Saturday, September 19, 2009

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography - judging the book by its covers

At over 1000 pages, William Shawcross' Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography is more heavy collectible than an actual read, something to position near a west window on bright afternoons when sunlight can play on the title gold lettering. Mind the dust motes.

Certainly very few people will read it through. Aside from its weight - the osteoporotic are advised to stack up on splints - its prose is so exquisitely formal as to garrote any semblance of breathing life. It is a words vacuum for image mummification: a relic for grazers of Majesty magazine; and a posthumous and flattering gift from the Queen to the memory of her venerated mother. That's evident from the covers, so let's keep the book shut and just savour its wrapping.

Where to start? Well, royalty's pet paparazzo, Cecil Beaton, natch. His two portraits of the Queen Mother adorn front and back: both left-profile visions of a benevolent goddess. In both she smiles, a royal heresy that won over her publics long before teeth bleaching was considered necessary. The front photo rings bells if you collect royal mugs: it's how we remember the old girl in tissue paper in the commemorative box. It's a clever resonance for the sentimental ma'am-ers. The myopic may treat the background vases as a reminder to visit the optician once again, but they should be reassured that the ornaments are indeed a little out of focus: all the better to draw the eye to the sharply focused simplicity of Elizabeth and her pearls (the body) while furnishing a sense of hinted splendour (the vases in the palace).

The pic at the rear is an "intimate" and surprisingly close-up shot of Elizabeth as pretty young Queen: crowned and bejewelled. It is nonetheless, like the front pic, a formal shot of knowing, crafted intimacy - a visual suggestion here that we're about to get personal between the covers. But not that personal: absence of any qualifying or promising text makes that clear. Here's the image - let's go with it.

Which brings us back to the front cover. The book title - which is nothing more than Elizabeth's royal title in her epic widowhood - alone is a promise that whatever revelations are made, none will dishonour the subject. To emphasise this message, the embossed gold of "Queen Elizabeth" marks the value of reverence. The bulla words "The Official Biography" stamp Elizabeth II's own imprimatur. There's no sell, no sensational under-the skirts IVF promise. Here's the monument: bow or curtsey with your debit card. No wonder Shawcross writes of being "honoured" by the Queen's invitation to construct her gift to mummy. No warts 'n' all, ducky.

The funereal monochrome of the two photos subliminally repeats the Queen's own view that the royal family is not showbiz: her instinct for dullness explains her enduring neutrality as a public figure, a dullness her mother did not possess. Now open the book and learn at the feet of a master-flunky.

Bow or curtsey

15 comments:

Coley said...

But do we get to know if George VI ate her pussy?

Talking of which, how`s Sooter?

Madame Arcati said...

Sadly not, I just don't think they tongue-fued in the way the Duchess of Windsor did.

Sooter is licking her pussy.

Anonymous said...

"In both she smiles, a royal heresy that won over her publics long before teeth bleaching was considered necessary"

Fucking bitch.

Anonymous said...

This is not a review at all. I have never read so much piffle.

Anonymous said...

Well, you never disappoint.

a late Royal corgi said...

I think it's an excellent review and it's correct that no-one will read the bloody thing so why did they bother ?. If there's no rutting and bonking what's the point ?. They should have got Kitty Kelley to do it.

Madame Arcati said...

Kitty Kelley did write The Royals in which she claimed the Queen and Margaret were conceived by an early form of IVF: the book contains many great stories about the Queen Mother, and I think was the first to suggest that she had romantic feelings for David, later Edward VIII - the cause of her hatred of the Duchess of Windsor. I need to go back to the book to refresh my memory (I have a copy that was lent me by the late Sheridan Morley - I never returned it!)

Crawfie said...

Fabulous review, highly original take. I'm reading Shawcross's book now. It's interesting in places but generally boring and uninformative. Far too long.

Anonymous said...

If Madame Arcati could confine herself/himself to this kind of reviewing, I'd read the site all the time. xx

Rouged Cheeks said...

William Shawcross is the biggest brownnoser of all time - like James Lees-Milne without balls. I was absolutely staggered by his aggressive and simpering performance on Woman's Hour. A ghastly fraud of a person and an embarrasing, puerile book.

Anonymous said...

Shawcross must be annoyed that the only questions being put to him is whether his book is a whitewash because the Queen invited him to write it. She chose her man well. And he knew that she could withdraw her permission if she was offended by the result. She did get to read the manuscript after all. That's Called COPY APPROVAL in my world.

Interesting review Arcati.

another late Royal corgi said...

Like mother like daughter ?.

I've read Kelley's The Royals and there is wonderful anecdote of Prince Phillip emerging from the stateroom on the Britannia while on their honeymoon to announce "she won't keep her bloody hands off me. She's insatiable "

An aide took him aside to inform him that such announcements weren't becoming of a future monarch.

But don't her Maj's subjects deserve such knowledge ?.It would make them even more endearing.

Anonymous said...

Well, he was absolutely gorgeous when he was younger, can you blame her? Actually, I read something similar somewhere else and not from something that was taken from Kitty Kelley. Remember, the Queen is a Taurean female.

gb said...

I kind of enjoyed this mini biography...
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-gin-servants-and-bloodlines-for-royaltys-alf-garnett-in-a-tiara-1792793.html
"Alf Garnett in a tiara" is an image that will stay with me...

Rehan Qayoom said...

I've been waiting a few years for this superb biography. Reading it now in its intireity. Great Review.