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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch


My secret of the week is that I've actually had this book for about five years; I got it as part of a horrible internship experience at a literary-themed location and I have had it on my TBR shelf ever since. After wrapping up the second season of Netflix's The Crown, I decided that this would be a good read over the winter break.

I am unsure where to begin describing a biography on Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II. It feels like we all at a minimum know who she is, and depending on your birth cohort, you may or may not know very much about her. The basics, however, are very straightforward. Her father, King George VI, died when she was in her mid-twenties, and she is the longest reigning monarch in the history of England. beating even Queens Elizabeth I and Victoria, her great-great-grandmother. She assumed the throne when she was a young wife and mother, and has grown up in the spotlight. She has dealt with a great deal of crises, from experiencing World War II as a child in England to the current wars in the Middle East, she has taken on a great deal and has been the Queen we all never knew we were always looking for.

This book was published in 2012, as the monarchy was just past the Golden Jubilee, celebrating Elizabeth's 50 years on the throne. That year was actually Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, which marked 60 years on the throne. This book enumerates the many events -- both celebratory and crises -- that the Queen dealt with in her first 50 years. The recounting of her relationship with Winston Churchill was particularly interesting, and well worth reading, and I very much enjoyed the connection between the Netflix series and the history I was reading about. I actually found that I retained quite a bit of information from the show, which I felt this book augmented well. That being said, once we were out of the narrative of the second season, where the show currently is, I started to find the political writing to be pedantic. My eyes glazed over, and I put this book down for a couple of weeks. I finally accepted that I could skip over the boring parts and just read the interesting ones. My one issue with this book is that it felt "sanctioned," as if they monarchy approved of everything in it and very little interesting tidbits were contained within its pages. I wanted more scintillating stories as opposed to a recounting of Elizabeth's relationships with her Prime Ministers. It is what it is, though, and I did find the majority of this book to be interesting, especially once we hit the last half.

I really, really wanted to get 1980 and the hear what Bedell Smith had to say about the relationship between the Queen and Diana. This is where I thought the meat of the book existed, even though the author tampers down what I think is really lying within the folds of that relationship. I very much appreciate Bedell Smith's honesty about Diana, as it was a side of her I didn't know. This is because I was born in the very early 1980's in America and I was only familiar with "The People's Princess" side of her, not the side that contained her insecurities, her mood swings, and her devious nature. I was always under the impression that Prince Charles was in the wrong, and I come to find out that this was public relations at its finest. It appears that's not why Diana got into the marriage, but it's clear that is what she wanted everyone to believe when she got out of it. I have a newfound appreciation for Prince Charles, and I see his relationship with Camilla in a different light. I had no clue that the infidelities started with Diana, and I felt that Bedell Smith gave a clear and strait story about the relationship that didn't rely on gossip (see -- it came in handy for some of the book's content!) but was just simply the facts as we know them.

The Queen elicited a great deal of sympathy from me after reading this biography. I can't even imagine growing up in the spotlight in that way, and having a set of living that you have done all of your life only to have to adapt and change based on a whole country's -- commonwealth's, really -- opinion of you and your job. Although really, it's more than a job, as it's something you are born to and brought to power by fate and luck alone. I am looking forward to moving forward in The Crown and I highly recommend this biography as a companion piece. 

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