An Indiscreet Princess
Princess Louise, sixth child to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was a talented artist, and it’s this drive to create, despite great opposition, that Blalock explores in this textured and intimate novel.
Inspired by her tutor, Mary Thornycroft, Louise coaxes the queen into allowing her to take classes at the National Art Training School. Once there, Louise is exhilarated to mingle with artists like Waterhouse, Millais, and Whistler, but she’s particularly drawn to court sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm. To protect her secret liaison with Edgar, Louise marries Lord Lorne, heir to the Duke of Argyll, which provides her a shield of respectability. Thereafter Louise struggles with childlessness, her mother’s concern for appearances, and her banishment to Canada when Lorne is appointed its governor. When a painful injury sends Louise back to England to mend, she determines to overcome, once and for all, the obstacles to her passions: art and Edgar.
Spanning 1868 to 1887, the novel’s most compelling portrait is the crushing ideal of Victorian womanhood upheld by a dour, iron-fisted queen who giggles in private with Mr. Brown, while lecturing her daughters on husbandly submission. Louise’s brushes with other artists are fun for those acquainted with the Victorian art scene and its critics, and her royal siblings are lively and captivating characters.
Louise’s passion for sculpting is rendered in convincing sensory detail, but her struggles to express herself against her mother’s control, her husband’s petulance, and the moral strictures that distance her from Edgar begin to feel rehearsed without real character growth. There’s a style of appending modifiers, sometimes whole sentences, that can make the prose feel ponderous. But the peek inside royal lives is draw enough to overcome this, and the story of a woman fighting for a breath of independence in a restrictive world is touchingly portrayed.