Monthly Archives: December 2015

Sheila: The Australian ingenue who bewitched British society – Robert Wainwright

Sheila - Robert Wainwright

Sheila – Robert Wainwright

This was a birthday present – I had never even heard of Sheila!

Here’s the blurb …

Vivacious, confident and striking, young Australian Sheila Chisholm met her English husband, Lord Loughborough, in Egypt during the First World War. Arriving in London as a young married woman, she quickly conquered English society, and would spend the next half a century inside the palaces, mansions and clubs of the elite. Her clandestine affair with young Bertie, the future George VI, caused ruptures at Buckingham Palace, with King George offering his son the title Duke of York in exchange for ‘never hearing of the Australian again’. Sheila subsequently became Lady Milbanke and ended her days as Princess Dimitri of Russia, juggling her royal duties with a successful career as a travel agent. Throughout her remarkable life, she won the hearts of men ranging from Rudolph Valentino to Prince Obolensky, and maintained longstanding friendships with Evelyn Waugh, Wallis Simpson, Idina Sackville and Nancy Mitford. A story unknown to most, Sheila is a spellbinding account of an utterly fascinating woman.

This was an interesting biography about a woman who knew all of the ‘big names’ of the early 20th century – the Prince of Wales, Rudolf Valentino, etc. I am not sure I would describe her life as being particularly happy (her first husband had gambling and alcohol problems and a son died during the war), but she lived through interesting times.

This is an easy read and there are a lot of photos at various times to keep you interested. Like this one

Sheila with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York

Sheila with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York

If you like social history with glamour and money, then this biography is for you.

Reviews …

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The Ladies of Missalonghi – Colleen McCullough

The Ladies of Missalonghi - Colleen McCullough

The Ladies of Missalonghi – Colleen McCullough

I read this book years ago – probably when it was first published in 1987 – and then there was the plagiarism controversy and it vanished (was it out of print). Anyway, I found a copy at the Rottnest General Store and I decided it was a good beach read.

Here is the blurb …

 Sometimes fairy tales can come true–even for plain, shy spinsters like Missy Wright. Neither as pretty as cousin Alicia nor as domineering as mother Drusilla, she seems doomed to a quiet life of near poverty at Missalonghi, her family’s pitifully small homestead in Australia’s Blue Mountains. But it’s a brand new century–the twentieth–a time for new thoughts and bold new actions. And Missy Wright is about to set every self-righteous tongue in the town of Byron wagging. Because she has just set her sights on a mysterious, mistrusted, and unsuspecting stranger… who just might be Prince Charming in disguise.

This was a light, fun read without too much going on – the awful cousin and the terrible men of the family get what they deserve, Missy finds wealth and will live happily ever after. There is also a mystical/ghostly element to it. What’s not to like? It is definitely like The Blue Castle written by L.M Montgomery (of whom I am a huge fan) just moved from Canada to Australia (and a little bit rougher around the edges shall we say). The Blue Castle is available on Project Gutenberg Australia, which means it must be out of copy right (at least here) and that’s why The Ladies of Missalonghi has been re-released.

Read it as a curiosity, but if you haven’t read The Blue Castle, then I would read that first and not bother with this one.

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Restoration – Rose Tremain

Restoration - Rose Tremain

Restoration – Rose Tremain

I have a list of books that I have read and mean to blog about, but it is getting quite long and I don’t take notes while reading, so by the time I get to a particular book on the list all I have is a vague memory of the novel and whether I liked it or not.

Here’s the Wikipedia plot summary for this one …

The novel tells the story of Robert Merivel, a 17th-century English physician. After supervising the recovery of one of the dogs of King Charles II, he is appointed surgeon to all of the king’s dogs. He then joins in all of the debauchery of King Charles’ court. The king then arranges a marriage of convenience between Merivel and one of his mistresses, Celia Clemence. This is done purely to fool the king’s other mistress Barbara Castlemaine. Merivel is given an estate named Bidnold in Norfolk, and Celia is installed in a house in Kew, where the king can visit her secretly.

In Norfolk, Merivel abandons the practice of medicine, and lives a dissipated life in which he tries to take up painting with the help of an ambitious painter named Elias Finn. Things start to change when Celia is sent to Bidnold by the king after displeasing him. One night Merivel drunkenly makes advances to her, and is promptly reported to the king by Elias Finn. The result is that the king confiscates the Bidnold estate from Merivel.

Merivel then joins his old student friend John Pearce at the New Bedlam hospital, also in Norfolk. (New Bedlam is fictitious and should not be confused with the real Bedlam in London.) This is a hospital for the mentally ill, run by Quakers, of whom Pearce is a member. In earlier parts of the novel, Pearce has condemned the sinfulness of Merivel’s lifestyle, and Merivel now joins the hospital with the best of intentions, and hoping to rediscover his medical vocation. However, things go wrong when he has an affair with a patient named Katharine and makes her pregnant. This coincides with the death of Pearce. He is expelled from the hospital, and travels with Katharine to be with her mother in London.

In London, which is then experiencing the Great Plague, Merivel continues practising medicine. Katharine has a baby girl, but dies in childbirth. During the Great Fire of London in 1666, Merivel rescues an elderly woman from a burning house. It is this which regains him the king’s favour, and at the end the king allows him to live at Bidnold with his daughter.

The title of the novel refers both to the Restoration period during which it occurs, and to the novel’s ending when Merivel returns to Bidnold and the king’s favour.

This novel is a rollicking ride of debauchery, finery, sadness and redemption. Merivel cannot stop himself destroying his own advantages – at heart he is a good person, but he is lazy and greedy (for everything food, money the king’s attention). I enjoyed it immensly  and when I get to the end of my enormous pile of to be read books I shall read Merievel: A Man of his Time.

The BBC World Book Club has an interview with Rose Tremain, which is definitely worth listening to and here are more reviews …

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