The Barretts of Wimpole Street

Mr. Harvey Weinstein
The Weinstein Company
345 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

Dear Mr. Weinstein,

Congratulations on your recent Best Picture Oscar for The Artist. This makes the second year in a row that The Weinstein Company has won Best Picture! Not to mention sweeping the Best Actor and Actress awards as well. Along with Oscar nominations for Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, this has been a banner year for The Weinstein Company. Why waste time making sequels to Shakespeare in Love, and Bridget Jones’ Diary not to mention Scream 5? It’s time The Weinstein Company add another classy production to hopefully add more Oscar Gold. I’m talking about making a biopic about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning.

The 19th Century is totally hot right now, not to mention poets. John Cusack’s starring as Edgar Allen Poe in The Raven soon and did you see Bright Star? I’m telling you that The Barretts of Wimpole Street is even better than Bright Star because nobody dies! The love story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning has all the hallmarks of a Weinstein production, British accents, gorgeous costumes, a tyrannical father, handsome young leading man, an invalid heroine, a secondary love story between Elizabeth’s sister Henrietta and her suitor, a dramatic elopement, and finally a happily ever after ending in Italy. There’s even an adorable cocker spaniel. But most important is the poetry. Robert fell in love with Elizabeth before he even met her because of her poetry.

The story has been filmed twice before, once in 1934 with Norma Shearer as Elizabeth and Frederic March as Robert (the film was nominated for Best Picture), and then in 1957 by the same director with Jennifer Jones, Bill Travers and Sir Ralph Richardson as Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, Elizabeth’s father (there was also a TV version made in Britain in the 1970's) but don‘t let that deter you! I’m sure that in the hands of a strong director and writer, this story can inspire modern audiences as well.

A great film needs a great script. I suggest that you get Emma Thompson to write the screenplay. Remember she won an Academy Award for another 19th century adaptation, Sense and Sensibility. If she’s not available, then let Julian Fellowes have a shot at it but he‘s kind of hit and miss. I love Downton Abbey, Gosford Park and Vanity Fair but his 4 hour production of The Titanic made me long for James Cameron’s version and I hated that movie.

It would be awesome if Ang Lee could direct the film. He did such a great job with Sense and Sensibility. Sam Mendes would also be a good choice, it’s time he tried the 19th century on for size. Or how about Mira Nair? I really liked her direction of Vanity Fair. Another good choice would be Tom Hooper, Roger Michell (who directed Persuasion), or Stephen Daldry. Under no circumstances hire Joe Wright because he’ll completely cock-it-up, I can just see a donkey or a raccoon running through the parlor in the Barretts home or Robert showing up at all hours of the day and night.

Now here comes the important bit, casting the leads. Who plays Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning can make or break your film. I’ve given this a lot of thought.

Our Heroine: Elizabeth Barrett was 39 at the time she met Robert Browning in 1845. She’d been an invalid for at least 15 years, suffering from a variety of ailments for which she’d been taking laudanum and later morphine. According to Wikipedia, At about age 15 Barrett Browning began to battle with a lifelong illness, which the medical science of the time was unable to diagnose. All three sisters came down with the syndrome although it lasted only with Elizabeth. She had intense head and spinal pain with loss of mobility. She is described as having "a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on each side of a most expressive face; large, tender eyes, richly fringed by dark eyelashes, and a smile like a sunbeam".

The role requires an actress who blossoms once she meets Robert, defying her father in order to marry the man she loves, even though she knows that not only will she be disinherited, but that she may never see her father again. My top choice for the role would be Sally Hawkins who was so fabulous in Mike Leigh’s Made in Dagenham, as well as Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Other good choices would be Emily Watson, Ann-Marie Duff (who has played both John Lennon’s mother, Margot Fonteyn and Elizabeth I), Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Morton, Jennifer Ehle, or Kate Beckinsale (when was the last time she had a really great role and I‘m not talking Underworld or Underworld 3).

Emily Watson

Sally Hawkins

Ann-Marie Duff

Please don’t, whatever you do, cast Keira Knightly. I know she’s become the automatic go-to-girl for period films, whether she’s right for the role or not, but just say no! Other actresses to avoid Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Hathaway, Julia Roberts, Hilary Swank, or Charlize Theron.

Robert Browning in his later years

Our Hero: Robert Browning, 33, was the son of a well-paid clerk for the Bank of England making £150 pounds a year. He was mainly educated at home, and left University after one year. He refused a formal career and ignored his parents' remonstrations, dedicating himself to poetry. He stayed at home until the age of 34, financially dependent on his family until his marriage. His father sponsored the publication of his son's poems. Browning traveled widely, joining a British diplomatic mission to Russia in 1834, later journeying to Italy 1838 and 1844. By the time Robert meets Elizabeth, he’s not only a published poet but also a man of theatre, having had several plays produced on the English stage.

I see Tom Hiddleston in the role of Robert Browning. He’s proved with his work in War Horse and The Deep Blue Sea, that he can handle both period pieces as well as serious dramatic roles. He also went to Eton has a double-first from Cambridge, so he definitely can handle the poetry. If Hiddleston is not available or interested, than another good choice might be James McAvoy (McAvoy is married to Ann-Marie Duff so if you cast them, you have the added publicity bonus of them playing two of the greatest poets of the 19th century who are also married).

The villain: Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, 50’s. Every story, particularly has to have a villain (think of Billy Zane in Titanic) or a third person in the love triangle. In this film, it is Elizabeth’s father who vowed to disinherit his children if they married. I leave it up to the screenwriter to fill-in the psychological reasons for wanting to keep his children single forever. The original film suggested that Barrett liked Elizabeth a little too much. I don’t know about that but the Victorians were a strange bunch. My top choices for this role would be Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons.

Jeremy Irons
Alan Rickman

Of course, I'm only a non-fiction author, what do I know about film? I do know what I like, and I think that if the Weinstein Company produces a film about Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, they will have a surefire Oscar contender!

Who do you think would be good casting for The Barretts of Wimpole Street?

Sugartime - The Scandalous Romance of Sam Giancana and Phyllis McGuire

Love makes strange bedfellows doesn’t it? How else to explain the relationship between a short, middle-aged mobster and the lead singer of a wholesome singing group singing songs in perfect harmony? Was it there shared Midwestern backgrounds (he was from Chicago, she was Middletown, OH)? Retired FBI agent William Roemer, who tracked Giancana for years could never figure out what the attraction was between the two. "It's amazing that it ever took place," says Roemer, in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1995 to promote the HBO film about the unlikely romance. "He was just as ugly as he can be and he wasn't a cultured, refined man. I saw no redeeming human qualities about the guy. We put microphones in his headquarters and listened to him talk all the time. She had everything. She had beauty. She had money. Yet, she fell in love with this gangster. I could never figure it out. I have talked to her several times and she's a lady. She's refined and cultured. She's intelligent and articulate. He was just the opposite." Whatever it was, it kept gossip columnists in a tizzy in the 1960’s as the lovebirds criss-crossed the country from Palm Springs to Atlantic City, and the capitols of Europe.

So how did these two crazy kids meet? Why in Sin City of course, Las Vegas, Nevada to be exact. Word is that Giancana first caught sight of McGuire during her engagement with her sisters at the Desert Inn. Giancana was 52 and a widower, Phyllis was not quite thirty. Like a many, Phyllis had succumbed to the lure of the tables, racking up a hefty marker. Giancana went to Moe Dalitz, who ran the Desert Inn and asked how much she owed. Moe supposedly told her that Phyllis owed $100,000 (Sam's daughter Antoinette Giancana in her autobiography MAFIA PRINCESS claims that it was more like $16,000, still a hefty debt). Giancana is said to told Moe to “eat it,” meaning to forgive the debt. The gesture, along with a hefty dose of expensive flowers, seems to have done the trick. Sam and Phyllis soon fell in love. Years after Sam’s death, Phyllis admitted to writer Dominick Dunne that the two greatest losses in her life were her father and Sam.

Sam Giancana (1908 - 1975) was one of the Mafia’s most notorious and high profile figures in the 1950‘s and 60‘s. Born in Chicago to Sicilian immigrants, he’d clawed his way from a juvenile street crew up to the top of the Mafia food chain. In the film and book The Godfather, Johnny Fontane asks Vito Corleone to get him out of his studio contract. That scene was supposedly based on Giancana who allegedly forced band leader Tommy
Dorsey into letting Frank Sinatra out of his contract early, so that he could expand his career. By the 1960’s he’d already been involved with Judith Campbell Exner,using her as a go-between himself and JFK, and recruited by the CIA along with other mobsters to assassinate Cuban president Fidel Castro. Along the way, Giancana married and fathered three daughters.

While Giancana was going to the school of hard knocks and learning how to make license plates during a stint in prison, Phyllis McGuire (1931-) was growing up in Ohio along with her two older sisters, Christine and Dorothy. Their mother Lillian, a minister at the Miamisburg First Church of God, let them sing in church as kids. When Phyllis was 12, they signed a contract with Coral Records. That same year, they appeared on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, where they performed for seven years. They made numerous TV appearances on all the popular variety shows of the period. Their recordings of "Sincerely," "Picnic," and “Sugartime" all sold more than one million copies.

At first Sam and Phyllis were able to keep their romance a secret, despite Giancana popping up wherever the sisters performed. The FBI knew about the affair but chose not to expose the relationship because they knew the publicity would be detrimental to Phyllis’s career. When Sam and Phyllis were photographed together at a nightclub in London in 1962, the picture was flashed around the world. The press, not to mention the public, were outraged that Phyllis could associate with a known mobster. Trying to do damage control, Phyllis gave a tearful interview to the powerful gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen swearing that she would never see Sam again which was a total lie. The publicity put a damper on her career for a time but there were other problems besides public opinion. While Giancana wasn’t faithful, he expected Phyllis to be. He suspected her of cheating on him with comedian Dan Rowan of TV’s Laugh-In. He even went so far as to try and get his CIA contact Robert Maheu to bug her hotel room to get proof.

There was also the Fed’s who’d been after Giancana for awhile. And now Bobby Kennedy was Attorney General of the United States, making it his mission to go after the mob, which was ironic since Giancana allegedly helped JFK get elected. The FBI trailed the couple were ever they went. ‘We lock-stepped him," Roemer recalls. "He was the only guy in the history of the FBI who we lock-stepped. I would stay half a step behind him and half a step to his left. No matter where he went, I would stay that distance from him. If he went to dinner I would go with him. If he went to the restroom, I would go right up to the next urinal. We got into some situations.” They bugged Giancana’s homes, listening in on the couple’s most intimate moments. In 1961, the FBI bugged their hotel room and knew that they would be stopping over in Chicago on their way to New York. At O'Hare airport, Giancana was kept at bay while the FBI talked to McGuire to see if she would cooperate with them instead of being subpoenaed to appear in front of a federal grand jury. Phyllis agreed to do what they asked, and they took the subpoena back, but she never kept her end of the bargain.

The mob wasn’t too happy about Sam’s relationship with Phyllis. Not only because they thought he wasn’t minding the store, but because it drew too much attention. In the end the relationship couldn’t last. Giancana was sentenced to jail for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury. As a result, Giancana was deposed as boss of the Chicago outfit. After his release, he fled to Mexico. After about seven years of exile, Giancana was arrested by Mexican authorities in 1974 and deported to the United States. After agreeing to be a witness in the prosecution of organized crime in Chicago, Giancana was murdered by an unknown assailant in his Chicago home while he was cooking dinner in 1975.

Phyllis McGuire, now in her eighties, lives in Las Vegas where she is said to be working on her memoirs. She and her sisters retired in 1968 but have done occasional public appearances since reuniting on stage 1986.

RMS Titanic on Scandalous Women Radio

Since today is Easter, there will be no broadcast of Scandalous Women radion next Sunday.  The show will return next week at the usual time of 4:30 p.m.

Next Sunday marks the 100th anniverary of the sinking of RMS Titanic  after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. The disaster caused the deaths of 1,514 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history. At the time of her maiden voyage, she was the largest ship afloat. To mark the occasion, Scandalous Women welcomes special guest Evangeline Holland of Edwardian Promenade to discuss one of the surviors of the Titanic, the fashion designer Lucile aka as Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon.

Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon

Review: Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Title: Mr. Churchill's Secretary
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 4/3/2012
Bought by the Reviewer (aka moi)
Pages: 384

Synopsis:  London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.  Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

My thoughts:  I picked up this book yesterday at Barnes and Noble and finished it, oh about a half-hour ago.  I hadn't planned on buying a book at B&N unless it was a research book since I'm a little poor right now and books are a luxury compared to say food and electricity, but I just couldn't help myself, it called out to me. You know how that is, before I knew it, I was at the cash register handing over my membership card.  I didn't even NOOK it but bought the actual physical book.

Thank god I did because this is an awesome book. I'm a sucker for books set during WWII probably because my dad fought in the war.  Unlike Susan Elia MacNeal who came up with the idea for Mr. Churchill's Secretary by visiting the Cabinet War Rooms, I wept through them. This book is chock-full of details about the period, and a fascinating cast of supporting characters. I now have a girl crush on Maggie Hope. British born but raised in America (a Wellesley graduate to boot, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton),  Maggie is brave, bold, brilliant and brash.  She's not afraid to speak her mind, but she's also not without her flaws, she's prickly and stubborn, a little too certain that she's right at times.  Probably because she grew up always being the smartest girl in a room.  She has a passion for mathematics, and just wants to be able to use her skills for the war effort, not be stuck as a typist, even if she's typing for Winston Churchill.

Some of the best scenes in the book were Maggie's one-on-one scenes with the PM, with just a few deft strokes, MacNeal manages to convey the boundless and unrelenting energy of Winston Churchill. The book is both a fast-paced thriller with just enough surprises to keep the reader gasping, as well as an intimate portrait of Britain at war, scene through the eyes of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. The book is incredibly well-written, immensely lyrical. One of the best scenes in the book is the scene where the PM, Maggie and her friends are watching the Luftwaffe drop bombs on London from the roof of Number 10.  I couldn't put this book down and I will be counting the days until the next book in the series Princess Elizabeth's Spy comes out.

Of course, there are a few quibbles, I wouldn't be me if I didn't get a bit nic-picky.  The Duke of Windsor was Edward VIII not Edward VII who was his grandfather (MacNeal gets it right in the sequel), Odile is not the swan in the 2nd act of Swan Lake, it is Odette.  I don't want to spoil the plot but there were a few too many cooincidences that any soap viewer would pick up on.  Once would have been fine but it happens three times which is three times too much.

The back cover copy compares the book to Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series which I haven't read but to me it reminds me more of Kathryn Miller Haine's Rosie Winter series which is also set in WWII and features an American heroine.

Verdict:  If you like a little history with your mystery, this book is for you.

What Jane Austen Ate: Supersizers Go Regency

I am hopelessly addicted to the British show Supersizers Go.  One of my favorite episodes is Supesizers Go Regency.  If you've wondered what Jane Austen, Emma Hamilton or Mary Wollstonecraft actually ate, you have to watch this episode. I particularly liked Sue's reaction when she tastes the jugged hare! I think you can learn a lot about periods of history by examining what they actually ate. After watching these shows, I'm kind of happy that we live in the era we do!  Maggots in cheese? Ewww!

Seriously they need to do an American version of this show. I would love to see Giles and Sue tuck into one of the enormous meals that Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell used to eat at Delmonico's or Rector's. Or imagine recreating the first meal that the Pilgrims ate with the Indians or a Ante-bellum Southern barbeque. The origins of Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola, Kellogg's corn flakes, Dr. Graham's crackers, all 19th century inventions that we still drink today.  What Dolley Madison served at the White House or the Wedding breakfast of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom.  The possibilities are endless.

What do you think? Would you watch an American version of Supersizers Go?

Tonight on American Masters: Margaret Mitchell & Harper Lee

Tonight on PBS, American Masters is featuring 2 new documentaries, one on Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, entitled Margaret Mitchell:  American Rebel.  The second is entitled Harper Lee:  Hey, Boo. Check your local listings for the times.

You can watch a preview of Margaret Mitchell here. According to the web-site  "Margaret Mitchell was no ordinary writer. The one book she published in her lifetime – Gone With the Wind – sold millions of copies at the height of the Great Depression in America and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, 75 years ago. With over 30 million copies sold to date, it is one of the world’s best-selling novels. Equally impressive, the film adaptation of Gone With the Wind broke all box office records when it premiered in 1939, and received 10 Academy Awards.But who was the creator behind two of the world’s greatest lovers – Scarlett and Rhett – and the tumultuous romance that left book readers and film viewers wondering about their final fate together in one of storytelling’s most talked about cliffhangers? She was certainly no ordinary woman either. "

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel engages leading authors, historians, biographers and people with personal connections to Mitchell to reveal a complex and mysterious woman who experienced profound identity shifts in her life and who struggled with the two great issues of her day: the changing role of women and the liberation of African Americans. Interviewees include friend Sara Mitchell Parsons, Carolyn Equen Miller (daughter of Mitchell’s lifelong arch rival Anne Hart Equen), Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides), Pearl Cleage (What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day), Molly Haskell (Frankly My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited), Darden Asbury Pyron (Southern Daughter/The Life of Margaret Mitchell and the Making of Gone With the Wind), and John Wiley (Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind). Roberts shot extensive reenactments for the film based on Mitchell’s personal letters, which trace Mitchell throughout her life, starting at age three, that show how Mitchell’s upbringing influenced Gone With the Wind. Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel also examines Gone With the Wind’s cultural impact. For some the work was a racial lightning rod, while for others it proved a model for survival.

Harper Lee:  Hey Boo:  One of the biggest bestsellers of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) is the first and only novel by a young woman named Nelle Harper Lee, who once said that she wanted to be South Alabama’s Jane Austen. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize and became a mystery when she stopped speaking to press in 1964. More than 50 years after its publication, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than 40 languages worldwide, still sells nearly one million copies each year and is required reading in most American classrooms, making it quite possibly the most influential American novel of the 20th century. The 1962 film version, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, won a trio of Academy Awards.

Harper Lee: Hey, Boo chronicles how this beloved novel came to be written, provides the context and history of the Deep South where it is set, and documents the many ways the novel has changed minds and shaped history. For teachers, students or fans of the classic, Hey, Boo enhances the experience of reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

Containing never-before-seen photos and letters, Hey, Boo features insightful interviews with friends and an exclusive interview with Lee’s sister, Alice Finch Lee (age 99 at filming), who share intimate recollections, anecdotes and biographical details for the first time, offering new insight into the life and mind of Harper Lee, including why she never published again. Oprah Winfrey; Tom Brokaw; Pulitzer Prize-winners Rick Bragg, Anna Quindlen, Richard Russo, Jon Meacham, and Diane McWhorter; and civil rights leader Andrew Young address the novel’s power, influence, and popularity, and the many ways it has shaped their lives.

I, for one, can't wait to see both of these documentaries!

Scandalous Review: The Kings' Mistresses by Elizabeth Goldsmith

Title:  The Kings' Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin

Author:  Elizabeth C. Goldsmith
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication date: 4/3/2012
Pages: 288

From the inside cover: The Mancini Sisters, Marie and Hortense, were born in Rome, brought to the court of Louis XIV of France, and strategically married off by their uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, to secure his political power base. Such was the life of many young women of the age: they had no independent status under the law and were entirely a part of their husband’s property once married.

Marie and Hortense, however, had other ambitions in mind altogether. Miserable in their marriages and determined to live independently, they abandoned their husbands in secret and began lives of extraordinary daring on the run and in the public eye. The beguiling sisters quickly won the affections of noblemen and kings alike. Their flight became popular fodder for salon conversation and tabloids, and was closely followed by seventeenth-century European society. The Countess of Grignan remarked that they were traveling “like two heroines out of a novel.” Others gossiped that they “were roaming the countryside in pursuit of wandering lovers.”

My thoughts:  I've been waiting for a long time for someone to write a biography of two of the Mancini sisters, so I was excited to get a copy of Elizabeth Goldsmith's new book The Kings' Mistresses which will be published this Tuesday.  The book's title is a bit misleading, there is no evidence that Marie Mancini was Louis XIV's mistress, although he contemplated marrying her before being convinced by Mazarin, her uncle, that he needed to make a dynastic marriage to his cousin the Spanish Infanta Maria Theresa.

The book is a more than just a biography of the lives of these two Scandalous Women. It is also a fascinating look at the realities of marriage for women in the 17th century.  Although both Marie and Hortense were well born, they had very little rights when it came to marriage. Both marriages were not successful. She was married off at the age of 15 just before her uncle died. Hortense's husband was obsessed with her to the point of madness, he forced her to travel with him up and down the country visiting his various properties, he restricted her movements,  and who she could see.  While keeping her a virtual prisoner, he then systematically began spending all the money that her uncle had left to them. In 6 years, Hortense had given birth to 4 children, and she had enough of her husband. She attempted to seperate from him using the courts, but she found herself thwarted and frustrated at every opportunity by her husband to the point that she felt that she had no choice but to flee the country.

Meanwhile Marie married an Italian prince. In the beginning her marriage seemed to be going better than Hortense's. Marie scandalized Roman society by freely roaming around the city, and taking part in theatrical productions. After giving birth to 3 sons, Marie wanted seperate bedrooms, but her husband , like Hortense's wasn't used to being thwarted. When Marie began to suspect that he was trying to kill her, she too fled first to France and then to Spain.

Both women spent years leading nomadic lives, trying to stay one step of their husbands and the courts.  They published their memoirs to share their stories.  This was highly unusual, very few aristocratic women published their memoirs, if they wrote them at all, they were privately published or circulated amongst their friends and family.  It was an incredibly bold move for the time, and helped to engender public sympathy for the women. It also served to strengthen the attitudes of those men and women who feared independent women. In an age before newspapers, it is incredible how the story of the Mancini sisters spread across Europe. Their memoirs were translated into many languages, leaving a remarkable record of women's lives. It is not hard to sympathize with the sisters, particularly given just how awful their husband's were. It is shocking the lengths that both men went to try and bring their wives to heel, everything from keeping their children from them to keeping them impoverished. Hortense's in particular was just insane, even his children later took him to court to try and recover their inheritances that he had squandered.

Goldsmith's book is incredibly well-researched and written, if a little too academic at times. The book is filled with details from previously unpublished letters, it is most effective when Goldsmith allows the women to tell their stories in their own words.  The sisters come across as bold, witty, and highly intelligent, larger than life characters but also women who in the end paid a high price for their need for independence. There are a few typos in the galley that I read, which will hopefully be corrected when the book is published.  For example Goldsmith states that Henrietta Maria was Louis XIV's cousin when she was actually his aunt, James I was Charles II's grandfather not his father, at one point she states that it is 1665 and then 1675.  And there were some strange omissions, not once does she discuss Cardinal Mazarin's relationship to Anne of Austria nor does she mention that one of the reason's that Louis XIV became more religious as he got older and revoked the Edict of Nantes was his relationship with Madame de Maintenon. Despite these flaws, the book is well worth reading.

Verdict:  Highly recommended