Friday, March 26, 2010

H is for Hill

Having reviewed a novel about Bonnie Prince Charlie not too long ago, I thought it only fitting to feature biographical fiction about the woman who became his consort: Louise of Stolberg.

Supporters of the Jacobite cause have had little good to say about Louise, an obscure German princess who wed the man they considered their rightful king in 1772, when she was 20 and he was 52. Their union, although contented at first, proved disastrous. Louise couldn't give Charles an heir, which was a problem. She also grew disenchanted with her meaningless title of "Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, France, and dominions beyond seas" and her marriage to a much older man who drank too much and mistreated her. Pamela Hill, a prolific Scottish historical novelist, presents Louise's side of the story.

Forget Not Ariadne opens in Louise's fortieth year. Louise, now a widow, is asked to quit her wealthy cousin Caroline's London home because of a social faux pas. Seems she picked the wrong day to be presented to Queen Charlotte: White Rose Day, the anniversary of the birth of her late father-in-law, the Old Pretender. Oops. Needless to say, Louise believes London to be the very center of prudishness and hypocrisy. Thus commences Louise's account of her impoverished childhood, ill-fated marriage, and subsequent yearning for freedom, a goal she finally achieves by leaving her husband. She finds true happiness by cultivating her substantial intellect and through her longtime affair with Italian poet Vittorio Alfieri.

Louise's first-person voice, as related by Hill, is direct, commonsense, and witty. She has a knack for funny pronouncements and clever metaphors; she has also had her fill of Jacobite romanticism. "A Guelph madman on the throne ... it might have been a Stuart drunkard," she muses. Looking back, Louise reminisces about her childhood, spent as a boarder at an abbey in the Austrian Netherlands after her father dies in Empress Maria Theresa's wars against Prussia. Dowerless girls, after all, have no purpose at court.

Ironically, after escaping the loneliness and poverty of Ste Wandru's via Charles Stuart's surprising proposal, her marriage and royal title prove equally empty. It's at this point she begins identifying with Ariadne, a princess of ancient Crete who was abandoned by her lover, Theseus, on the Isle of Naxos after giving him the means to save his life. Louise refuses to let herself be forgotten. She leaves Charles by taking refuge in a convent, sets up household with her lover, and spends her days traveling Europe, eventually winning over her ecclesiastical brother-in-law and founding a salon in Paris that attracts the best and brightest minds.

Forget Not Ariadne, Pamela Hill's lively and fact-based sixth novel, is one of her best. It's written like a memoir or oral history, as Louise details her eventful life in forthright and occasionally imperious fashion (after all she's been through, Louise has earned the right to say as she thinks). As a fictional account of a historical woman who refused to let society dictate how she lived her life, it fits in well with current themes in the genre. Published by A.S. Barnes of South Brunswick and New York in 1965, it is long out of print but available on the secondhand market.

This is my latest entry for Historical Tapestry's A-Z challenge. A shout-out to my fellow members of Historical Fiction Online, who'll know why I couldn't resist writing about this book!


  1. I agree with Susan, I need to find a copy of this book.

  2. Thanks for a great write-up of what sounds to be an interesting book. It's nice you feature out-of-print books, as I tend to look for more recently-published works and appreciate the reminder to explore elsewhere!

  3. Great review! I love that the heroine isn't sixteen--for some reason reading about women with some life under their belt fascinates me more than otherwise!

  4. Wow, this sounds fascinating. And now I need to go and return to HFO after my break to find out why you needed to write about it LOL!

  5. Hi Marg, it's easy if you remember my HFO name :)

    Thanks for the comments, all!

  6. I know your HFO name! lol