CAROLINE: A Biography of Caroline of Brunswick by Thea Holme

CAROLINE: A Biography of Caroline of Brunswick

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A deft portrait of an impossible woman--the dumpy, awkward, harum-scarum German princess who was mismated (in 1795) to the foppish Prince of Wales, the future George IV. For George, it was loathing at first sight (""Harris, I am not very well,"" he said, famously; ""pray get me a glass of brandy""); and for the next 25 years--through George's long Regency (1811-1820) and to the day of his coronation--these two fought without quarter, he to keep her from him and his, she to claim her place. Thea Holme, the biographer of Charlotte (Prinny's Daughter, Brit. 1976), the victimized issue of their one night together, is dandy on the personalities and the domestic turmoil: she makes Caroline properly ludicrous--in her penchant for playing pregnant, for adopting low-born babes, for giving all to tawdry upstarts--and properly sympathetic in her lifelong search for affection. Her Caroline is an amazement, not piteous or grotesque; and at least as self-destructive as ill-used. (The book is never better than at the outset, when George's emissary to the Brunswick court tries vainly to induce Caroline ""to think before she speaks."") And her George is not so much a brute--except perhaps in his cruel tyranny over Charlotte--as a feckless, self-indulgent coward. (Could Caroline have won him over with tact, Holme wonders.) But because Holme makes little reference to George's public unpopularity, the uninformed reader will not understand why his dispatch of Caroline, and his attempt twice to convict her of wrongdoing, split the populace and had political repercussions; indeed, the irony of this notorious libertine charging his long-discarded wife with infidelity is made manifest only at the close of the coronation-eve divorce proceedings, in the tart comment of one of her defenders. To the extent that the tone is level and the issues are mooted, the book sometimes seems to lack point; but the spirited, under-the-skin account of Caroline's patched-together household, her freakish dress and outlandish manners and headlong travels, makes this a kind of Regency romance in the raw.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Atheneum