PRINCESS IN AMBER by Evelyn Wilde Mayerson


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Fitted out with psychological/sexual speculation as well as heaps of historical detail: the relationship between Queen Victoria and her youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, from 1882 to about 1896. The early-1880s Beatrice here--painfully shy, pretty but dowdy, totally innocent and repressed, in her mid-20s--will remind Bette Davis fans of Now Voyager's Charlotte Vail. Existing only to assist and comfort her widowed, domineering, selfish mother, Beatrice resists her siblings' efforts to free her from her Windsor/Balmoral bondage: ""I don't wish to marry . . . I wish to remain exactly as I've been, a dutiful, steadfast, loving daughter. Mama's right hand."" And mama Victoria, more self-pitying than ever after the death of servant-confidant John Brown and hemophiliac son Leo, is equally adamant--forbidding talk of love-or-marriage in Beatrice's presence, exiling any potential suitors. Then, however, after getting treatment (some of it quasi-psychological) for her hysterical hand-neuritis, Beatrice--in Germany for yet another royal wedding--finds herself swooning and trembling over handsome Prince Henry of Battenberg, discovering ""the swimming heat, the mindlessness, the urgency"" of sexual passion; the suave Prince is genuinely taken with offbeat Beatrice, quickly proposing marriage. So there's soon an all-out battle between the suddenly iron-strong Beatrice and the ruthless Victoria--who, having just undone the scandalous remarriage of her widower son-in-law Louis, is likewise determined to forbid a Beatrice/Henry wedding. The result? Grudging compromise: Beatrice may marry--but only if she remains in residence with the Queen, only if Henry gives up his military career to be a live-in, fulltime consort. And the marriage, as might be expected, turns out to be a mixed bag: constant irritation from Victoria as interfering mother-in-law; Henry's restlessness; his steamy S&M affair with Beatrice's bohemian sister Louise; the birth of a hemophiliac son; Beatrice's abiding, sensual love for Henry--who finally insists on returning to soldiering, with quickly fatal results; and Beatrice's numbed return to the aged Victoria's massive domination. Mayerson, author of the Runyonesque No Enemy but Time and the socio-psychological If Birds Are Free, indulges in a good deal of clumsy exposition-via-dialogue in this historical novel, feeling obliged to drag in virtually every royal/political/cultural event of the period; many readers will have trouble keeping the bloodlines straight--especially with three Victorias, two princes named Louis, and other gnarls. And the psychosexual approach, not always convincing, occasionally strays into tacky sensationalism. Still, for those who find Jean Plaidy too tame and uninventive: a different sort of Queen Victoria fictionalization, fairly energetic and moderately involving.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday