Category Archives: Biography

Encounters with Harriet Martineau – Stuart Hobday

Encounters with Harriet Martineau – Stuart Hobday

I hadn’t heard of Harriet Martineau until someone in my Victorian Literature study group announced she wanted to do a presentation on her – so in the interests of being prepared (I am still reeling from knowing nothing about Jane Austen’s military brothers and being put on the spot to lead that session) I decided to read something. I searched on my Kindle and this book came up and it was a good choice – well written, easy to read and containing a huge amount of research.

Harriet Martineau was a woman ahead of her time who has largely been forgotten by history because she was writing in time that was dominated by white christian men. She believed in universal human suffrage, education and evidence based science. She knew and influenced an enormous number of Victorian era luminaries – Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell …

She was out-spoken and radical and investigated things for her self – slavery in the US, religion in the middle east, etc.

We need an amazing historical novelist – Hilary Mantel perhaps? – to write about her and bring her to the world’s attention.

I haven’t been able to find any reviews of this book, but you can read more about it at Unbound


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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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