The Last Intellectual
- BuyCounting One’s Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother edited by William Shawcross
Macmillan, 666 pp, £25.00, October 2012, ISBN 978 0 230 75496 6
Every generation gets the queen mother it desires, or deserves (to adapt Jacquetta Hawkes’s remark about Stonehenge). Seemingly impassive as any megalith, she waved and smiled through a century. From blushing bride to reluctant queen to the good old queen mum, she was respected, fawned on, laughed at or detested largely according to the prejudices of the beholder. In public she said very little after the magazine interview she gave on her engagement in 1923, which was not felt to have been a success. Her only widely remembered remark, made during the Blitz, was that she was glad Buckingham Palace had been bombed as it made her feel she could look the East End in the eye, thus allowing Spitting Image to present her forty years later as a gin-swilling commoner. Since then death and William Shawcross have done little to humanise her. His biography was pious to a degree and, like his equally fulsome edition of her letters, much too long.[*] Despite all of which a personality, powerful and in some ways admirable and unusual, manages to break through.
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[*] Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross (Pan, 1120 pp., £9.99, July 2010, 978 0 330 43430 0).