To London, with Love: Royal Mania!

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Ivan Lett

Only one month away from the Royal wedding, and the anticipation will only go up from here. Earlier this month, Prince William and Kate Middleton made the cover of Entertainment Weekly titled, “You are invited to a MEDIA FRENZY!”, photo slideshows on websites, and this doesn’t even count all the tabloid coverage and junk news sites. And of course there are rumors about the dress: that it is to be designed by Alexander McQueen design lead, Sarah Burton, as Style List leaked earlier in March after months of speculation; and that it’s going to be red…but that shouldn’t be a stretch for the McQueen team. The dress would be a nice lead-up to the Met’s Costume Institute exhibition, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” opening in early May, looking back on McQueen’s transformative power on fashion.

Our Sales Conference is the same day as the wedding; the Brits get a national holiday.

Still, I invoke bragging rights as a UP with an office in London because of the kinds of books acquired there and published here. (If you’re fans of ours, be sure to check out the London Yale Books blog and Facebook pages.) In one case, the author was right here on campus and I never knew until the book was nearly out: The Eagle and the Crown: Americans and the British Monarchy, by Frank Prochaska, lecturer in Yale’s History department. His book let me know that I’m not alone; quote me.

I had a poster of the monarchy from Alfred the Great to Elizabeth II, brought back from a trip to London, at age eight; it accompanied one of those classic-style Ladybird books. I hung it on the wall and memorized the lineage and successions, actually a great party trick: just give me a year and I’ll tell you the British monarch or vice versa. And there was all the American news about Diana and Fergie and Charles—somewhere around the house there was a commemorative china dish for Elizabeth’s coronation, coffee table biographies of Diana and Vicotria. I never heard others’ families talk about the Royalty, never rummaged through their belongings for the obscure trinket. People collect all kinds of this stuff!

Eagle and the Crown: Americans and the British Monarchy: Frank Prochaska From the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, to Princess Diana, members of the royal family have been major players in the emergence of America’s obsession with fame, offering and exclusive and classy contrast to the instant creations of the media. Hereditary kingship also propels British ceremonial, which has dazzled the citizens of a young nation comparatively lacking in hallowed settings and traditions. American expressions of joy and sorrow at royal marriages and funerals, coronations and jubilees have been extraordinary, given the rejection of the monarchy during the Revolution.  

So when I say that I am not alone, I am discounting the scores of obsessive Tudor fans—there’s the TV show, the English Renaissance costumes and then the shelves and shelves of novels on so many Tudor characters, some with fictional protagonists—so I guess it’s more period- than family-based. It’s not that I don’t like historical fiction—I do—but with a family history as complicated and tempestuous as the Tudor dynasty, the truth does more than enough for me.

I dipped my toe in the fictional Tudor world with Phillippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl before seeing the movie. I got it: the drama, the invention and embellishment, the obsessive touching of the “B” necklace because it is otherwise so subtle in our present day. But something still bothered me, almost like a movie adaptation of a book you love and know by heart, and then they change everything to fit run time, budget, and special effects. I like making up my own mind about people in history, whether heroes or villains, and Gregory’s third-person narrator was too much. Unlike historian Alison Weir, whom I give an unlimited number of passes for her occasional exaggerated judgments of characters, the book was rather slanted. But, as a novel it’s certainly Gregory’s prerogative.

Anne Boleyn There is, nevertheless, a reason why the period is so popularized for rumor, scandal, seduction, &c., and that’s because of what actually happened. Last year, we published Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions, by G.W. Bernard. In telling the story of Anne, he takes none of her heroism, strength, and demon away; she’s the same legendary figure she always has been, only in the more accurate places and contexts that good research shows. She was a remarkable woman. Bernard concludes that it was very likely that some of the adultery allegations against Anne, there were 5 including her brother, were real. The accusation was always racy enough for me. And then it was off with her head! Satisfied? You bet.

The London office also handles our English Monarchs Series—lots of these are coming out in paperback—and die-hard fans of historical drama and fiction can get the Annotated Shakespeare plays of England’s kings. I’d triple the length of this post if I got started on Ralph Turner’s Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Now would be the time to admit that I get commission for the number of books I mention… 

Ivan Lett is Online Marketing Coordinator for Yale University Press.

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