Far From Dullest, George V Was Full of Surprises

Far From Dullest, George V Was Full of Surprises
AP Photo, File

George V: Never a Dull Moment, by Jane Ridley (Harper)

‘Victorian’ stuck, and ‘Edwardian’ too. But ‘Georgian’, as an adjective associated with the next monarch in line, never caught on. It was already assigned, of course, but George V very strikingly didn’t embody his time in the way that his father and grandmother did. The adjective only really succeeded in one specific instance: as the name of a school of poets. The anthologies Harold Monro published between 1911 and 1922 under the title ‘Georgian Poetry’ created a lasting school of poets — like the King, well-made, efficient, reticent and given to outbursts of intense romantic emotion.

George V is not much associated with poetry; but his character is more complex than many of his contemporaries understood. He was a great lover of novels, like his grandmother, and is recorded reading Uncle Tom’s CabinPendennis and, surprisingly, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, as well as the thunderous yarns of Captain Marryat and Harrison Ainsworth. Between 1933 and 1935, he read 159 books. He was, in my view, the best-dressed of any English monarch. Every photograph of him is of breathtaking, restrained elegance. He had a famously happy marriage with another gruff introvert, May of Teck, in which they apparently found it hard to convey their feelings for each other in speech. There is an enchanting 1935 photograph of Queen Mary on a garden bench with the King, her hand resting shyly on his thigh. From many hints, I find him the most mysteriously tantalising of 20th-century monarchs. One of his grandmother’s courtiers said that you could never use the expression ‘a woman like Queen Victoria’ because she was utterly unique. Much the same might be said of her grandson.

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