cover image The Royal Governess

The Royal Governess

Wendy Holden. Berkley, $26 (432p) ISBN 978-0-593-10132-2

Holden (A View to a Kilt) offers a charming story of a real-life teacher who served as governess for the future Queen Elizabeth II and her sister, Margaret. In 1932 Edinburgh, 20-year-old reform-minded Marion Crawford is a teacher in training determined to help improve the lives of the children who live in the city’s slums, where the literacy rate is close to zero. Marion also chafes at the corporal punishment meted out in the classrooms she observes, and at the teachers’ insistence that British colonial subjects are “uncivilized.” When Marion’s teaching college principal recruits her to teach the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, then six and two, Marion initially declines until she is persuaded that her lessons would impact the country’s future. Marion’s interactions with royalty, whose routine is often scripted and unfolds “like a play,” range from intimidating through enlightening to amusing, such as the princesses’ mother’s impromptu mimicking of a film star. Throughout, Marion remains mindful of the divide between herself and her clients (“A freshly brushed carpet is fit only for royal feet,” says a footman) as she works to liberate their minds from the royal coterie with trips around London. Holden grounds the story of Marion’s attempt to help the princesses understand all classes of English society with rich historical details, and develops Marion’s character as she navigates her true calling amid staggering privilege. This lively historical tale will please fans of the English royal family. (Aug.)