An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blalock
Princess Louise is the daughter of Queen Victoria, who since Prince Albert’s death, has clung onto her children and severely restricted their actions. In this brilliantly written novel, which quickly became totally absorbing, Louise is shown deciding that she must make her break for freedom, or submit to being a shadowy figure at the beck and call of an unpredictable woman with tremendous influence. It is subtitled “A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Defiant Daughter” but Louise argues with her mother and rejects some of her demands to achieve a level of freedom for herself or those she loves. This is an effective story of a young woman who has talent, determination and passion, but must battle against the odds and the expectations of others to claim the freedom taken for granted by many. Apart from the remarkable Louise there are other characters who are introduced and consistent throughout the novel including members of the royal family like Bertie, Victoria’s heir, as well as the artistic circle the princess was desperate to join. Her secret relationship with Edgar Boehm, the famous sculptor, is documented elsewhere, but here it is explored in all the challenges and devotion it involved. Her ambition to be the sculptor her father would have wanted is her first and long-lasting obsession, but she discovers that to be an artist in a vacuum is impossible. I found this to be an extraordinarily absorbing book which kept faith with the biography I had read of Princess Louise, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this enjoyable book.
The book begins in February 1868 as Louise addresses Parliament in place of her mother, who clings to the idea of being the reclusive and sorrowing widow several years after Albert’s death. She has a triumphant reception and is congratulated by Mr Disraeli the new Prime Minister. Louise remembers her beloved father’s wish for her to be an artist and is especially grateful to Disraeli for a gift and the assurance that she did well. Her two female attendants, the young Lady Sybil, her staunch friend, and Lady Ely, spy for her mother, typify the challenges that she faces. When she is told that her tutor can no longer keep teaching her, Louise campaigns to be allowed to attend the National School that her father established. A very grudging permission enables her to enter a new world of artistic endeavour, and although it takes time for her to be accepted as a genuine artist by her peers, she is soon seizing every opportunity to meet other artists. When a mutual attraction is confirmed with Boehm, she has to adopt many subterfuges to spend time with him. Meanwhile her brother Leopold is chafing against the restrictions that his illness places upon him, as he is desperate to live a full life like his brothers. Louise has to cope with her siblings’ varying levels of support and active dislike for her activities, her mother’s frequent impositions and the public’s reaction to her as she tries to live a fulfilling and free life.
This is a novel which brings to life an unconventional woman who has to find the bravery to fulfil her deepest desires. It is detailed and atmospheric, representing an impressive level of research into real lives, the buildings and settings they inhabited, as well as the demands of the artistic world at the time. The research is never just deposited, but skilfully woven into the narrative giving it real depth and conveying a deep understanding of the time and people involved in Louise’s life. This is a deeply satisfying read of a woman’s search for happiness despite opposition, and I recommend it as an excellent read.