Sunday, May 29, 2011

Scandalous Review: QUEEN BY RIGHT - Anne Easter Smith

Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Touchstone; Original edition (May 10, 2011)
Language: English
Received copy from Publisher

From the back cover:

From the award-winning author of A Rose for the Crown, Daughter of York, and The King’s Grace comes another masterful historical novel—the story of Cecily of York, mother of two kings and the heroine of one of history’s greatest love stories.  In Cecily Neville, duchess of York and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day, Anne Easter Smith has found her most engrossing character yet. History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of the Market Cross at Ludlow, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, duke of York, whom she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father’s household, they become a true love match and together face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and their country. Queen by Right marks Anne Easter Smith’s greatest achievement, a book that every fan of sweeping, exquisitely detailed historical fiction will devour.
My thoughts:  It's no secret that I'm a Plantagenetaholic.  You can keep your Tudors and your Hanoverians, the Plantagenets are my favorite dynasty.  They ruled England and most of France for over 300 years! So when I received a copy of Anne Easter Smith's new novel QUEEN BY RIGHT, I was in Plantegenet heaven. QUEEN BY RIGHT is the story of Cecily Neville known to history as the Rose of Raby.  I'd forgotten, until I looked through the genealogy tables, that Cecily was the granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.

Cecily is exactly my type of heroine, she's strong, stubborn and somewhat spoiled, but she's also incredibly intelligent, which was not exactly prized in the Medieval era. Her mother, Joan Beaufort, struggles to get her daughter to conform to what is socially acceptable for women, embroidery, music, and being a good wife but Cecily also enjoys political discussions and hunting. The revelation for me in this book was the character of Joan of Beaufort. Born on the wrong side of the blanket, although later legitimized by Richard II after her parents were married, Joan is always aware that she and her family almost have to be even more correct than others.  Their loyalty lies with the Lancastrian Kings (Henry IV being Joan and her siblings half-brother), which makes it interesting that Cecily is betrothed to Richard, Duke of York who is descended not only from a younger son of Edward III but also from Lionel, Duke of Clarence and perhaps has a better claim to the thorne then the Lancastrians.

One of the joys of the novel is seeing Richard and Cecily grow into their marriage. Although it was an arranged marriage, it grows into a true love match which was rare for the period.  Richard and Cecily grow up together, and forge an early friendship as children. Richard grows to appreciate Cecily's intelligence and her forthrightness,  particularly as the relationship between Richard and Henry VI grows strained due to the machinations of Margaret of Anjou and Cecily's cousin Edmund Beaufort.  Even when Cecily has a hard time conceiving due a miscarriage in the early years of their marriage, their love remains strong. Cecily is a supportive wife, even when at times, she knows that her husband may be making the wrong choices.

This novel has a depth and breadth to it that you don't often find in historical novels nowadays. I never felt that the book was rushed, or that the author was jumping from one event to another, kind of like the 'greatest hits of the War of the Roses,' which often seems to be the case with some historical novels.  There are just as many quiet family scenes as there are big dramatic scenes.  Easter Smith, in her author note, is very clear where she deviates or adds to the historical record. One of these instances is during Richard and Cecily's time in Rouen which just happened to coincide with the trial and execution of Joan of Arc.  The scenes where Cecily meets Joan are riveting, if they didn't happen, they really should have! Having done extensive research on Joan of Arc for SCANDALOUS WOMEN, Easter Smith's interpretation will certainly please those of us who are fascinated by the Maid of Orleans. Amongst the real-life historical characters, Easter Smith offers the reader Constance LeMaitre, a female physician who is taken into Cecily's household and becomes her confidante and friend.

By the end of the book, I felt as if I had made a new friend in Cecily Neville. I wept with her when her children died, laughed at some of the most uproarious sections of the book, and marveled at the relationship between Cecily and Richard, a relationship that most of us only dream of having.

My Verdict:  Highly Recommended. A vivid and compelling novel about one of the most turbulent periods of English history, with a compelling and attractive heroine.  A must read for all historical fiction lovers. My only complaint was that the book ended, but at least I have 3 more Anne Easter Smith novels to add to my TBR pile!

You can order the book here at Borders

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Men, Women and Margaret Fuller

“Humanity is divided into Men, Women, and Margaret Fuller,” – Edgar Allan Poe

“The greatest woman of ancient or modern times,” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday was the 201st birthday of Margaret Fuller (1810-1850). If you’ve never heard of Margaret Fuller, you are not alone. Although she hung out with the likes of Bronson Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fuller seems to have slipped through the cracks compared to 19th century feminists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Victoria Woodhull. Yet in her forty years on the planet, Fuller managed to accomplish a lot.

Just take a gander at just a few of her firsts (from the Margaret Fuller Bicentennial Site):

• First American to write a book about equality for women, Woman in the 19th century (1845).

• First woman foreign correspondent and first woman war correspondent to serve under combat conditions, covering the revolutions of 1849.

• First woman journalist for Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune, and first woman literary editor of a major American newspaper

• First editor of the Dial, the Transcendentalist journal, making her the first woman in America to edit an intellectual publication (She was supposed to be paid $200 a year but was never paid.)

• First woman literary critic who also set literary standards for American writers

• First woman to enter the Harvard College library to pursue research

• First translated Goethe in English, championing the author as more than just a depraved European.

You could also make a case that Margaret was America’s first truly liberated female. What Mary Wollstonecraft was to the 18th century, Margaret was to the 19th. There are so many parallels between the two women, it’s uncanny. They were both schoolteachers, journalists; both fell in love with inappropriate men, and both died way too young. They even had their reputations damaged by well-meaning friends who wrote books about them. In Mary’s case, it was her husband William Godwin. In Margaret’s case it was her good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson who decided while editing her memoirs to turn her into precisely what she was not. Instead of the warm, vibrant personality, he turned her into a snobbish, egotistical, dried up spinster.

Sarah Margaret Fuller, the eldest of eight children was born on May 23, 1810 to Timothy Fuller, a lawyer whose family had deep roots in New England soil, coming over in 1638, and Margaret Crane. Margaret’s father was hoping his eldest child would be a boy. Instead, he decided to educate Margaret like one. He assigned her a curriculum that would have made first year students at Harvard go white with fear. By the age of four, Margaret could read, by six she was reading Latin. She’d added German, French, Italian and a little Greek to the list by the time she was a teenager. By the time she was 30, she was considered the best-read person, male or female, in New England.

Although Margaret loved learning, she paid a high price. Her education set her apart from girls her own age, and scared off the boys. She began walking in her sleep, suffered from migraines, and had nightmares. The doors to Harvard, Yale and Princeton were closed to her and there were no women’s colleges for Margaret to continue her education. She managed to put her education to good use after her father died. Margaret assumed responsibility for her family, going to work as a teacher, first for Bronson Alcott and then for a progressive school in Providence, RI. She soon gave up teaching to lecture, or what she called ‘Conversations.” Margaret intended these meetings to compensate for the lack of education for women. She talked about everything from Greek mythology to the Bible to history, fine arts and literature. Soon she was widely known, not just among women, but also amongst the intelligentsia of New England. Fuller was not only a brilliant talker, but opinionated, witty and erudite. She was declared to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I now know all the people worth knowing in America, and I find no intellect comparable to my own.” She certainly didn’t lack for self-esteem!

In 1835, Margaret met the great Ralph Waldo Emerson who was already famous as a lecturer, essayist and poet. For the next several years, she and Emerson indulged in a passionate flirtation which stopped just short of the bedroom. Fuller, although she was in awe of him, never treated him like the ‘great thinker.’ She chastised him for not writing more, sparred with him, but she never fawned over him, there was no sitting at the feet of the great man. In two years, Margaret became his confidante, his debating partner, second only to Thoreau but Emerson would never admit his true feelings for her. He kept her at a distance, blowing hot and cold, during their friendship.  Soon, however, Margaret was mingling with the literary crowd, and lecturing at Brook Farm.

Hawthorne, on the other hand, couldn’t stand her, but then he had a problem with strong women. He thought she was too aggressive, overly clever, and improperly frank when it came to sex. Also she was more famous than he was. She wasn’t delicately pretty and wan, the feminine ideal at that time. Margaret wasn’t interested in fashion, she wore her hair severely pulled back in a bun, her nose was too long, her mouth too wide, her chin too firm for real beauty. But looking at the lone photograph of her, she was striking; no doubt the force of her personality overcame whatever defects were thought of about her looks. Still she inspired Hawthorne to immortalize her as Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance. She also managed to tick off not Henry Wadsworth Longfellow but also James Lowell and Emerson when she later reviewed their work in The New York Tribune.

Despite her many friends, Fuller longed for romance, whether it was with a man or a woman didn’t matter. In her journal, she wrote, “It is so true that a woman may be in love with a woman and a man with a man.” That’s a pretty amazing realization, given the times. She had many passionate friendships over the years, but none of them led to marriage, at least not to her. Two of her inamoratas, Samuel Ward and Anna Barker fell in love and were married. She fell madly in love with a German Jewish banker, James Nathan, who she’d met in New York but he fled back to his native country to escape her. She was, too put it bluntly, too passionate, too intense for most people. She seemed not to have an off button, exciting yes, but a tad tiring. Still, she was always magnanimous when a relationship ended.

Her 1845 book Woman in the 19th century didn’t help matters. The book was an expanded version of an article that she had written called “The Great Lawsuit – Man versus Men: Woman versus Women.” Among some of her theories, “There exists in the minds of men a tone of feeling toward women as toward slaves.” “What Woman needs is not as a woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely and unimpeded.” “Men think that nothing is so much to be dreaded for a man as originality of thought or character.” “There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.” Although the book was met with jeers and derision, the first edition sold out in a week. The book not only established her as a household name but led to her being hired by Horace Greeley to be the first female member of the working press. Even though New York was seen as a cultural wasteland compared to Boston, Margaret packed up her bags and moved to the Big Apple. She was soon off and running, interviewing prostitutes in Sing Sing prison.

Physically and emotionally exhausted, Margaret headed off to Europe in 1846, fulfilling a long cherished dream. In Europe, she met many of the literary celebrities of the day, including George Sand, Wordsworth, and Thomas Carlyle. But it was Italy, in the midst of a revolution, that Margaret finally found her soul-mate. He was not an intellectual like Emerson, although he was well educated, but an impoverished Italian nobleman eleven years her junior named Count Giovanni Angelo Ossoli. Ossoli loved her, adored her, and wanted to marry her. Although she tried to resist him, Margaret soon gave into her feelings, moving in with him in Florence. Before long she was pregnant, giving birth to a son they named Angelo in 1848. While Ossoli fought in the revolution, Margaret volunteered at a nearby hospital. .Despite her pregnancy, she refused to marry him for many reasons, their different religions, the age difference. The news of their liaison shocked everyone in New England literary circles, and caused Greeley to drop her contract with The New YorkTribune. Although Emerson claimed they were married in 1847, no one knows for sure if they were ever any formal ceremony.

Penniless, the little family decided to leave Italy and return to the United States. Unfortunately Margaret’s life was cut short in July of 1850. The ship she was traveling on with her family, The Elizabeth, ran aground near Fire Island off the coast of Long Island. Margaret, her husband, and son were all lost along with her new book on the Italian revolutions. When Margaret had the chance to save herself, she refused to leave her husband and son.  Incredibly, people showed up on the beach with carts hoping to find any cargo that washed ashore, but they made no effort to help the passengers or the crew of the ship. Henry David Thoreau traveled to New York, to search for the bodies but neither Fuller's body nor Ossoli's was ever recovered; only their little son Angelino was washed ashore.  Nothing was discovered apart from a trunk containing Margaret and Ossoli's love letters.

A memorial to Fuller was erected on the beach at Fire Island in 1901 through the efforts of Julia Ward Howe. A cenotaph to Fuller and Ossoli, under which their little son is buried, is in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The inscription reads, in part:

By birth a child of New England
By adoption a citizen of Rome
By genius belonging to the world

Despite admirers such as Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, Emerson and later Henry James, by the end of the 19th century, Margaret Fuller had been all but forgotten. Even the paper she worked for, The Tribune, said in its obituary that her works had few great sentiments. It would take the dawning of the 20th century, and feminist writers discovering her legacy to bring her name back into consciousness. While several biographies have been written about Margaret, most of them have tended to be weighty academic tomes, dealing more with her literary output than her life. Only Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury really gives a sense of Margaret’s life during those heady days in Concord when she edited The Dial for Emerson, and gave her famous ‘Conversations.’

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19, 1536 - The Execution of Anne Boleyn

Today marks the anniversary of the Execution of Anne Boleyn, a sad day of mourning and loss for those of us who love Anne.

It's no secret that Anne Boleyn is my favorite of Henry VIII's wives. I just find her endlessly fascinating and enigmatic.  Last year, I was lucky enough to go on the first ever Anne Boleyn experience, where we stayed at Hever Castle for a week. One of the highlights, out of many, on that journey was the day that we traveled to London on the anniversary to lay flowers in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.  We were lucky enough to actually go up to the altar where Anne and Katherine Howard are allegedly buried as well as down into the crypt where George Boleyn and the others are buried within the walls. It was an eerie and unnerving experience, knowing that we were walking on the ground that Anne trod on her final day on earth.

Below are a few links to blogs celebrating Anne Boleyn:

The Tudor Tutor: Her Grace Under Pressure
The Anne Boleyn Files
On the Tudor Trail
Risky Regencies: A lovely post by Amanda McCabe
Tudor some lovely pictures of St. Peter ad Vincula

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Scandalous Places - Ludwig I's Gallery of Beauties

While researching the lives of both Jane Digby and Lola Montez for my book SCANDALOUS WOMEN, I discovered that they had two things in common:  they both were both mistresses of Ludwig I of Bavaria and both had their portraits included in his Gallery of Beauties.

The Gallery of Beauties is a collection of 36 portraits of some of the most beautiful women from Munich's nobility and middle classes. They were painted between 1827 and 1850, mainly by Joseph Karl Stieler who was appointed the court painter in 1820.  Ludwig gathered the portraits in the south pavilion of the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich.  The gold-and-white room with its stucco-work sopraportas was originally used as a small dining room. It was then redesigned by Andreas Gärtner, father of the architect Friedrich von Gärtner.

This is a portrait of Jane Digby, Lady Ellenborough (1807 - 1881) as she was then, painted around 1831.  Jane ended up in Munich after the end of a love affair with the handsome Austrian statesman Felix Schwarzenberg. Jane had left her husband and son for Schwarzenberg, eventually bearing him a daughter before he basically abandoned her. While living in Munich, she met her second husband, Karl Von Veningen-Ulner by whom she had two children. But before she married Karl (on the rebound), and she and King Ludwig struck up a brief love affair.

Ah, Lola Montez (1821-1861) who will be forever linked with King Ludwig in the annals of history. You'll have to buy SCANDALOUS WOMEN to read more about their affair, but by the time Lola left Bavaria (unwillingly), she had caused riots and poor Ludwig was forced to abdicate his throne.  This portrait by was painted in 1847, when Lola was at the height of her beauty.

Clink here for a panoramic view of the room.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister

Anne Lister (1791-1840) lived a most extraordinary and improbable life. She was a beacon of independence in an era when women were considered to be property. She kept a diary all her life that eventually topped out at 6,600 pages (four million words) which is twice the length of Samuel Pepys diaries. These 23 volumes, which can be found at the Halifax Central Library, are an invaluable record, giving the world a peek into what life was like for women in Northern England. The diaries detail her emotions, her day-to-day activities, her financial situation, local and national news, even a daily weather report and the books she was reading. But parts of the diaries were written in a cryptic code of Greek letters and algebraic symbols that concealed aspects of her life that were considered controversial for over a hundred years. Anne’s life was the antithesis of the delicate and refined heroines found in Jane Austen’s novels. Not only was she a shrewd landowner, pioneering industrialist, intrepid traveler, and social climber, but she was also an unabashed lover of women.

‘I love and only love the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs.

Anne was born in Halifax in 1791, the eldest daughter of Jeremy Lister who served as a Captain in the army. The Lister’s were an ancient landowning family that while not rich, was well-to-do and much respected in the West Riding. Since her father was away in the army, Anne and her younger sister Marian spent a great deal of time living with her relatives at Shipden Hall. Anne was a precocious tomboy. She disdained the more feminine pursuits such as embroidery, preferring to riding, walking, shooting, and playing the flute. In 1804, at the age of 13, she was sent to an exclusive boarding school called Manor School in York. It was hoped that her time at the school would turn from a rambunctious tomboy into a refined young lady. Anne, however, proved herself to be a disruptive influence. While other students were attempting to study in class, she would interrupt, keeping up a running stream of patter. Brighter than the other students, she was probably bored, and more interested in socializing than in studying. As a punishment, she was banished to an attic room away from the other girls.

However, Anne wasn’t lonely for long. Another student soon joined her in her attic lair. Her name was Eliza Raine, a young Anglo-Indian heiress from Madras. Soon the two teenagers were declaring themselves husband and wife, exchanging rings and vows. Anne came to terms with her sexuality at an early age. This was not the typical ‘romantic friendship’ that often sprang up between young girls before they went on to get married and have children. These relationships were socially acceptable, and that it would prepare them for marriage. While most young girls eventually grew out of it, some like Anne Lister never did. When Anne and Eliza were caught passing notes in class that left no doubt about the nature of their ‘friendship’ Anne was expelled. Not that she cared; she was more than prepared to continue her education on her own. Her relationship with Eliza however didn’t last. Because of her illegitimacy and mixed race background, Eliza wasn’t considered a suitable companion for Anne.

Anne became determined to find a companion, a life partner, only in her face the partner was female. She was lucky that like Austen’s Emma, her wealth allowed her some measure of freedom to live as she pleased. In 1813, Anne had become the heiress to her uncle’s estate at Shibden Hall after the death of her brother Samuel in a boating accident, she was just 22. By 1815, she had moved permanently to Shibden Hall to learn how to run the estate. Anne had a check list of what she was looking for in a mate, someone who was her social equal but also a feminine, pliable, demure woman. But how to find that life partner was the question. For Anne, church was a convenient place for to find her latest conquest. She would locate what she considered to be a suitable candidate, and then the wooing would commence. First there would be invitations to tea at Shibden Hall, and then long walks through the woods as she furthered the acquaintances. Only after a suitable amount of time had passed, would Anne make her move. In her diaries, Anne talks about her tactics for wooing women, how she would talk to them, charm them. She would mention books that touched upon lesbianism or male homosexuality and then observe the women carefully to see how they reacted. Anne didn’t confine herself to single women, but also married women as well. In all her relationships, Anne was definitely the aggressor, the male of the relationship as it were.

In 1812, Anne met the love of her life, a young woman named Marianne Belcombe, one of four daughters of a local doctor. But Marianne married a local landowner, Charles Lawton in 1815, leaving Anne devastated. In her eyes, Marianne had ‘sold her person to another for a carriage and a jointure.’ She even told Marianne that as far as she was concerned her marriage was no better than legal prostitution! However, the two women could not stay away from each other, continuing their affair with Marianne’s husband’s permission until 1828. After a romantic weekend getaway in Scarborough, Marianne became horrified at being seen with Anne in public because of her masculine appearance. In 1832, Anne met the woman she would spend the rest of her life with, a neighbor Ann Walker who was 29 to her 42. Having had her heart broken by Marianna, Anne was not looking for a great love this time, but like most men of her class, she was looking for an heiress to help her realize her dreams for Shipden. Anne began to woo Ann Walker, shaping her into the woman of her dreams. In 1834, they found a clergyman to bless their union. With their union, Ann Walker moved into Shibden Hall and the Lister and Walker estates were now joined.

Anne didn’t spend all her time as a female Casanova. In 1830, she became the first woman to ascent Mount Perdu, in the Pyrenees and later completed the first “official” ascent of the Vignemale. She became the first woman to be elected to the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society, all her life she was fascinated by the latest gadgets and technology. By 1826, her uncle James had passed away and Shibden Hall was now hers. She was soon actively running the estate, carrying out renovations to make the house more livable, creating a wilderness garden and the mere. She managing her tenants, and exerting her influence in local politics. Since as a woman, she couldn’t vote, Anne forced her tenants on her land to vote the way that she wanted. She was called ‘Gentleman Jack’ by her neighbors in Halifax because her appearance grew more masculine as the years went on. Land rich but cash poor, Anne decided to open a coal mine on her property and was soon going up against the big boys, proving that she could hold her own which excited envy as well as fear.

In 1840, Anne Lister died at age 49; of a fever while traveling in Koutais, Georgia while traveling with Walker. Ann Walker had her partner’s body embalmed and brought back to be buried in the Parish Church in Halifax. Although Walker inherited Shibden Hall from her lover, she later died in an insane asylum in 1855 and the estate reverted back to the Lister family. John Lister found Anne’s diaries in the 1890’s. When he had the diaries decoded, he was shocked by their contents. He buried them in the family archives where they remained until the 1930’s when they were re-discovered by Muriel Greene but it wouldn’t be until 1988 that the diaries were considered fit for public consumption and published.

Last year, the BBC aired a 90 minute drama based on Lister's life, called the Secret Diairies of Anne Lister starring Maxine Peake.


Liddington, Jill. Female Fortune: Land, Gender and Authority: The Anne Lister Diaries and Other writings, 1833–36.

Whitbread, Helena. I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791–1840. (Virago, 1988)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Scandalous Book Review: The Paris Wife


Author: Paula McLain

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Pub Date: 2/22/2011

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year old who has all but given up on love and happiness-until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group-the fabled “Lost Generation” – that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage – a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

“We called Paris the great good place, then and it was. We invented it after all. We made it with our longing and cigarettes and Rhum St. James, we made it with smoke and smart and savage conversation and we dared anyone to say it wasn’t ours. Together we made everything and then we busted it apart again.”

My thoughts: I have long been a little obsessed by the 1920’s, even before I started researching Zelda Fitzgerald for Scandalous Women, so I couldn’t wait to read The Paris Wife when I saw it on the shelf at the library. I’ve never been a big fan of Hemingway as a person, and I’ve only ever read A Farewell to Arms in high school, so I knew very little about his first wife Hadley Richardson. I just knew that he and F. Scott Fitzgerald had been good friends and then had a falling out and that he and Zelda had a mutual animosity society going on.

From the very first paragraph I was hooked on The Paris Wife to the point where I felt as if I were overhearing private conversations that I shouldn’t be listening to. The reader is given a view of Hemingway that isn’t often seen, a view of the young writer eager to make his mark on the world, full of self-doubt on the one hand, and extreme confidence on the other. This is not the Papa Hemingway of Key West, the lauded man of letters, but a man who has been through the hell of war and is still dealing with the after effects.

At first, I wasn’t sure about Hadley as a narrator, at times she seems a bit passive, as events unfold that she’s not really a part of. However, I soon realized that is precisely the point of the book, Hadley is a woman who has grown to accept that she is on the shelf, that her dreams of love and marriage, or even a career are behind her. A life as the spinster aunt is all that awaits her until she meets Ernest Hemingway on a trip to Chicago. It is intriguing that when they meet, Hadley’s friend Kate who it turns out was once in love with Hemingway, warns her off. Later on, another woman from the Midwest, Pauline Pfeiffer, who becomes a friend, ends up coming between Hadley and Ernest.

While Zelda struggled to come out from under the shadow of F. Scott to fulfill her own creative dreams, Hadley has a different struggle. While she once had dreams of being a concert pianist, she has come to accept her limitations as an artist but she struggles to find a way to fit into her husband’s life which is filled with creative people, writers such as Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein and painters like Man Ray and Picasso. Hadley was born in 1891, making her 8 years older than her husband, and she keenly feels that her attitudes and morals are very much of the Victorian age compared to the others in their circle who seem to embrace a more open view of sex and monogamy.

Before they arrived in Paris, Hadley seemed assured of her place in her husband’s affections and his work, but as he experiences success, he seems to shut her out. One of the most painful parts of the book occurs when Hadley reads the first draft of The Sun Also Rises and realizes that while all their acquaintances have been fictionalized in the book, she’s been left out completely. The heroine, Lady Brett, is based on the seductive Duff, who juggles multiple admirers one summer while they are in Pamplona. This novel could be about any wife who has to watch as her husband slowly slips away into a world that she is no longer a part of.

“There are some who said I should have fought harder or longer than I did for my marriage, but in the end fighting for a love that was already gone felt like trying to live in the ruins of a lost city. “

Verdict: A heartbreaking portrayal of first love, regret and torn loyalty. Paula McLain is an astonishing writer who creates a world that you don’t want to leave. I adored this book.

Highly Recommended

For more information:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Scoundel of the Month - Royal Cad: James Hewitt

As I watched the royal wedding coverage last week, there were the usual suspects amongst the commentators, Tina Brown (now Editor in Chief of Newsweek), Ingrid Seward (MAJESTY Magazine), Robert Jobson and Katie Nicholls (Daily Mail). But who else should turn up like the proverbial bad penny? Why, it’s James Hewitt cashing in on the royal wedding by sitting down to have a chat with INSIDE EDITION. Yes, the same man that Princess Diana famously declared in the PANORAMA interview, “I adored him, I loved him but I was very let down.”

The ‘comeback cad’ as he’s been dubbed by the tabloid press cheekily gave the royal couple his approval. He also promoted the lavish Royal-themed day complete with a big screen TV showing the ceremony at his bar The Polo House at Marbella, Spain where he’s been living since 2007. “I think it’s great William thought long and hard about the decision. They tend to these things more sensibly these days. I haven’t gotten around to sending them a letter yet but I suspect I will,’ he told INSIDE EDITION. I’m sure that William and Kate are waiting with bated breath to get that letter. In reference to William and Harry he added, “I don’t keep in touch with the boys. I tend to have moved on and I look on my life in a slightly different way.”

Seriously I didn’t know whether to laugh or throw things at my TV when he said that. Hewitt, who is now almost 53, has been living off his five year affair with the Princess of Wales ever since he retired from the army 17 years ago. After the driving range he opened failed, he not only collaborated with Anna Pasternak on the execrable PRINCESS IN LOVE for which he was paid $300,000, but he also gave an exclusive interview in the tabloid The News of the World is said to have brought him almost $2 Million. Since then he’s written two other memoirs where he shared further titillating tidbits about their affair. Called ‘the Love Rat,’ his revelations made him persona non grata amongst their social set. Hewitt tried to rejuvenate his reputation by appearing on various reality TV shows over the years (Wikipedia has a list of all the shows. You can them out here). Heck, it was a way to make a living; although he turned down an offer to do I’m A Celebrity, Get Me out of Here. One could almost admire him for pulling himself up by his bootstraps and trying to turn his life around.

But it was his attempt to sell 64 handwritten letters from Diana for $10 million in 2002 that really turned the media and the establishment against him. Hewitt claimed that they were ‘important historical documents,’ and that he ‘couldn’t afford to keep them anymore.’ Both Christies and Sotheby’s auction house refused to have anything to do with the sale. When he was asked if he felt that he was betraying the Princess, Hewitt said, ‘I don’t think I’ve betrayed her. I was utterly faithful to her when she was alive. I’ve been utterly faithful since she sadly is no longer with us.’ Apparently he has a different idea of what faithful means than other people. Even Prince Charles has been more faithful to Diana's memory than this guy.

He made an appearance on Larry King Live where he claimed that his affair with the Princess did Prince Charles a favor because it took the heat off his own relationship with Camilla. “I think Charles was probably grateful someone was looking after his wife,” he admitted to Larry King. He dug the hole deeper by admitting that “I’d like the letters to go for as much as they could possibly get.” When he was asked how Diana’s children felt about his selling such personal letters, he spat back: “I wouldn’t tell them what to do with their own private property and I don’t expect them to tell me either.” Ooh, Mr. Sensitive! (FYI- He was never able to sell the letters, and now he claims that he never will).

If it hadn’t been for his affair with Princess Diana, Hewitt’s life might have taken a different turn. Hewitt was a war veteran with 17 years of service in the Life Guards, a Calvary regiment charged with guarding the Sovereign. The grandson and son of army officers, he was born in 1958, 3 years before the late Princess. Although not a scholar, he seems to have shined only in the saddle, Hewitt went to Sandhurst, before being commissioned in the Life Guards. He met the Princess at a party in Mayfair in 1986. After only five years of marriage and 2 children, her marriage to Prince Charles was in trouble. They had just famously spent 39 days apart at the time that she met James Hewitt. In 1987 Diana hired him as a riding instructor for both her and the two young princes. The affair lasted five years until 1992 when Hewitt was posted to Germany and was no longer readily available.

Claiming that there was nothing left for him in Britain, Hewitt fled to the sunnier shores of Marbella. The more sordid truth is that Hewitt had been arrested for possession of cocaine (He was later let off with a caution) and had a rather nasty run with the Inland Revenue for failing to file his taxes for several years. According to the Daily Mail four years ago he was said to owe £2.2 million in outstanding tax to the Inland Revenue, with another £500,000 in accrued interest and surcharges, although Hewitt suggested the figure was 'nonsense' and that his debt was 'more like a hundredth of that'. Anyway, now Hewitt says he has settled it. Then there was the incident where it was revealed that he’d signed up with an online service called, where he sent explicit pictures of himself to strangers. After several years under the harsh Marbella sun, he now suffers now from hyperpigmentation.

Watching him on INSIDE EDITION last week, one could almost feel sorry for the man. Hewitt, the once dashing army officer with a full head of red hair and a well-muscled body, now looks like a rather sad aging roué. He talked of how he considered shooting himself on a trip to France after the end of his affair with Diana. It was only his mother’s insistence on traveling with him that changed his mind. He insists that he still misses her. “I think we all miss her,” he said. “But I’ve tried to move on with my life.” Yeah, he’s moved on unless there’s money involved. Then he’s quite happy to talk about their relationship ad nauseum. And then there is the Harry rumor which will never go away no matter how often Hewitt denies it (he actually seemed surprised that the reporter from INSIDE EDITION brought it up).

Look, on the one hand, why shouldn’t he make money off his relationship since everyone else who worked for Diana has done so, including Ken Wharfe, her royal protection officer, and Patrick Jephson her former press secretary. Not to mention Paul Burrell, her ‘rock’ who has made a career out of being her former butler. The difference is they just worked for Diana. Hewitt's revelations seem more like a betrayal because the relationship was so much more intimate, they were in love. He comes across as smarmy instead of sincere.

Most important of all: An officer and a gentleman does not kiss and tell.

Sources: The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, BBC News

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Book of the Month: Women Heroes of World War II

Title:  WOMEN HEROES OF WORLD WAR II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue
Author:  Kathryn J. Atwood
Publisher:  Chicago Review Press
Pub Date:  March 1, 2011

"These stories will restore your faith in the human spirit and encourage us all to remember to do what is right, because it is right. Women Heroes of World War II is a must read for anyone who has ever asked themselves: 'What can I do? Can one person really make a difference?'" —Kenneth Koskodan, author of No Greater Ally; The Untold Story of Poland’s Forces in World War II

“Kathryn Atwood offers a new face to World War II heroes to include young women who left traditional feminine roles to carry guns, falsify papers, and shelter the hunted.” —Rabbi Malka Drucker and Gay Block, coauthors of Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust

“Inspiring accounts of the lives of women--some of them still in their teens--whose courage made a difference in the dark days of World War II." —Rita Kramer, author of Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France

“Those in Women Heroes of World War II surely played a major role in turning the tide of the war in the Allies’ favor. Kathryn Atwood’s book will be a wonderful inspiration to girls and women.” —Judith Pearson, author of The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy

What it's about:

Noor Inayat Khan was the first female radio operator sent into occupied France and transferred crucial messages. Johtje Vos, a Dutch housewife, hid Jews in her home and repeatedly outsmarted the Gestapo. Law student Hannie Schaft became involved in the most dangerous resistance work--sabotage, weapons transference, and assassinations. In these pages, young readers will meet these and many other similarly courageous women and girls who risked their lives to help defeat the Nazis.

Twenty-six engaging and suspense-filled stories unfold from across Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, and the United States, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls’ refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history.

An overview of World War II and summaries of each country’s entrance and involvement in the war provide a framework for better understanding each woman’s unique circumstances, and resources for further learning follow each profile. Women Heroes of World War II is an invaluable addition to any student’s or history buff’s bookshelf.

My thoughts:  I can't recommend this book highly enough.  Although it's written for young adults, grown-ups will be intrigued by the stories of these brave women who risked their lives willingly during World War II for a cause they believed in. You don't have to be a World War II buff either to enjoy the real life exploits of these women.  The book is divided by country starting with Germany and ending with the United States. Some of the women (Sophie Scholl, Marlene Dietrich, Martha Gellhorn and Josephine Baker who is also featured in Scandalous Women) will probably be familiar to readers, but most of the women featured in the book probably won't be.  The stories run the gamut of women who came from privileged backgrounds to women who had nothing, but each and every one proved that they were more than just pretty faces. They were strong, courageous, women who refused to sit idly by while the war was going on, who made as big a contribution to the war effort as the men did, and who should be remembered every single day for their sacrifices.  I enjoyed this book so much that it is going on my keeper shelves of books that I regularly dip into for inspiration.

Verdict:  Highly Recommended