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The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon: 5th Countess of Carnarvon, of Tutankhamun Fame Paperback – April 22, 2011
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From the Inside Flap
Who Is Almina, Countess of Carnarvon?
Almina was born in London on 14 April 1876, but her birth was not registered in England until four years later. Christened Almina Victoria Marie Alexandra Wombwell later Herbert, later Mrs Dennistoun, from 1923 she termed herself Almina, Countess of Carnarvon. Her mother was French, her father was probably English. Almina's childhood was spent among the decaying vestiges of old French and Spanish aristocrats.
Almina grew up in Paris, spoke fluent French and was later a debutante in the London Season of 1893. She lived and loved for nine decades - married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon in 1895 and Lt. Col Ian Onslow Dennistoun in 1923. Lord Carnarvon died in 1923 (in Egypt). Ian died in 1938 (in London). Almina was Chatelaine of Highclere Castle ( the back drop to TV's Downton Abbey) from 1895 until 1923.
Almina made a major contribution to nursing the wounded in the Great War and ran a series of plush nursing homes in London and surrounds from 1914-1943. Here she pampered the rich, famous and many Royals.
Almina spent a King's Ransom: principally the legacies from her mother, Marie Boyer, who died in 1913, and from her godfather-guardian, Baron Alfred de Rothschild, who died in 1918. Almina also received the proceeds of the 5th Earl's Will. Almina was made bankrupt in 1951 and died in Bristol on 8 May 1969, aged 93. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
Almina Carnarvon has left behind a curse as deadly as the one that overshadowed her legendry husband, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, co-discoverer with Howard Carter of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. She ploughed through a King's ransom, inherited from one of the Rothschild family, leaving her playboy son enraged. In the Great War she reigned supreme as a Society leader who abandoned her comfy drawing room to treat wounded Officers at her own expense. Her later plush Nursing Homes served the rich, famous and privileged, earning her celebrity status She controlled men like a puppet master but she lost everything to bankruptcy.
This book offers insight into Almina's life and times and discloses many secrets. The narrative reveals a riches-to-rags story over nine decades of the barely 5 feet high, Pocket Venus plunged into an artificial marriage with a boorish, craggy faced Earl, ten years her senior, a virtual invalid who failed her as a companion and a lover.
Almina reinvented herself several times, married twice, she lived with a business partner for 20 years, entirely undisclosed to her family, who walked in the highest echelons of Society, swindled her own son and ended her days in an ordinary terraced house in Bristol, perishing aged 93, in a horrendous "accident" in 1969. This is a tale to rock the old world Establishment. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
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This book takes the reader through parts of the life of the Countess of Carnarvon, making it come alive.
For anyone interested in England, hospital and nursing care during the wars and beyond, royalty,Tutankamen, country life in England this is a book to read.
However, therein lies the problem with The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon (2011, William Cross). Mr. Cross has fallen into the trap of many well-researched historians who attempt to put their sizeable knowledge on paper for the layman to peruse. We are quickly left to trudge through an onslaught of dates, persons and activities. Much like a farmer plowing a field, we immediately get stuck in heavy clay layers of minutiae that slow the progress of the story, and lose our interest as readers.
I have a university degree in history, so I don't need to be entertained on every page. However, I also don't need to know the color of the dress she was wearing at every wedding she ever attended, or the name of every important person Almina has ever crossed paths with.
Scores of names and hundreds of dates, many of which are only ancillary to the story, bloat Mr. Cross' pages to the point that I began to wonder if Almina was even worth reading about. Even Abe Lincoln, if we were to write about his daily exploits in detail, would seem less of a heroic person. That's what happened here: the importance of Almina became so diluted with uninteresting facts that the very existence of the book came into question.
It's not that the book doesn't have value; it is a record of Mr. Cross' considerable research. It won't, however, be interesting to the average reading public until those facts are trimmed to only those which move the story along. The average Downton Abbey fan will not find this book easy reading.
The book is also in desperate need of editing. The book appears amateurish, which clouds the judgment of a reader. A good polishing of font styles, chapter headings, subheadings and footnotes would go a long way in making this book approachable. I tripped over too many errors, which would cause irritation.
A good editor would also be able to help Mr. Cross trim unnecessary bits of information, making the entire story of Almina's life seem important and of value.
I realize that there is some sort of enmity between the Carnarvon family and Mr. Cross, but that seems unnecessary. Mr. Cross presents Almina's life evenly, with no bile. I hope the Carnarvon family would open its files to Mr. Cross for further study.
I didn't dislike the book. Rather, I found myself struggling through so much data that I had to re-start my reading several times. There is definitely a good story here; Mr. Cross just needs to pull it out from the depths of trivia to make it available.
That Mr. Cross has devoted countles hours researching Almina's life and relationships there can be no doubt. There are more than 900 bibliographical endnotes delineating hundreds of references one can check if one desires. Oddly, however, there is no index. Good luck if later you wish to look up a certain mentioned member of say, the royal family. You are supposed to flip pages I assume till you run across it again. Rather short sighted in a work of non-fiction, in my opinion.
Mr. Cross is a fellow of the Scottish Antiquaries Society, hence the post-nominal FSA Scot following his name. As a fellow of this organization one is to have achieved a certain level of historical work concerning the history of Scotland. He has indeed published several other books but a quick perusal seems to indicate they, too, are self-published. I mention this because, as some other reviewers have noted, this particular book suffers from not having been professionally edited. One stumbles across errors in grammar and syntax often and the varying sizes of the text can be maddening.
In terms of readability one begins to tire of the introduction of literally hundreds of names (with their dates of birth and death) bearing little impact on the lives of Lady Almina or her family. Cross also makes many assertions which cannot be substantiated reflecting on the character and activities of Lord Carnarvon, etc., etc.
It can be tedious reading when one is told the fabric and appearance of ladies' dresses from balls taking place a century ago. When this is repeated over and over and over it becomes nearly unbearable. But this is after all a biography of a society lady and as such a certain amount of prose waxing upon floral arrangements, wine choices and such fluff is to be expected.
The bottom line is this: after ploughing through it I kinda felt I needed a shower because I'd been peeking into the very private life of a lady who had suffered much of her life at the hands of gossip loving idiots combing through her private affairs for tidbits to tantalize. This book is the literary equivalent of a gawker's block at the scene of a freeway accident.
Fiona Carnarvon's book made Lady Almina out to be a saint. This one one makes her seem a slut. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in between.
It's good that William Cross did all this research and documented the whole story of Lady Almina. But at the same time, one feels a little too much information is shared with the hapless reader in the form of breathless gossip often unsubstantiated.