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The Queen of Whale Cay Paperback – April 1, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

British eccentric Marion "Joe" Carstairs (1900-1993) was a world-class speedboat racer, heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, ruler of her own Caribbean Island ... and a cross-dressing lesbian. This biography places Carstairs's adventurous life in the context of 20th-century attitudes toward sexual deviance. During the permissive 1920s, Carstairs was able to flaunt her taste for women in the bohemian circles of London and Paris. She had affairs with numerous gals, including Natalie Barney and Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece. When writing about Carstairs's boat races, the press of that roaring decade regarded her as a loveable tomboy. But as social norms shifted in the '30s, Carstairs's lifestyle was frowned upon. So she acquired Whale Cay, an island off the coast of Florida, turned it into her own version of paradise, became a gentleman farmer, and had an affair with Marlene Dietrich. Carstairs's most important and long-term relationship, though, was with Lord Tod Wadley, a stuffed leather doll. --Rebecca Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

In this superbly written biography, Summerscale brings to life the extraordinary and eccentric ``Joe Carstairs. A London Times bestseller and already nominated for the Whitbread Biography of the Year Prize, this volume takes empathetic hold of an enterprising, cross-dressing woman bent on devouring the world whole. Marion ``Joe'' Carstairs was heiress to the Standard Oil fortune and clearly predestined to eccentricity. Her childhood was emotionally arid. Her mother early succumbed to men, drink, and drugs. Marion was by nature a provocateur and lived to challenge the sexual morals of her day. By the 1920s she had seen the battlefield and the barroom, found her identity as a heavy-smoking, tattooed lesbian, distinguished herself as a record-breaking speedboat racer, and become the self-fashioned ruler of Whale Cay, a small Bahamian island she purchased with her considerable personal fortune. Any one of these might have made her unique; the combination made her positively fascinating. In a life ``powered by her money, Joe lifted herself clear of censure by dint of nerve and speed. She lived and loved relentlessly, visibly, and famously. (The Windsors, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich were but a few of her cohorts.) But somewhere within was a heart the beat only for Lord Tod Wadley, a leather-faced, Steiff doll of a man to whom she was unendingly devoted. Their personalities were bizarrely entwined. Ultimately, Carstairss lust for privacy, and for control, was so great that it threatened to consume her. The dazzling and enigmatic life she led soon faded from view. Not until Summerscale, obituaries editor of the Daily Telegraph at the time of Carstairss death in 1993, set out to research anomalies in the sketchy details of her life did it all come back. Stylistically restrained and well paced, this unforgettable tale of one woman's raw hunger for immortality needed no more than this eloquent telling to lift clear off the page. Captivating fun. (44 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007276664
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007276660
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,821,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joseph W. Hlebica on March 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
While I find the story of Joe Carstairs fascinating, I find Summerscale's attempt at explaining this enigma falls short of the mark. I believe there must be many others with far greater experience as writers/biographers, and even some who knew Carstairs personally, who would have been better qualified to tell this story. Summerscale's naivete and general lack of knowledge about the period during which Carstairs made her mark is glaringly obvious throughout much of the book. Her attempt to write this story became an education for herself, worthwhile, but of no service to her readers. I would have appreciated more insight and less supposition. I also find her attempts to turn everything Carstairs did or made into a metaphor for self-imposed exile a bit hard to swallow. Carstairs was no recluse--she was quite the opposite; an exhibitionist extraordinaire.
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Format: Paperback
Marion "Joe" Carstairs is someone impossible to forget once you've been properly introduced and this book is a fine introduction to her fascinating life. Heiress, racing-boat enthusiast, owner and lord of her own island fiefdom, Ms. Carstairs is brought to life through excellent research and exposition. A woman of great eccentricity, great talent, and great generosity, she amazes the reader with her boldly- lived existence and her determination never to deviate from her own principles, no matter who thinks what of them. Kate Summerscale has done a masterful job of putting many small and sometimes obscure pieces together to create a whole that is larger than the sum -- which, she admirably demonstrates, is what "Joe" Carstairs was all about. THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY is both reportorial and whimsical, striking the right balance between the exterior world in which Ms. Carstairs moved about and an interior world which she held dearly secret from everyone except a little, foot-high male doll. In the hands of a clumsy writer, Ms. Carstairs' life could have been trotted out as mere burlesque, a novel diversion inviting smirks and ridicule. In the capable hands of Ms. Summerscale, however, the exuberant life of this wonderfully different woman shines. Marion "Joe" Carstairs would not have wanted her biography written at all, but if it had to happen, one suspects she would have been pleased with THE QUEEN OF WHALE CAY.
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What an odd duck!!! Joe Carstairs was really unusual. She had an awful childhood, but overcame this with an independent spirit. She loved a "doll" all her life. She was the owner of Whale Cay and ran it like a dictator. The biography includes her many lovers, photographs, the story of her boat racing, her adventures during World War One, her friends, her businesses, her poetry, her pranks, her cruelty, her weird lifestyle, and more. Highly recommended. I have now read all of Kate Summerscale's books and will definitely buy her newest one - due soon. This book is short and is weird in places but it deserves an A+++++
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I saw this slim volume in the store and was fascinated by the picture on the cover - a woman dressed as a man with a little battered doll on her shoulder - "what in the world is this?" So, I started to read. What a surprise. This is the story of Marion "Joe" Carstairs, a Standard Oil heiress, a champion speed boat driver, friend to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, an unrepentant lesbian, owner of the Caribbean isalnd Whale Cay, and the constant companion of Lord Todd Wadley (yes, a funny little doll). This is one of the most immediately engaging books I've ever read. What a character she was, and what a life she led. "The Queen of Whale Cay" is an absolute charmer from start to finish. Looking for a little slice of forgotten history to while a way some time? This is the book for you.
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Nominated for the Whitbread Biography of the Year Prize.
A short but very detailed and interesting life of a woman who
had weath and no fear! She was also a hero in rescuing the sailors
of the Potlatch. An American ship that was torpedoed off Bird Rock Passage, 350 miles from Naussau.
She was poorly rewarded for her brave efforts.
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By A Customer on October 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
The author makes the most of a truly eccentric life - American lesbian "Joe" Carstairs - who lived the life of a wealthy English lord and sportsman through the 1920s and 1930s- went everywhere, knew everyone- then gave it up to create her own truly bizarre island kingdom in the Bahamas. "Joe" drove an ambulance in WWI, was in Ireland for the troubles, burned a swathe through dozens of actress lovers across Europe, including some famous names of the day, drank and danced through the London nightclubs, designed built and professionally sailed schooners, yachts, racing boats...and the best part? Her only longterm partner in life, Lord Tod Wadley, was a little man DOLL (yes, a doll) whom she never allowed to leave her side for a moment. Wait til you see Lord Tod's photographs! No one could ever make this stuff up. The author gives enough historic and biographical background about Joe's times and the people in her circle, to make Joe's world almost as interesting a character as Joe herself. An unusual, hilarious, touching little book.
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