An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blalock: Seeking the Story of an Elusive Princess
BY TRISH MACENULTY
Georgie Blalock’s most recent novel, An Indiscreet Princess (William Morrow, 2022), tackles the subject of Princess Louise, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. In spite of the fact that Louise was the daughter of one of England’s most well-known queens, who is the subject of numerous movies and television series, Blalock says she could find little information on Louise’s private life.
“Unlike Queen Victoria, whose journals and letters are widely available, very few of Princess Louise’s personal papers have been published. Even her biographers were unable to gain access to them,” Blalock said.
The most frustrating aspect of Louise’s story was teasing out details of her romantic relationship with the sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm. The princess and the artist kept their relationship private, and Blalock said there are almost no personal papers or letters available for either of them.
“Boehm’s family burned his papers and letters after his death, and most of Princess Louise’s are locked up in the Royal Archives. They were lovers for many years, but both understood the practical realities of their positions in society and the roles they had to play. They kept their relationship secret in order to avoid scandal,” Blalock said.
While a lack of information may appear to be a stumbling block, Blalock found it gave her the freedom to mold Louise’s character for the purposes of her novel. However, one aspect of Louise’s life was readily available: her artwork, available to view on the Royal Archives website.
“It was wonderful to see her artwork and to get a sense of how she developed as an artist,” she said. “The ability to find Joseph Edgar Boehm and Princess Louise’s art online and to study them through pictures and articles was very helpful. It was especially thrilling when I could incorporate a real piece, such as Edgar’s statue of the rearing horse being held down by a groom, into the story.”
Blalock’s depiction of Louise’s life and milieu as an artist is one of the most compelling aspects of the book. The historical details are fascinating, but readers will get an education on the art and artists of the era, as well.
In addition to studying Louise’s art, Blalock read biographies of the princess along with letters and firsthand materials about her in order to get a general sense of who she was as a person.
“When it was time to write, I treated her like a real person, not a historical figure or a royal, and I dealt with many of her experiences as universal ones that we have all encountered and can understand or empathize with,” she said.
For example, when Louise enters the classroom at the National Art Training School for the first day of class, Blalock depicts her as “a fish out of water.”
“I think many of us can remember a time when we felt out of place, or a first day of school when we didn’t know anyone and we had to learn how to make friends and fit in,” she said. Louise’s insecurities and her efforts to make friends do make her an endearing character to whom anyone can relate.
Blalock was also able to bring Louise to life through her relationships with her siblings. To get a sense of how she interacted with her brother and sisters, Blalock read surviving letters between the siblings as well as biographies of the princes and princesses.
“One thing that always stood out is how isolated the siblings were during their childhoods, and how much they relied on each other for companionship, especially Prince Leopold and Bertie, the future King Edward VII, and Princess Louise,” Blalock said.
The biographies helped her get a sense of each prince or princess’s character, their frustrations, feelings, goals, and how they related to one another in real life. The result is fully dimensional siblings who form the types of friendships and rivalries that all siblings and families face.
Another challenge Blalock faced was being an American writing about British royalty.
“It is a challenge to write about England’s royal family as an American,” she said. “It can be difficult to successfully use or describe the many titles, protocols and traditions that are familiar to the British people.”
On the other hand, she noted, her outsider status also gives her an advantage.
“Being an American writing about the British monarchy means that I’m removed from the cultural traditions, and I can offer a fresh perspective on historical figures and their lives,” she said.
One thing readers may find surprising when reading An Indiscreet Princess is how difficult Queen Victoria was as a mother. To help us fully grasp the nature of her relationships with her children, Blalock gathered various quotes from published letters or from personal journals where they were available. Each chapter begins with one of these quotes, which introduces the subject or theme of the chapter and also adds a level of authenticity to the story.
“I wanted readers to understand Queen Victoria’s real character, one that is often at odds with the popular image of her as a grandmotherly woman,” she said. “She was incredibly callous, demanding, and self-centered, especially with her children, and I wanted readers to not think that I was making that up or exaggerating it. There was no better way to do that than to use the Queen’s own words.”
Blalock notes that the key to using primary sources in fiction is to use them sparingly, to use them to support the story and not allow them to take over the narrative.
This fascinating novel is a testament not only to Blalock’s love of history, but also her passion for period piece films with all the hallmarks of a binge-worthy series.
About the contributor: Trish MacEnulty is the author of four novels, a short story collection, and a memoir. She is currently preparing to publish her first work of historical fiction, under the pen name, Patricia Bartlett.