Title: Counting One’s Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
Author: edited by William Shawcross
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Page Count: 688
William Shawcross’s official biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, published in September 2009, was a huge critical and commercial success. One of the great revelations of the book was Queen Elizabeth’s insightful, witty private correspondence. Indeed, The Sunday Times described her letters as “wonderful . . . brimful of liveliness and irreverence, steeliness and sweetness.” Now, Shawcross has put together a selection of her letters, drawing on the vast wealth of material in the Royal Archives and at Glamis Castle. Queen Elizabeth was a prolific correspondent from her earliest childhood before the First World War to the very end of her long life at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and her letters offer readers a vivid insight into the real person behind the public face. (summary from goodreads)
I had hoped this book would be a personal, enlightening view into the mind of the Queen Mother, because it’s composed of her letters, but instead it’s a bland, boring book. If I didn’t have a thing about finishing books, I likely would have stopped after the first few letters. The book is almost a disservice to the Queen Mother — her personality comes across as silly and vapid.
The letters from World War II were the most interesting, and if you’re going to skim over any of this book, I recommend checking out those letters. That’s where her “steel” shows through. Shawcross also includes her wartime broadcasts in that section.
However, other than that, this book is a real slog to get through. I think it would have been vastly improved by cutting down on the number of letters in the book (they span her entire life, from childhood to death), and including the letters she was responding to. There’s no context for 95% of the Queen Mother’s letters, and basically I felt like I was reading thank you note after thank you note. There’s only one instance where the text of a letter she replied to is included — a note from Prince Philip. Why only that letter? I wish I knew.
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