Hello historical fiction/fictional biography/touch of non graphic romance fans! A shout out to fans of Victorian England and the monarchy as well. And finally, salutations Masterpiece Theater junkies! Ring for tea and get comfy because here is a book for you: Victoria by Daisy Goodwin. Goodwin wrote the book while she wrote the script for PBS’s Masterpiece 7 part series beginning January 2017.
I liked Daisy Goodwin’s American Heiress–it was a gem in the quarry-but didn’t get into The Fortune Hunter. Along came Victoria, and based on reviews and my cult like love of Masterpiece Theater, I picked it up. And put it down 90 pages later. And picked it up the next morning before work…
Goodwin shares Victoria’s life from just before her coronation to her engagement to Albert. She explores her relationship with her mother and her mother’s advisors, and with Lord Melbourne, her older Prime Minister and advisor. As with many fictionalized biographies, some of the details are adjusted and imagined for the greater goal of painting a portrait of an historical figure. Goodwin maintains the emotional core of Victoria so that we can become acquainted with an authentic version of her younger days. She delves into who Victoria really was, rather than the mythical queen wrapped up in Victorian mores. I think she thoughtfully reflects her age and developing maturity as well.
Here is your chance to sift through fact and folklore with two companion pieces.
For a more historical picture of the young queen who lent her name to an entire era, try Julia Baird’s Victoria: The Queen. This non fiction offering might satisfy the history buffs.
Masterpiece Theater will air the 7 part series in January 2017. I suspect this will follow the book with slightly more glamorous players.
The book shelves are flush with fictional biographies of women, many of whom are remembered as the wives of someone famous. Marie Benedict adds to this library with The Other Einstein, a novel about Mileva Maric, brilliant mathematician and first wife of Albert Einstein. Mileva is from a modest background and has a hip deformity that gives her a limp and appears to preclude her from getting married. Her disability allows her the freedom to pursue mathematics,as she does at the Polytechnic in Zürich. There she meets Albert Einstein: charming, brilliant, distracting.
The Other Einstein details Mileva and Albert’s courtship, marriage and ends at their divorce (not really a spoiler since she is known as his first wife.)
I found myself reading with interest for the first half of the book, and angrily for its conclusion. My very naive knowledge of Einstein must come from folk lore and swag: the picture on t-shirts and books, smiling with his eyes kindly crinkling, and knowledge seeming to circle his head. Mileva appears to escape some of the constraints for women in the early 1900s; her hip problems free her from marriage and her genius is nurtured. She is able to continue her education, and her determination, drive and intellect opens doors not always open to women. It seemed as if she was ahead of her time! Even her courtship with Einstein seems a bit extraordinary. It is when she becomes pregnant and is forced to choose a more traditional path that both her academic pursuits and her romance with Einstein falter. Einstein’s resentful treatment of Mileva will get right under your skin. The controversy surrounding her input to Einstein’s relativity papers is an effective chunk of this second half of the book I found that whole portion of the novel frustrating, and if I didn’t decide to research some of the facts as I read, I would have found it all hard to believe and a huge diversion from the first half. Mary, Simone, Betty, Alice, Sojourner, Elizabeth, Susan B…where are you?!
Still, exasperation or not, I recommend The Other Einstein. It is a good read, and any book that prompts me to learn more, react strongly, and want to discuss is worth a look!
Ray & Joan by Lisa Napoli is a fascinating new biography about Ray Kroc, the man who built McDonald’s into a billion dollar franchise, and Joan Kroc, his wife who gave that fortune away. Ray Kroc was a salesman, peddling milk shake machines when he met the two brothers who started McDonald’s in California. He signed on to help sell franchises and eventually bought out the brothers. He met Joan when she was playing the piano at the Criterion and he was selling the franchises, and they fell in love, though didn’t marry for quite a while. At the end of Ray’s life, his fortune was huge and even included the San Diego Padres. He and Joan lived the good life, outwardly displaying both their wealth and their generosity, but privately had a tumultuous alcohol infused marriage. After Ray’s death, Joan took stock of her fortune and began her philanthropy in earnest. She was a news junkie, and had a soft spot for those in need. She couldn’t fix everything, but often would listen to speakers or meet people at dinner parties and gift them with million dollar checks. Many of those gifts didn’t match Ray’s politics or philosophies, but Joan was generous anyway, often insisting on anonymity.
What I like: another very readable but not salacious biography from the Mad Men era. Here were two people who lived large, were cut throat when it came to business and making money, but were incredibly generous. It is like the hypothetical Power Ball question: if I win the Power Ball, I will definitely give lots of money to charity. Somehow thinking of those charities makes my odds feel a little better…Joan had the Power Ball fortune. There are pages and pages at the end of the book listing her gifts for just a few years, and acknowledging there were many, many more gifts that no one knows anything about. The anonymous caveat to many of her gifts makes book all the more intriguing. Some of her causes: recovery for alcoholics, AIDS, nuclear disarmament, the Salvation Army, NPR.
This January, the movie The Founder comes out starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern, B.J. Novak and Linda Cardellini, and to this reader, looks like a fabulous chaser to Ray & Joan. I recommend this rags to riches to philanthropy biography about the Krocs.