Monday, October 26, 2015

Maria Pia Queen of Portugal by Sabrina Pollock

Sabrina Pollock has been fascinated with Queen Maria Pia of Portugal for many years.  She found the consort of King Luis to be a "mass of contradictions," a woman with a temper, "extravagant as she was charitable."

Pollock turned this determined fascination into a large readable (and first English-language) biography, Maria Pia, Queen of Portugal ($43.95/£33.00).

There are not many sources in English on the queen, who was born Princess Maria Pia of Italy.  Certainly no primary sources.   Unlike other English-language writers,  Pollock went to the original sources, most of which are located in Portuguese and Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen archives, thus providing translations of letters and other documents.  I am not sure if Pollock used a professional translator for the material, rather than try to do it herself.

Access to primary sources allows a biographer to create an effusive biography. This means a more object accounting of the subject.   It should be noted that this is the first English-language biography on Queen Maria Pia.  

Her research led to her a more informed and well-rounded portrait of Maria Pia. She was widowed after 26 years of an arranged marriage.  She survived her husband's infidelities, the assassination of her elder son, King Carlos, and her grandson, Crown Prince Luis,  the abdication of her  younger grandson, King Manoel II, and exile.  She died a year after the collapse of the Portuguese monarchy.

She was devoted to her sons and fond of Carlos' wife, Amelia.  She was also extravagant, and thought of spending too money on frivolities.

Is this a great biography?  Not at all.  It is good read, sometimes, very good.

But .. but .. but!   Oh the spelling errors ... and mistakes.  Manoel II was born on November 15, 1889, not November 19, which makes the author's statement that Manoel was born exactly two months after the death of his grandfather as incorrect.

I cannot stress enough the importance of using professional editors and fact checkers for biographies.  A good editor would have worked with the writer to flesh out different parts of the text, for example.

There is a lack of consistency in Portuguese names of palaces and places.  It also looks like spell check changed correct words to incorrect words.  My favorite;  commensurate rather than commemorate when referring to Queen Victoria's jubilee.  I also think the index to have more details, and not merely providing what page a person can be found.  If I wanted to go directly to when Maria Pia met with someone, or married or when she gave birth, I am unable to find the information in the book's index.

The author has, however, provided excellent end notes to sources used in the text.

I also wish Mr. Beeche would take heed to my wish that he devote more time to real editing and working with writers, rather than take a manuscript, puff it up a bit with a nice epilogue, but neglect the little things: such as spelling and grammar, accuracy in accents, titles and dates.   More attention to detail would mean a lot less meh! from me.

The book includes 32 pages of photographs.

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