Queen Bees: Six Brilliant and Extraordinary Society Hostesses Between the Wars by Sian Evans


Summary from Goodreads:

In the aftermath of the First World War, the previously strict hierarchies of the British class system were weakened. For a number of ambitious, spirited women, this was the chance they needed to slip through the cracks and take their place at the top of society as the great hostesses of the time. In an age when the place of women was uncertain, becoming a hostess was not a chore, but a career choice, and though some of the hostesses’ backgrounds were surprisingly humble, their aspirations were anything but. During the inter-war years these extraordinary women ruled over London society from their dining tables – entertaining everyone from the Mosleys to the Mitfords, from millionaires to maharajahs, from film stars to royalty – and their influence can still be felt today. Great Hostesses looks at the lives of six of these remarkable women, including Lady Astor, who went on to become the first female MP, and Mrs Greville, who cultivated relationships with Edward VII, as well as Lady Londonderry, Lady Cunard, Laura Corrigan and Lady Colefax.

You can probably tell from some of my previous reviews that I’m a big fan of social history so I was crazy excited to read this one. I couldn’t help but be fascinated  – especially as Evans name drops every famous Brit from the first half of the 20th century: royalty, Churchill, Kipling, JM Barrie, Woolf, Yeats, GB Shaw and others all make cameo appearances. But unfortunately, the good news stops there.

I found Evans’ narrative style more than a little off-putting. She jumps from one woman to another in the space of a couple of paragraphs. It’s messy and difficult to follow. Honestly, each of these women deserved their own book – or at the very least their own chapters. I mean one of these women was the first female MP!

Evans also has a bad habit of repeating her descriptions – an editor with a heavier hand would have been appreciated.

All-in-all, I’m not sure I can take away a lot from this one except for some juicy tabloid-y anecdotes about certain interwar celebrities. I’ll leave you with one of these anecdotes about Mrs. Greville saving her pennies during the Great Depression:

Nevertheless Mrs. Greville economised in a way that only the truly rich would; she owned very valuable emeralds… and magnificent ropes of pearls, but had to pay considerable insurance premiums whenever they were worn . So she had replicas made and often wore those instead, especially when she was travelling. Only an expert could have told them apart, and her insurance premiums were much reduced as a result. (pg 164) 

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