Queen of Bedlam
I cannot applaud Laura Purcell enough for her depiction of the far-reaching, destructive effects of mental illness. I also appreciated her depiction of George III, who is more than the tyrant king that Americans learn about in Revolutionary War history. A loving husband and popular king, he was plagued with regret over the loss of the colonies and how that impacted his people. While it’s true that Purcell is presenting a fictional representation, it is believable.
The narrative reveals the viewpoints of King George’s queen, Charlotte, and two of his daughters, Charlotte and Sophia. When King George first falls ill, Queen Charlotte, a perfectionist, tries very hard to maintain the expected decorum, but her world is quickly falling apart. The man she fell in love with no longer seems to exist, and she must face life alone without her king.
Queen Charlotte selfishly wants her family to stay intact. The novel offers insight into the disappointment of those who are of marriageable age but held back by their father’s condition and their mother’s dependence on their physical presence – even as Charlotte withdraws further into herself. The six princesses are desperate to escape their home-turned-prison and are desperate for love and freedom, but, of course, their desperation breeds disastrous consequences. Purcell somehow manages to transfer the feelings that her characters are experiencing over to her readers, especially as news from France arrives detailing the developments of that country’s revolution.
Queen of Bedlam is a masterfully written and well-researched novel written by someone who has truly mastered the craft of evoking readers’ emotions. Not only does it give us a historical account of the depth and degrees of the mental illness of King George, but additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it gives voice to the family members who are often forgotten but are still intensely affected by it.