M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

An Uncommon Woman: The Empress Frederick by Hannah Pakula

An Uncommon Woman:  The Empress Frederick by Hannah Pakula (1996, 790 pages)

A Marvelous Biography of Princess Vicky-
Daughter of Queen Victoria and Mother to Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia


I used to read a lot of biographies of  European royalty.   I have gotten away from it the last couple of years.   An Uncommon Woman:  The Empress Frederick by Hannah Pakula has restarted my interest.   Victoria, called Vicky (1840 to 1901), was the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.   She was for many years the wife of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia (1831 to 1888) who was emperor for only 99 days when his father Emperor William I (1797 to 1888) died.   She was called Empress Frederick when her husband ascended the throne and was for the rest of her life known by this title.   She was the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm (1859 to 1941-he abdicated in 1918).   

An Uncommon Woman:  The Empress Frederick is a great biography.   It is not just a biography of its subject but also of her husband and her son, her mother and father, her in laws, Russian Royalty and the very powerful and dominating Otto Von Bismark (1815 to 1898-Prime Minister of Prussia 1860 to 1890).   

The book lets us see how Princess Vicky lived her life on a day to day basis as well as her role in German and pan-European politics.    This book makes it very clear that the rulers of Europe were really all related.    Marriages were political tools and meant to build alliances.   The book is also a political history of all of Europe and a social history as well.   We get an in depth look at the medical procedures of the time and German theories of child raising.

One of  the dominant things I came away from this book with was  a clear  sense that Bismark was to blame for much of the evils caused by Germany in the first half of the 20th century.    

From the standpoint of a reader of 19th century literature Pakula helps us understand the difference in attitudes toward women in marriages in England versus the German states.    I understand a bit better Katherine Mansfield's contempt for German housefraus.  

There is just a huge amount to be learned from this biography.   The level of writing is very high and there are no unsupported speculative claims.   

An Uncommon Woman:  The Empress Frederick is a top notch biography that anyone interested in the period will really love.   

The life of Princess Victoria is as interesting as any heroine of a 19th century novel.   

Hannah Pakula (USA) has also written a biography of Queen Marie of Romania and Madame Chaing Kai-Shek.   I hope to read these books one day.   

There is additional information on Pakula on her webpage.


I have other biographies of European royalty on my shelves (some of them have been there for years) and I will be reading more soon.  


Mel u

4 comments:

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I love royal biographies, but haven't read this one yet. Thanks for the recommendation :)

Parrish Lantern said...

Although not a great fan of Royal biogs or a great royalist to be truthful, this does sound interesting due to its historical & political perspective of an exciting point in euro history.

mel u said...

Sam (Tiny Library) do you have some favorite royal bios you can endorse?

Parrish Lantern-once you go back a certain distance-the most knowable lives in history seem to be those of royalty as only their stories were recorded

Madeleine said...

I am tempted to buy this bio, from a historical and more mundane point of view it seems very interesting.

Will put it on my wish list, thank-you for the review mel :)