A Joyful Easter

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Happy Easter everyone! I hope you have a wonderful day with your loved ones.

Historical Reads: Seven Fictional 'Marie Antoinette' Books for Younger Readers

Friday, 18 April 2014

Over at Reading Treasure, Anne Gibson recommends seven fictional "Marie Antoinette" books for younger readers. To quote:

Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles by Kathryn Lasky

'Princess of Versailles,' first published under Scholastic's Royal Diaries series, is probably the most popular fictional book about Marie Antoinette aimed at younger readers. 'Princess of Versailles' is a fictional diary from the point of view from a young Marie Antoinette which covers her life from a Archduchess of Austria through the early years of her marriage to the future Louis XVI of France. This is definitely "the" Marie Antoinette novel for younger readers and, for many people from my generation, was the 'gateway' into an interest in French history.

To read the entire article, click here.

Movie Review: Marie Antoinette (1938)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Marie Antoinette (1938) is often touted to be the best movie made about the unfortunate Queen of France. After finally watching it last week, I can see why. Based on the biography by Stefan Zweig, the movie covers the life of Marie Antoinette, from her teen years, when her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, arranged her marriage to the Dauphin of France, to her death on the guillotine.

Norma Shearer gave one of her best performances, if not her best, as Marie Antoinette, perfectly capturing the Queen's charming and lively personality, and her evolution from a young and frivolous teenage girl into a dignified woman and devoted mother and wife. Her relationship with Louis changes over the years too. A painstakingly shy and reserved man, the Dauphin prefers to be alone than spend any time with his wife, who then turns to partying, gambling, and fashion to fill her lonely existence. But slowly, they learn to love and respect each other.

Shearer's face says it all when she watches her husband having dinner with her and their children for the last time before his execution. She's heartbroken, and so is the viewer, especially when their son asks Louis to fix his little tin soldier for him. The next scene, when just after Louis' death, their republican jailers come to take her son away from her, is even more harrowing. Marie Antoinette fought like a tiger to prevent it before finally being forced to give in. Shearer's performance is so moving in this scene and I defy anyone to watch it without shedding even a tiny tear.

Marie Antoinette's relationship with Fersen is, instead, still debated by historians. Here, the two are clearly in love and, when Louis XV decides to annul Marie Antoinette's marriage to Louis after the young girl insulted his mistress Madame Du Barry, it seems like there could be a chance for them after all. But their hopes are soon dashed when the King dies shortly afterwards. Marie Antoinette is now Queen, and she and Fersen say goodbye. But he never forgets her and, when the revolution breaks out, he comes back to help her and her family escape. The attempt fails, but the two manage to meet one last time just before her execution. That never happened, but it's a fitting end to their fictional relationship.

Usually, inaccuracies in movies irk me, but not here. Some events, like the Affair of the Necklace, were summed up in just a few scenes, while others, such as Marie Antoinette's first meeting with Fersen, re-imagined differently from how they happened. Dates and time-line are not always respected. Characters who played important parts in history are missing or appear only briefly. And yet, I didn't mind, and not just because a certain amount of artistic license is required in movies. No, it's because despite all its inaccuracies, the movie manages to be very historically accurate, perfectly capturing the personalities of the characters and the luxurious and decadent world they lived in. And that, being fair to historical figures, who were real people just like us, is the most important thing.

The costumes are amazing too. The designer, Adrian, studied Marie Antoinette's portraits very carefully to be able to accurately recreate her sumptuous and elaborate gowns. Unfortunately, because the movie ended up costing a lot of money to make, it was decided to shoot in black and white, which doesn't do the costumes justice. The settings are beautiful too. Part of the movie was filmed on the grounds of Versailles (apparently it was the first time a film crew was allowed that privilege), which only adds more poignancy to the story.

Marie Antoinette is a wonderful, albeit sometimes harrowing, movie that features talented actors (Tyrone Power played the charming Count Axel von Fersen; Robert Morley the shy Louis XVI, while John Barrymore makes the most of his few scenes as the ailing Louis XV), a poignant, mostly historically accurate plot, and marvelous scenery, costumes and music. I highly recommend to anyone interested in Marie Antoinette as well as lovers of epic historical films.

A Queen's Education

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

King Leopold I of the Belgians advised his niece, Queen Victoria, to study history:

Laeken, 18th October 1834

My dearest Love,—I am happy to learn that Tunbridge Wells has done you good. Health is the first and most important gift of Providence; without it we are poor, miserable creatures, though the whole earth were our property; therefore I trust that you will take great care of your own. I feel convinced that air and exercise are most useful for you. In your leisure moments I hope that you study a little; history is what I think the most important study for you. It will be difficult for you to learn human-kind's ways and manners otherwise than from that important source of knowledge.

Your position will more or less render practical knowledge extremely difficult for you, till you get old, and still if you do not prepare yourself for your position, you may become the victim of wicked and designing people, particularly at a period when party spirit runs so high. Our times resemble most those of the Protestant reformation; then people were moved by religious opinions, as they now undoubtedly are by political passions. Unfortunately history is rarely written by those who really were the chief movers of events, nor free from a party colouring; this is particularly the case in the works about English history.

In that respect France is much richer, because there we have authenticated memoirs of some of the most important men, and of others who really saw what passed and wrote it down at the time. Political feelings, besides, rarely created permanent parties like those in England, with the exception, perhaps, of the great distinctions of Catholics and Protestants. What I most should recommend is the period before the accession of Henry IV. of France to the throne, then the events after his death till the end of the minority of Louis XIV.; after that period, though interesting, matters have a character which is more personal, and therefore less applicable to the present times.

Still even that period may be studied with some profit to get knowledge of mankind. Intrigues and favouritism were the chief features of that period, and Madame de Maintenon's immense influence was very nearly the cause of the destruction of France. What I very particularly recommend to you is to study in the Memoirs of the great and good Sully* the last years of the reign of Henry IV. of France, and the events which followed his assassination. If you have not got the work, I will forward it to you from hence, or give you the edition which I must have at Claremont.

As my paper draws to a close, I shall finish also by giving you my best blessings, and remain ever, my dearest Love, your faithfully attached Friend and Uncle,

Leopold R

*Maximilien, Duc de Sully, was Henry's Minister of Finance. A curious feature of the Memoirs is the fact that they are written in the second person: the historian recounts the hero's adventures to him.

Further reading:
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Volume 1 (of 3)

Book Reviews: The Warrior Queen, Whistler, & 201 Killer Cover Letters

Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Hello everyone,

today I'm reviewing a romance based on the Arthurian legends, the biography of one of the most controversial artists of the 19th century, and a guide to help you find the job you've always wanted. Here we go:

The Warrior Queen by Lavinia Collins
The first book in the Guinevere trilogy, The Warrior Queen is an enthralling new take on the Arthurian legends. The story, told through Guinevere's eyes, begins with the defeat of her people in a war in which her mother, her brothers, and her fiancé were killed. The winner, the boy-king Arthur, now demands the hand of Guinevere in marriage. The young woman detests the boy who causes her people so much pain, but has no choice in the matter. But when she meets Arthur, something unexpected happens: she learns to like, even love, him. Quickly, she settles into a calm and serene existence as Arthur's Queen, which is disrupted by the arrival of Lancelot.
Collins skillfully intertwines legends and magic with historical realism. The world she creates is, obviously, fictional, and yet it feels very real and vivid. It's full of witches, intrigues, plots, knights, conquerors, love, and quite a bit of sex too! It's just got everything that a great story should have.
The characters are well-rounded and easy to relate too. Especially Guinevere. Here, she's not the passive woman portrayed in most versions of the Arthurian legends. On the contrary, she's strong, brave, passionate, and torn between duty to her husband and his kingdom and her love for Lancelot. It's a wonderful portrayal that really humanizes her and vividly brings her to life.
The book is beautifully written and very entertaining. It's truly a pleasure to read. I devoured it in just a couple of days cos I wasn't able to put it down. Now I can't wait to read the next two installments!
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Whistler: A Life For Art's Sake by Dan Sutherland
A good biography is a lot more than a simple, albeit comprehensive, cradle to grave account. A good biography makes its complex subjects, with all their flaws, foibles, and merits, come to life. That's what Dan Sutherland does in Whistler: A Life For Art's Sake. The 19th century American painter, who spent most of his life in London and Paris, is both an undisputed genius and a very controversial figure in the art world.
If you approach this book thinking that Whistler was nothing more than a dandy and a selfish-egotist, think again. Sutherland doesn't gloss over Whistler's faults, but, putting him in the context of his time, and with the help of his extensive correspondence, tries to understand both the man and the artist. The result is one of the most intriguing and intelligent biographies that I read in a long time.
Whistler's art was revolutionary and highly influenced the painters of his, and the next, generation. But, when it came to his work, he was also very controlling, demanding to decide everything, from how to hang his works in exhibitions and their prices, to the contents of any books written about him and his art. He often engaged in legal battles with art critics, as well as fellow artists, who didn't understand his art and expressed poor opinions about it. His intransigence also cost him several friends, including Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde. Instead, he always had a profound admiration and affection for John Everett Millais and was great friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Pre-Raphaelite gang, as well as the Impressionists in France with whom Whistler was close to, and the strict and conventional art societies of the time, are also well-portrayed, bringing to life the artistic world the painter lived in.
The biography is very comprehensive and detailed. It's obvious the author has done his research, and consulted any scrap of information he could get his hands on. And yet, it's not a boring read at all. On the contrary, Sutherland writes in a very engaging and straightforward manner that makes the book flow easily.
The biography is also widely illustrated, featuring more than 100 images of Whistler's works. That way, whenever Sutherland describes a painting or an etching, the inspiration behind them, and the techniques with which they were created, you can take a look at the work in question and see the finished result. In my opinion, this makes the book even more of a pleasure to read.
Whether you are a fan of Whistler, or think he was just an untalented and unpleasant man, I highly recommend you pick up this book. It's, so far, the definitive biography of the American artist, and provides a fascinating insight into the man, his art, and his world.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

201 Killer Cover Letters by Sandra Podesta & Andrea Paxton
Are you looking for a job? Or hate yours and would like a new, better one? Or know someone who does? Then check out 201 Killer Cover Letters by Sandra Podesta and Andrea Paxton. True to its name, the book really features that many covers letters, suitable for any occasion and type of job, that have impressed recruiters. If you don't know what to write in yours, this is a great resource for templates and ideas to create a cover letter that will make you stand out, and get you an interview. And afterwards, use the tips in the book to write another letter to keep in touch with your recruiter. Most people don't bother, so, if you go the extra mile, you will get noticed. And, once you got the job, it's time to write again. This time to all the people who have helped you in your job search.
In addition to providing tips on how to write all these types of letters, the authors also stress out the importance of networking to find out about new job opportunities that aren't advertised in the papers, or be introduced to people that can give you advice to succeed in your desired industry, or even give you a job. You'll also learn how to use social media, especially Linkedin, to get the job of your dreams. Highly recommended.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 5/5

Would you like to read any of these books?

Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

The disastrous marriage of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick

Monday, 14 April 2014

Royal marriages were arranged affairs, aligning families and dynasties for political and economic purposes. They were rarely happy, but few were so disastrous as that of Prinny, Prince of Wales and future King George IV, and his German bride Caroline of Brunswick. Unwilling to put up an united and serene front for the benefit of the country and its people, George and Caroline engaged in a scandalous public battle to win the sympathies of the public.

Caroline won. After all, she had left her own country and moved to England only to be rejected at first sight by her royal cousin and husband-to-be. Although Prinny wasn't the dashing boy he used to be in his youth anymore, he still had refined tastes and, most importantly, was fastidious about personal hygiene. Caroline, with her coarse language, vulgar manners, and aversion for baths, disgusted him. When he met her for the first time, he asked for a glass of brandy.

If Prinny went ahead with the marriage is only because he desperately needed the money to pay his ever-mounting debts. Parliament had, in fact, agreed to raise his allowance, and his father to offer him economic assistance, only on condition that he finally married. King George III hoped that a wife would curb his son's exuberant and lavish bachelor lifestyle. Not to mention that the country needed a heir. King George had many sons, but only one was married, and without children.

So on 8 April 1795, the couple tied the knot at the Chapel Royal of St James’ Palace. Prinny kept drinking throughout the day, becoming drunker and drunker, while his disgusted wife retaliated by talking louder and louder and behaving in an increasingly vulgar manner. Caroline said that, that night, her husband passed out on the floor of their bedchamber, but not before having done his duty. The couple had sex only three times, according to Prinny, on the first and second nights of their marriage. Luckily, it was enough for Caroline to become pregnant.

By the time their only daughter, Princess Charlotte, was born on 7 January 1796, George and Caroline lived separate lives. However, Caroline was still forced to tolerate his mistress, Lady Jersey, in her house. The royal mistress had, in fact, been made Lady of the Bedchamber. On top of that, her husband, who desperately wanted a divorce, never showed her any affection, not even in public. He just kept on enjoying his luxurious and lascivious lifestyle, indulging in every excess.

Caroline retaliated by appearing in public as often as possible and charming, with her affable manners and sense of humour, the hearts of the people. She became the darling of the press, which portrayed her as the wronged wife. The people quickly sided with her. The public supported her when, in 1806, Prinny tried to divorce her by accusing her of having given birth to an illegitimate child. But the "Delicate Investigation", as the affair become known, proved Caroline to be innocent of the charge.

Nor even when he became king did George manage to get a divorce. He put his wife on trial on charges of adultery but, once again, Caroline had the people on her side, and the divorce proceedings had to be abandoned. George, however, succeeded in banning his wife from his coronation. Caroline was Queen Consort only in name, and would never be treated as such, neither in Britain nor abroad. Only her death on 7 August 1821 ended their disastrous marriage.

Further reading:
George IV: The Rebel Who Would Be KingGeorge IV: The Rebel Who Would Be King by Christopher Hibbert
The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline by Flora Fraser

We Are A People Of Heroes

Friday, 11 April 2014

"We are a people of heroes", said an once popular fascist song. The most prominent members of the fascist regime certainly liked to think of themselves as heroes, and they had the medals to prove it. Or not? Well, they definitely had the medals, but they usually weren't honestly earned. Still, for some people, appearances were enough.

Mussolini was more than willing to award medals to his followers. His regime, he believed, needed heroes. But, at the same time, he asked the police to investigate each case. Here's what they found out:

Italo Balbo, Blackshirt leader, Governor-General of Libya, and "heir apparent" to Mussolini
Balbo was put on trial for deserting his post and running away from the Moncalieri barracks (where he was attending a course to become a pilot), after the retreat at the Battle of Caporetto. He was absolved when he "proved" that he had run away, not to defect, but to reach the frontline to help fight the enemy. But the police, when asked by Mussolini to investigate, discovered that he had spent a few days hiding at his home in Ferrara. It was his father that forced him to go back. In addition, his promotion to captain for war merits was simply due to him forcing an Austrian official, who had been taken prisoner, to take his boots off!

Arconovaldo Bonaccorsi, a fighter in the Spanish Civil War
Bonaccorsi asked Mussolini to award him a medal for his heroic behaviour in the Spanish Civil War. According to the OVRA (the secret police of the fascist regime), which had asked information about Bonaccorsi to the commander of the Spanish aviation, his behaviour was "horrible. All he does is killing prisoners. About 2000, it is rumoured." Yet, he got his medal.

Roberto Farinacci, Secretary of the Fascist Party
Farinacci lost an arm in Ethiopia. He claimed it happened while he was voluntarily teaching soldiers how to use hand grenades. One of those, apparently, exploded too soon. In reality, he was wounded while fishing with hand grenades. So, instead of the Military Order of Savoy, he was awarded a simple silver medal.

There were also those who refused some of the honours intended to be bestowed upon them:

Emilio De Bono, Governor of Libya
Everything in Tripoli, including streets, schools, and theaters was named after De Bono. Balbo believed that by erecting a monument to him, the names of the streets, etc, could be changed. Mussolini, though, warned him that erecting a monument for De Bono in Libya was ridiculous. Plus, he added, "De Bono doesn't want to be honoured with a monument. He says it brings bad luck."

Further reading:
Riservato Per Il Duce by Arrigo Petacco

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