Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Book Review: "The Little Princesses" by Marion Crawford
One of my finds at a recent library book sale was a book that I found on the biography table. It was titled The Little Princesses, and I think I first picked it up under the impression that it was Frances Hodgson Burnett's book of a similar title. Instead I found it to be a memoir of Marion Crawford, governess to Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret for twelve years. I had another book by her called Elizabeth the Queen (which I found at a previous library book sale and is still sitting on my shelf unread), so I decided to add it to my box -- I think I was working on my third box by that point.
Determined to actually read some of the books that I add to my collection every time a book sale comes around, I began reading The Little Princesses only a few days after purchasing it. What I found was a delightful glimpse into the lives of two little girls growing up in the spotlight of the nation. Their lives were undeniably extraordinary, but in some ways surprisingly ordinary.
The princesses led simple lives before their uncle's abdication -- an event which brought permanent changes to their family, including moving residence to Buckingham Palace. They shopped for Christmas gifts at Woolworth's, and had few toys or luxuries. The advantages of living a royal life came at a price; for instance, the princesses found it extraordinarily exciting to ride the Underground or a bus.
Some of my favorite stories came from the period of five years that the princesses spent at Windsor Castle with their governess. They would hold tea parties for some of the soldiers stationed at the castle, and learned how to sleep in the dungeons of the castle during air raids. At one point the chief librarian took them deep under the castle and asked them if they would like to see something. He showed them some leather bandboxes, which at first appeared to be filled with newspaper. However, they soon discovered that the boxes held the crown jewels of England!
Once, after some heavy rains, Elizabeth and Margaret went down to the lake with "Crawfie," only to find that their boat had been flooded. They searched the nearby boathouse, which had been built by Queen Victoria, for something to bail the boat out with. All they could find was a chamber pot with Queen Victoria's initials!
The only tinge of sadness I felt in reading the book was that I have heard that the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth never spoke to Crawfie again after she published the book. To them, her book was an unforgivable breach of their privacy -- privacy that Crawfie herself had tried to protect during her employment as governess.
Marion Crawford had a talent for making the simple activities of the princesses' lives interesting. As I read her book, I gained a greater appreciation both of Queen Elizabeth and her parents. It is quite charming to read the comments of the little girls -- especially Elizabeth ("Lillibet"). The Little Princesses makes a charming read if you have any interest in English royalty, the Second World War, life during the 30s and 40s, or even just a good story plainly told.