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December Books 3) Daughters of Britannia

3) Daughters of Britannia: the Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives, by Katie Hickman

I'm probably being rather unfair to this book, but I'm giving up on it not quite half-way through. Hickman, herself a diplomat's daughter, has pulled together an engaging collection of correspondence from the wives (and occasionally other female relatives) of British diplomats posted abroad throughout the last four centuries. The material is amusing and sometimes moving. But I felt that the book lacked a substantial intellectual framework, such as any serious interrogation of the concepts of Britishness, diplomacy, or wives. And I think Hickman did intend it to be that kind of book, but it isn't.

I must say also that having lived abroad in three countries in the last twelve years, and having myself set up from scratch two local offices (and overseen the setting up of a third) for my various employers, I did find myself rather unsympathetic to some of the accounts of hardship reported by people whose government-funded bureaucracies weren't always able to guarantee them a perfect quality of life. In the non-profit sector things are a bit different.

In fairness, some of the hardships are very real. Hickman's father was deputy head of the British embassy in Dublin in 1976 when the ambassador, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, was killed by the IRA: perhaps the most moving section in the book (and one of the longest single extracts) is her mother's description of the aftermath for the Ewart-Biggs family. It is the more vivid for me because I worked with Jane Ewart-Biggs many years later, administering the book prize established in her husband's memory.

I'm inclined to put this up on Bookmooch, but I know that some on my friends list have a personal interest in this topic, so you folks get first shout.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 6th, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
It was: I bought it at the time, as a result, and enjoyed it lots, but it is mostly fluff (from what I remember!).
Dec. 6th, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC)
I remember that I quite enjoyed this, although it's a while since I read it. The bit that sticks in my memory (other than the Ewart-Biggs story) was the story of the woman who went out from Scotland to the Consulate in Kashgar (now in west China, but pretty much the middle of nowhere then) overland with her husband in the late nineteenth century, and didn't get home for 18 years.

Did you read 'Diplomatic Baggage'? I found it quite entertaining too. But I'm often quite happy to read books which are no more than collections of good anecdotes.
Dec. 8th, 2008 09:50 am (UTC)
You might like Following the Drum by Annabel Venning, if you haven't read it. It's a similar idea: a look at the lives of military wives, in this case, often through their own correspondence and diaries (as well as official records), but there's also a lot of interesting analysis (of the role of the class system, for example, and the changing roles of women in military life).
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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