canal and cut off British access to their richest colony, India. It was a real chess match between the two countries, and the agents on both sides were fascinatingly accomplished men. It was in some ways a bit like the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

India is a quite the businesswoman! I imagine that was not an easy transition, running your business as a woman even a brothel! Can you tell us a little bit about brothels in the 19th century? They seem almost to be run like gentlemen’s clubs.

I think brothels were very different based upon the clientele they served. There were horrifying houses in the East End, and very nice establishments catering to the aristocracy and political and military leaders. One famous house for the upper class specialized in sadism and masochism. My impression is that prostitution in the Victorian era was very much like it is today – everything from streetwalkers (back then they wanted money for gin, now it’s drugs) to expensive escort services whose customers include the well to do and the well known. We tend to views these things from a moralistic point of view, but the idea of seeing a brothel as a business is fascinating to me. A madam (then and now) faces many of the same problems any Human Resource manager has to deal with on a daily basis.

Since you write mysteries, I have to ask, do you write an extensive outline before you write the book, or do you have a vague idea of the plot before you begin?

I work from an outline. Since I already know what the scene should include and what I’m trying to accomplish within it, I can focus on dialogue and characterization. I’d be completely stressed if I tried to write a novel without knowing how it ends, which means I’d make too many trips to the refrigerator, searching for inspiration.

When you are not working on the India Black mysteries, who or what genre do you like to read in your spare time?

I love vintage mysteries by Josephine Tey, Georgette Heyer, Christianna Brand, Edmund Crispin, and Dorothy Sayers. I’ll read anything by Kate Atkinson, Phil Rickman, Laurie R. King, Sarah Caudwell, and Julia Spencer-Fleming. And I love history and biography. I just finished Michael Korda’s new bio of T. E. Lawrence and thought it was superb.

What are you working on next?

I’ve completed the second book in the India Black series, which I anticipate will be published in 2012. I’ve nearly completed the outline for the third, and will be hard at work on a first draft very soon.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for allowing me to introduce myself to your readers. There is more about India and me on our website at

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Book of the Month: The Resurrection of the Romanovs

Happy New Year everyone!  This month's book of the month is THE RESURRECTION OF THE ROMANOVS by Greg King & Penny Wilson.  I've been waiting for this book for a long time. Since childhood, I've been fascinated with the story of Anastasia and Anna Anderson.  Was she really Anastasia and if she wasn't how did she acquire all her knowledge of court life, things that only the real Anastasia would know.  This book aims to answer all my questiions.

From the inside cover:  The truth of the enduring mystery of Anastasia's fate-and the life of her most convincing impostor The passage of more than ninety years and the publication of hundreds of books in dozens of languages has not extinguished an enduring interest in the mysteries surrounding the 1918 execution of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family. The Resurrection of the Romanovs draws on a wealth of new information from previously unpublished materials and unexplored sources to probe the most enduring Romanov mystery of all: the fate of the Tsar's youngest daughter, Anastasia, whose remains were not buried with those of her family, and her identification with Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be the missing Grand Duchess.

Penetrates the intriguing mysteries surrounding the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and the true fate of his daughter, Anastasia.
Reveals previously unknown details of Anderson's life as Franziska Schanzkowska
Explains how Anderson acquired her knowledge, why people believed her claim, and how it transformed Anastasia into a cultural phenomenon.

Draws on unpublished materials including Schanzkowska family memoirs, legal papers, and exclusive access to private documents of the British and Hessian Royal Families

Refuting long-accepted evidence in the Anderson case, The Resurrection of the Romanovs finally explodes the greatest royal mystery of the twentieth-century

If you have any interest in The Romanov's, this book should be on your keeper shelf. The book is available this month and can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Powell's.