A panel discussion on the challenges of researching and representing royal lives across historical periods, cultural contexts and media, featuring Catriona Seth (University of Oxford), Jane Ridley (University of Buckingham), and Tore Rem (University of Oslo); chair: Hannah Yelin (Oxford Brookes University).
Catriona Seth will be speaking about the public/private interface in Marie-Antoinette’s letters. The letters Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793) wrote over more than 20 years to comte de Mercy, ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire in Paris, when taken as a whole, allow us to fill in gaps in the Queen of France’s biography, particularly when considering the vexed question of her possible political role. They are an invaluable source, neglected (or only partly considered) by all her biographers up to the present day.
Jane Ridley is currently nearing the end of writing a biography of George V (1910-1936), a journey which Harold Nicolson, an earlier biographer, described as being like taking a taxi to Vladivostock. One of the main texts her work has focused on is George’s diary, which consists of nineteen volumes. In her talk she will reflect on royal diaries, and discuss the paradox of George V: how this dutiful ruler reinvented the monarchy after WW1 by becoming a quasi-priestly sovereign at a disastrous cost to his family.
Tore Rem’s work on a new biography of King Olav V of Norway (1903-1991) has brought him to reflect upon the events and representations that helped make this figure into, arguably, the most popular Norwegian of the 20th century. When Olav’s parents, the Danish Haakon V and his English wife Maud, were elected King and Queen of Norway in 1905, there was work to be done. Alongside the creation of Olav’s personal popularity, the institution of monarchy was gradually made secure in what became a modern, social democratic country. Rem will sketch out some of the strategies for creating royal stability, and briefly reflect on the particular challenges in writing a royal biography.
Catriona Seth is Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College. Her teaching and research focus on the long 18th century in France and the cultural history of the Enlightenment, with specific attention to the history of ideas, autobiographical writing and medical humanities. Her edition of Marie-Antoinette’s letters was published in October 2019 by Albin Michel.
Jane Ridley is a historian, biographer, author, broadcaster, and Professor of Modern History at the University of Buckingham. She has run the university’s MA course in Biography since establishing it in 1996. Jane Ridley won the Duff Cooper Prize in 2002 for The Architect and his Wife, a biography of her great-grandfather Edwin Lutyens. Other books include The Young Disraeli and The Letters of Arthur Balfour and Lady Elcho, ed. with Clayre Percy. She published the bestselling Bertie: A Life of Edward VII in 2012, followed by Victoria: Queen, Matriarch, Empress in the Penguin Monarchs Series. She is currently working on a life of King George V and Queen Mary.
Tore Rem (b. 1967) is Director of UiO:Nordic, an interdisciplinary research initiative at the University of Oslo, and Professor of English-language literature. He has published on Dickens, Ibsen, book history, life writing, and world literature, and is the author of several biographies of Norwegian writers. His most recent book, co-written with Narve Fulsås, is Ibsen, Scandinavia and the Making of a World Drama (Cambridge U.P., 2018). He is also general editor of the new Penguin Classics Ibsen edition (2015-19).
Hannah Yelin is Senior Lecturer in Media and Culture at Oxford Brookes University. Her monograph, Celebrity Memoir: from Ghostwriting to Gender Politics, is out this year with Palgrave MacMillan and interrogates the (gendered) politics of production of memoirs of contemporary female celebrity from the fields of reality TV, pop-stardom, YouTubers, and glamour modelling. Her work on Meghan Markle and the British royal family’s co-option of rhetorics of feminism and ‘diversity’ for Celebrity Studies Journal has been featured in the global news media from New Zealand Herald to La Tribuna in Peru. She is currently editing two special issues on Meghan Markle: One for Women’s Studies International Forum and one for Women’s Studies in Communication. She has an article forthcoming titled “’The best thing about Meghan joining the royal family is that she actually has black in her’: Girls Making Meaning around Meghan Markle and the British Royal Family”, which uses empirical interviews with teenage girls. This is part of a book she is currently co-authoring about girls, leadership and celebrity for Rowman and Littlefield.