Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives

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9780060188627: Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives

In an absorbing mixture of poignant biography and wonderfully entertaining social history, Daughters of Britannia offers the story of diplomatic life as it has never been told before.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Vita Sackville-West and Lady Diana Cooper are among the wellknown wives of diplomats who represented Britain in the far-flung corners of the globe. Yet, despite serving such crucial roles, the vast majority of these women are entirely unknown to history. Who was Mrs Vigor, gossiping from St Petersburg in the 1730s about the intrigues of the imperial court, or Miss Tully, incarcerated in the British consulate in famine-torn Tripoli on the eve of the French Revolution?

Drawing on letters, private journals and memoirs, as well as contemporary oral history, Katie Hickman explores not only the public pomp and glamour of diplomatic life, but also the most intimate, private face of this most fascinating and rays mysterious world. Far from leading pampered lives of luxury and privilege, many women endured harsh, isolated circumstances that they continuously met with remarkable resourcefulness and strength: journeys could take many months to complete, medical facilities were often primitive or nonexistent and young children frequently died due to the conditions, not to mention wars, kidnappings and assassination attempts.

Katie Hickman balances stories of high drama with detailed recollections of domestic life in which women faced such daily challenges as getting their husbands' shirt fronts suitably boiled and starched in the wilds of Xinkiang or finding the right size bulletproof vest in which to do the gardening in Beirut. Touching on the lives of nearly a hundred diplomatic wives (as well as sisters and daughters), Daughters of Britannia is a brilliant and compelling account of more than three centuries of British diplomacy as seen through the eyes of some of its most intrepid but least heralded participants.

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About the Author:

Katie Hickman was born into a diplomatic family in 1960 and has spent more than twenty-five years living abroad in Europe, the Far East and Latin America. She is the author of three previous books: A Trip to the Light Fantastic -- Travels with a Mexican Circus, which was one of the Independent's 1993 Books of the Year and was short-listed for the 1994 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; The Quetzal Summer, a novel set in the Andes, for which she was short-listed for the 1993 Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award; and Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon -- a Journey into Bhutan. She is featured in the Oxford University Press guide to women travellers, Wayward Women.

From Publishers Weekly:

For those who enjoy reading about travel and life abroad, this enormously entertaining social history of the female side of diplomatic life is a must. The author, herself the daughter of a diplomat, closely observed her mother's 28 years on the road. Drawing on published memoirs, letters, diaries, interviews and personal reminiscences, Hickman's (A Trip to the Light Fantastic: Travels with a Mexican Circus) written account ranges from the 17th through the 20th centuries. Organizing her anecdotes around various aspects of the diplomatic life, such as "getting there," "private lives," and "hardships," rather than by time period, the author contrasts the experiences of individual women (although it is occasionally difficult to keep track of who's who). When her husband was posted to Teheran in 1849, Mary Sheil discovered that she was virtually confined to the luxurious but isolated British residence. On the other hand, Harriet Granville, whose husband was posted to Paris in the 1820s, found herself devoting most of her time to diplomatic ceremonies. Many of the women had to cope with either unfamiliar food or a severe lack of food. Miss Tully (first name unknown) left letters describing the effects of pestilence and famine on her life in 1784 Tripoli. Often women were placed in danger by their position, for example Veronica Atkinson, whose family was caught up in the Romanian Revolution of 1989. Feelings of homesickness and other difficulties were common, yet Hickman presents most of the wives as enjoying adventurous lives that she describes as "quite exciting really." Photos. Agent, Gill Coleridge. (June 6)Forecast: Given its Anglocentric subject, this delightful book will be less widely reviewed here than it was in England. This may prevent it from reaching its full audience.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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