It's difficult to write interestingly and persuasively about a man who appears--as Mountbatten did to his archcritic-to-be...



It's difficult to write interestingly and persuasively about a man who appears--as Mountbatten did to his archcritic-to-be Max Beaverbrook--""too good to be true"": handsome, charming, rich, half-royal, and a leader by nature. In the wake of Mountbatten's assassination, especially, it's not easy to write dispassionately about a national hero: the intrepid captain of the Kelly (inspiration for Noel Coward's In Which We Serve); the morale-building, monsoon-braving Supreme Commander, South-East Asia; the Viceroy of India who gladly lowered the Union Jack. And Hough, in putting on record the less attractive aspects of this dynamic personality--his personal luxuries, fondness for show, lack of humility--seems for some time merely to be taking Mountbatten down. But his portrayal does come together in the end, and along the way he pronounces a few stiff judgments. He accepts Mountbatten's evaluation of himself as driven by the need to erase the shame of his German-born father's WW I dismissal as First Sea Lord by ultimately (in 1955) becoming First Sea Lord himself; but he also finds in that childhood trauma the prime source of the insecurity that caused Mountbatten ""to brag so much and so often""--and so needlessly. Then, too, Mountbatten was never certain whether he was ""royal or nonroyal""--hence his satisfaction in the marriage of his nephew and foster-son Prince Philip to then-Princess Elizabeth. And he was defensive, too, about his lack of intellectual credentials. But even his boldness and dispatch could at times be counted faults--most seriously, in India. We learn, as the newspapers have disclosed, that Edwina Mountbatten had an affair with Nehru (among many others), and that Mountbatten was not only aware but approving; we are given to believe that she influenced Nehru toward accepting partition. Hough, decrying Mountbatten's haste in pushing through a settlement that cost so many lives, contends that he ""should never have been given the job."" On other occasions he demonstrates how hard Mountbatten lobbied for jobs that he would later claim were his by acclamation; and, more indulgently, how assiduously he cultivated the relations with his officers and men for which they worshipped him. In his summation, indeed, Hough points out that many of Mountbatten's irritating traits elicited tolerance the better one knew him; and that if his tangible achievements were limited, his power to inspire achievement was real and great. As the biographer of Mountbatten's parents, Hough had access not only to Mountbatten himself but to members of the royal family--with the result that much that was said casually makes its way into this account. It's not galvanizing, but one is satisifed finally that Hough has gotten Mountbatten right.

Pub Date: March 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1981