Review: An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blalock

Review: An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie BlalockAn Indiscreet Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria's Defiant Daughter by Georgie Blalock
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: biography, historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow & Company on September 27, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the acclaimed author of The Other Windsor Girl and The Last Debutantes comes a brilliant novel about Queen Victoria’s most rebellious and artistically talented daughter, Princess Louise, showcasing her rich life in Georgie Blalock’s signature flair.
Before Princes Margaret, before Duchess Meghan, there was Princess Louise: royal rebel.
As the fourth daughter of the perpetually in-mourning Queen Victoria, Princess Louise’s life is more a gilded prison than a fairy tale. Expected to sit quietly next to her mother with downcast eyes, Louise vows to escape the stultifying royal court. Blessed with beauty, artistic talent, and a common touch, she creates a life outside the walled-in existence of the palace grounds by attending the National Art Training School—where she shockingly learns to sculpt nude models while falling passionately in love with famed sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm.
Although Louise cultivates artist friends, artistic success, and a life outside the palace, she quickly learns that even royal rebels must heed the call of duty. For twenty years, Louise fights to maintain her relationship with Joseph and what freedom she can glean within the strict requirements of Queen Victoria’s court. When a near fatal accident forces her back under Queen Victoria’s iron rule, Louise must choose between surrendering to the all-consuming grief of lost love and dreams that plagued her mother or finding the strength to keep fighting for her unconventional life.

My Review:

Princess Louise in 1881

An Indiscreet Princess is the second book this season to present a fictionalized biography of Queen Victoria’s artistic, iconoclastic daughter Louise. Considering the life that she led, it’s not surprising that Louise has become the focus of more than one such book Instead it’s a wonder why her story hasn’t been told before.

Louise’s mother may have reigned over the sexually repressive regime that bears her name, but even the contemporary rumors about Louise’s behavior give the impression that Louise was anything but repressed – no matter how much her royal mother may have tried to make her toe the line of the straight and narrow.

But Louise, who managed to become known in her own right and in her own time as a talented and even successful sculptor, still had to fight that repression from, at the very least, the day her father Prince Albert died until Victoria herself either mellowed or died – whichever came first.

By all accounts, even though Queen Victoria’s power over her empire had been waning throughout her reign – in part due to her own actions or inactions – her rule over her family was nearly absolute. Especially over the lives of her daughters, who she expected to serve as her personal secretaries until she deigned to decide upon and preside over their marriages. And whose world she still expected to be the very center of for the rest of her – or their – lives.

But the center of Louise’s life was her art. No matter how much her imperial – and imperious – mother tried to restrict every aspect of her life – including how much training she would receive and how much – or how little – space she would be given to practice it. So she rebelled where she could and toed the line when she absolutely had to.

And managed to succeed – if not on her own terms at least on terms that both she and her mother could live with. At least some of the time.

Escape Rating B: Both In the Shadow of a Queen and An Indiscreet Princess fictionalize the life of the very same person. Meaning that the outlines of both stories are pretty much the same. But the way that those outlines are filled in is quite a bit different.

It’s as if the two Princesses Louise are twins who are living out the all-too-common scenario of a “good” twin and a “bad” twin. A scenario that occurs in many families, where one child is rewarded for being dutiful and obedient while the other gets attention the only way that remains to them – by acting out at every turn.

In the Shadow of a Queen told the story of the “good” twin. That Louise pursued her art relentlessly – and did clash with her mother because of it. But she was portrayed as a dutiful if reluctant personal secretary, and more distinctly in comparison with this book, her marriage to Lord Lorne was described as a love match between two people who liked and respected each other and expected to be as happy as their circumstances would allow. That version of Louise’s story also dismissed all of the rumors about her many reputed affairs and never even touched on the rumors that Lord Lorne was homosexual. That book ended just as they married, leaving open the possibility of a happy ever after that did not happen in real life.

An Indiscreet Princess, very much on the other hand, leans into all the salacious gossip and leans into so hard it falls over into more than a few pre- and post-marital beds. (It also explicitly reinforces the worst of the rumors about Queen Victoria’s behavior with her Scottish manservant John Brown) It is, admittedly, a much more fun account of Louise’s life than the other, a feeling that is helped by starting her story later, as she is inveigling her mother to let her attend art school, and a point where Louise has a bit more agency – or at least more awareness of just how little she has – than in Shadow which begins with Prince Albert’s death and glums its way through the worst of Victoria’s mourning years.

While the Princess in Indiscreet is more interesting to read about, because she thinks more and does more, this is also a story about a lot of privileged people being privileged and selfish and generally behaving fairly badly to each other while not considering ANY of the effects on anybody else. What seem like more frank portraits of everyone in the royal orbits is more interesting to read – as tell-all gossips often are – but doesn’t leave the reader with a whole lot of sympathy for much of anyone involved.

All of which is a very different reaction than I had to the author’s previous book about one of the royal family’s other notorious scapegraces, The Other Windsor Girl about the life of Princess Margaret. Which I liked quite a bit better because while the focus in that book was on Margaret, the story is told from an outsider’s perspective which lets us see, perhaps, a bit more clearly than Louise is able to see herself.

Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie BlalockThe Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel by Georgie Blalock
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a historical debut evoking the style of The Crown, the daughter of an impoverished noble is swept into the fame and notoriety of the royal family and Princess Margaret's fast-living friends when she is appointed as Margaret's second Lady-in-Waiting.

Diana, Catherine, Meghan…glamorous Princess Margaret outdid them all. Springing into post-World War II society, and quite naughty and haughty, she lived in a whirlwind of fame and notoriety. Georgie Blalock captures the fascinating, fast-living princess and her “set” as seen through the eyes of one of her ladies-in-waiting.

In dreary, post-war Britain, Princess Margaret captivates everyone with her cutting edge fashion sense and biting quips. The royal socialite, cigarette holder in one hand, cocktail in the other, sparkles in the company of her glittering entourage of wealthy young aristocrats known as the Margaret Set, but her outrageous lifestyle conflicts with her place as Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister. Can she be a dutiful princess while still dazzling the world on her own terms?

Post-war Britain isn’t glamorous for The Honorable Vera Strathmore. While writing scandalous novels, she dreams of living and working in New York, and regaining the happiness she enjoyed before her fiancé was killed in the war. A chance meeting with the Princess changes her life forever. Vera amuses the princess, and what—or who—Margaret wants, Margaret gets. Soon, Vera gains Margaret’s confidence and the privileged position of second lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Thrust into the center of Margaret’s social and royal life, Vera watches the princess’s love affair with dashing Captain Peter Townsend unfurl.

But while Margaret, as a member of the Royal Family, is not free to act on her desires, Vera soon wants the freedom to pursue her own dreams. As time and Princess Margaret’s scandalous behavior progress, both women will be forced to choose between status, duty, and love…

My Review:

Vera Strathmore may be telling this story, but it’s Princess Margaret who dominates every single page, just as she does Vera for ten of the best/worst/most notorious years of both of their lives.

This isn’t a complete biography of Margaret, nor is it intended as nonfiction. Not that the reader doesn’t wonder, every single step of the way, how much fact underlies the fiction.

After all, this was a storied life, conducted all too frequently in public, and most of the facts are known. Whether the author has captured the feelings behind those facts? Well, that’s something that the reader will have to decide for themselves.

But what we have feels like a peek behind the scenes of Buckingham Palace – or Buck Place as it is referred to in the book – into the life of Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, during Margaret’s glory years. The years when Margaret was to the post-war Press what Princess Diana became in the late-20th century – a source for endless photographs and reams of scandalous speculation and gossip, as well as a tear-jerker of a story of tragic romance.

The difference is that Margaret outlived her legend, while Diana never did.

But the times were very different. In 1949, when Vera meets the Princess, Britain is still languishing in the doldrums of post-war austerity. Unlike the US, rationing was still in force – and enforced. The old, privileged aristocratic way of life, so lovingly portrayed in Downton Abbey, was breathing its last – and Vera felt like her life was expiring with it.

Princess Margaret in 1951

Into the gloom of Vera’s life, as well as the gloom of post-war Britain, Princess Margaret, her outrageous bon mots and the larger-than-life antics of her “Set” blew through like a strong wind – a harbinger of change.

In the story, Vera served the Princess from 1949 to 1959. During that decade, Margaret went from the spoiled and self-indulgent but favorite daughter of the King to the disregarded and scandal-prone sister of the Queen. It’s no surprise that the years when Margaret is at her most sparkling are the years before her beloved father’s death.

And that she never manages to recapture that sparkle again.

Instead, we watch through Vera’s eyes as the Princess’ “set” breaks up and Margaret is increasingly alone. While the author never attempts to portray Margaret’s inner life, we see her actions, and their consequences, through Vera as she makes the Princess’ world her own – to her own detriment.

Because the Princess lives in a bubble of her own making. And when Vera, out of love and friendship, pricks that bubble even a little, she finds herself on the outside, alone and adrift, as everyone around her warned she would.

It’s only at that point that Vera finally takes her life in her own hands and forges her own path. A feat that Margaret, for all her privilege, never manages to achieve.

Escape Rating A-: I stayed up half the night reading this. It was like the best kind of gossip – compelling and absolutely fascinating from beginning to end, a peek into a world that I’ll never see in real life. At the same time, it also has the compulsion of driving by a wreck and being unable not to look. Knowing anything of Princess Margaret’s history we already know it’s a train wreck – but we can’t turn our eyes away as the vehicle – in this case Margaret’s life – crashes and burns.

I will also say that it is weird to see events that I remember contemporaneously being treated as historical fiction. Very weird. The whole idea that the 1960s have now become “historical” feels very odd indeed.

What everyone remembers of Margaret’s life is the irony factor in her tragic romance with Peter Townsend. In 1936, her uncle King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate the throne to her father, King George VI, because he wasn’t permitted to marry divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson. The head of the Church of England could not marry a divorced person. By 1953, Margaret had dropped from being heir presumptive to the throne on her sister’s ascension to being fourth in line after Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. But she was still high enough in that line, and divorce was still so deeply frowned upon that her desire to marry the divorced Peter Townsend – was forbidden by both her sister the Queen and the Church of England.

I always found it ironic that Margaret’s eventual marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones ended in divorce. In 1953 it was anathema for her to marry a divorcé, but by 1978 she had become one herself. In all likelihood, Margaret’s marital failure paved the way for the acceptance of the same by several of her royal nephews and nieces, including the Prince of Wales.

Princess Margaret in 1958

But Margaret in the 1950s is a compelling character who stands firmly at the center of this story – to the point where Vera and her own needs, wants and desires fade into the background – even for herself. We also see Margaret change from glittering to brittle as the spotlight moves away from her to her sister, the “perfect” Queen.

While Margaret had always been capricious and frequently cutting, the more she is pushed into the background the more she tried to escape that background by being as outrageous as possible – and the more those around her suffered for her whims and moods. Margaret is never a villain, but she is also never someone that Vera could or should rely on. Her whims could be cruel, and Vera and the other members of Margaret’s household were her closest and most frequent targets.

In the end, this is the portrayal of two women locked together in a crisis of their own making. The one who seemingly holds all the cards having less freedom than the one who initially feels like the dependent partner of a codependent relationship.

Margaret’s life was a train wreck, not all of it of her own making. And we can’t turn our eyes away.

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