Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Secret Journals of Queen Elizabeth II, Edited by Constance, Lady Crabtree

I am an Anglophile.  No surprise there, considering my choice of Master’s thesis topic, my choice of reading, and my choice of TV viewing.  But on top of being an Anglophile, I’m a monarchist.  I advocate for the role of the Queen in Canada, and will join in on any rendition of God Save the Queen that occurs within my earshot.  So, when I was handed a book this week entitled The Secret Journals of Queen Elizabeth II, I couldn’t wait to dig in.  

The Journals, edited by Constance, Lady Crabtree, are culled from HRH’s personal journals, which she’s been keeping since the year of her assent to the throne.  Lady Crabtree reviewed all the original materials and selected multiple passages from 1953 to 1988.  In these entries, the reader is treated to an ‘inside-the-palace’ view of Lilibeth and her family, her travels, and her country.  

Oh, and by the way, they’re all fake.  Of course they are.  For about a minute when I was handed the book, I wondered why I had never heard of this compilation before as it wasn’t out the realm (pardon the pun) of possibility – after all, Queen Victoria was a noted diarist whose personal writings have been published.  When I started flipping through the book, two things were made it pretty obvious I was dealing this a satire: 1- the New Year’s resolutions for 1955 included “…stop laying foundations stones.  My back aches for days afterwards.” And 2- the author’s picture of Lady Crabtree looks suspiciously like a dude.  

Needless to say, all that brought me to a new appreciation for the book, even before I started reading it!  Satire AND the monarchy?  I’m in.  What is depicted of HRH in these pages is a woman who is a little naïve of all things sexual, a wife whose husband a sense of humour that is questionable, a mother whose children are less than successful in their personalities, and a monarch who is the institutional memory for a nation.  Sprinkled in between all that are race-horses and corgis.  It rocks. 

Authored as it was in 1988, it’s more than a little out of date.  For a tongue-in-cheek look at British royal life and politics, it does its job amiably.  However, as someone who was 3 when it was published, a lot of the jokes go over my head.  What it relatable to anyone who has a passing knowledge of the politics/history of Britain during that period is the description of the royal tours, the royal family, and the royal news-making events.  The reader is treated to ‘Elizabeth’s’ impressions of her commonwealth, and to a look at the Queen Mum, Prince Philip, and her children/grandchildren that, while obviously fake, still ring true.  I would assume the reason for that is that ‘Lady Crabtree’ only had the public personas to write about, so of course the reader’s impressions will be the same.  It might be false, but it’s enjoyable.

The real gut-busting laughs, however, comes with Elizabeth’s impressions of her Prime Ministers.  From Churchill to Thatcher, the Queen worked closely with them all.  Churchill, however, is depicted as a bull-dog who should probably be left to sleep in front of a fire somewhere, chewing on a favorite slipper, while Thatcher is depicted as a whirl-wind of presumptive energy, who thinks nothing of hemming the Queen’s drapes while briefing her on the war in the Falklands.  In a no-holds-barred telling of the political history of the nation, the work taps into the public impression of its politicians and turns them into Punch-like characters for the modern era.  Again, it’s all fake, but it’s believably fake.

In the end, I highly recommend that you read this book.  It’s hilarious.  I could only wish that someone would put together an up-dated version from 1988 to today.  I would love to get the ‘Queen’s’ impression on the 24-hour news cycle (which was just coming about in the 80s) and Kate Middleton.  In some ways, I suppose this exists already – for those who are curious to know when it’s #ginoclock, I highly recommend you follow @Queen_UK on Twitter.  But, having a compilation of her impressions of modern life would be highly satisfying as well.  In the end, I suggest you seek out this book, and enjoy!  

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