Royalty and Authors
by Claudia Willetts
In George the Fourth, Roger Fulford tell us that King George IV’s encouragement of Jane Austen was to his lasting credit. On one occasion Miss Austen came to London where she was informed that the Prince was a great admirer of her novels, and kept a set in each of his houses. Further, he would be very pleased if she would dedicate her next novel to him. Accordingly, Emma, which to many is the most perfect novel in the English language, bears the inscription, “To His Royal Highness the Prince Regent this work is, by His Royal Highness’s permission, most respectfully dedicated by His Royal Highness’s dutiful and obedient humble servant, the author”.
Alice’s Adventures in Oxford, by Mavis Batey, tells the story of Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, and her friendship with “Lewis Carroll” (Charles Dodgson), one of the college tutors. The sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, had a very special setting. The year was 1863, the year of the wedding of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and the book begins with Alice playing, “Let’s pretend we’re kings and queens”. The illuminations in Oxford to celebrate the wedding day, and the visit of the newly-weds to the Deanery play a central role in the plot. Much of the imagery of Through the Looking Glass relates to the royal celebrations, particularly the bonfire, the lion and the unicorn from the royal coat of arms on so many of the Oxford buildings, and the crown which was so persistent in Alice’s thoughts.
For the royal visit, Alice was briefed on behaving suitably in royal presences by Miss Prickett who was turned into the bossy Red Queen: “ Curtsey while you’re thinking what to say. It saves time. Look up, speak nicely and don’t twiddle your fingers all the time.” When, in the book, Alice was told that as a royal person she would be required to give a dinner party, she was very relieved on reaching the hall to find everyone already there. “I’m glad they’ve come without waiting to be asked,” she thought; “I should never have know who were the right people to invite.” This was a matter which had exercised the Deanery for weeks before the royal banquet, and the real Alice had found this aspect, as well as the business of introductions, protocol and waiting on royal words, rather frightening.
Alan Hardy in Queen Victoria Was Amused, tells us that the Queen published her first book, Leaves from a Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, which was well received by the public, but nevertheless she had no illusions about her literary abilities. She made this clear when she held an audience for Charles Dickens. She had been an admirer of his since childhood when she had read Oliver Twist, in spite of the disapproval of her mother and Lord Melbourne, but did not meet him until shortly before his death. She thought him “very agreeable…he talked about his latest works, of America, the strangeness of the people there…” She decided he had “a large, loving mind”, and to set their relationship in perspective, she presented him with a copy of her book inscribed, “From the humblest of writers to one of the greatest”. Writing poetry was not the Queen’s forte for she replied to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s comment, “Everyone can write verses, I dare say Your Majesty can”, with the rejoinder, ‘No, that I cannot. I never could make two lines meet in my life.”
The Book of Royal Lists, by Craig Brown and Lesley Cunliffe, informs us of the “Favourite writers of Royalty”. King George V liked John Buchan; Queen Mary read the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky when she was over eighty, and then declared them her two favourite writers; King George VI’s favourite book was Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.