This will be a short Book Club post, not because the book in question isn’t great (it is!) but because I totally ran out of time to write it. Mea culpa and all that. I originally picked Aristocrats because I thought going the non-fiction route would be a nice change of pace, and was inspired by a recent Vanity Fair issue to think about famous sisters. Afterwards, I realized that the book also provides a nice contrast to last month’s Regency romance novel, which revolved around a large extended family. The eras might not line up perfectly, but they’re close enough, and one of the things I loved about Aristocrats is the glimpse inside the personal/romantic lives of its subjects.
Before I go on, I would be remiss in not telling you that if you liked the book, you need to watch the BBC series that was based on it. The performances and set/costume design are fabulous.
What I Liked
Um, everything? Seriously, I found this to be an excellently written non-fiction book. For me, it struck the right balance of scholarly/informative and readable/enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the psychological portraits of each of the sisters, and the fascinating insights into their day-to-day lives. Some things — OK, a lot of things — boggled my mind.
Emily and Kildare had 19 children; that’s Duggar territory, and Emily had a whole OTHER life after her first husband died; even with all the help that she would have had as a member of the aristocracy, I can’t begin to imagine the challenges of that sort of life.
Although at least two of the sisters married for love (or largely for love) in the first instance, and had happy marriages by the standards of the day, extramarital affairs (on the husbands’ parts, natch) were still a regular occurence … and did not render those marriages any less successful, for lack of a better word.
The treatment that Sarah received prior to, during, and immediately after her first marriage, at the hands of everyone around her including herself, made me both angry and immensely sad. In fact, there were many aspects of the sisters’ lives, resulting from the ingrained patriarchy of the time, that tested my resolve to not judge people so far removed from my own time and social mores. (Then again, with cases like that of the Stanford rapist so often in the news these days, maybe our culture does not have the moral high ground anyway.) On a smaller scale, this book was eye-opening and informative in the same way as Antonia Fraser’s The Weaker Vessel, which detailed the lives and “lot” of women in 17th Century England (so, about a century earlier than the Aristocrats). Needless to say, I would heartily recommend both books.
What I Didn’t Like
As I mentioned above, some of the things that happened to the Lennox sisters made me sad and/or mad, but that is not Ms. Tilyard’s fault. I think she went out of her way to be fair to all of her subjects, including the other significant people in the sisters’ lives, which is an approach I appreciate in a biographer, even when (as a reader) I am not always able to maintain that same detachment.
Your turn: what did you think of Aristocrats?
For next month’s Book Club, I’m a little bit stumped. I am heading into a three week long hearing at work, and I am still trying to finish writing my third book, so realistically I won’t have much time for “fun” reading in July. Instead of setting myself up for inevitable failure, let’s call it a “freebie” month: read a book of your choice, and then share your thoughts with us in the comment section of the next Book Club post, which will go up on July 29, 2016. In return, I will happily answer your questions, book-related or otherwise, in that July 29 post. Feel free to leave your questions here or to email them to me directly over the course of the month.
[By the way, if you’re not sure what book(s) to read this month, I have a couple of suggestions for you. As an early birthday celebration, I have dropped the prices on my first two books for the month of July. You can find Archer & Bell ($2.99) and Gresham Park ($0.99) on Amazon, available for download on Kindle or any mobile devices.]