RBS Main Theatre
31 August, 11.30

AntoniaIt’s lucky for Antonia Fraser that narrative histories became fashionable. Obviously she has reaped great success from its return a la mode, but also because one gets the impression Lady Fraser simply could not constrain herself to simply tell us the facts and trends. Reading her biographies one gains an intimate picture of her subject as a result of the narrative form, likewise, in an hour spent listening to Antonia Fraser, the anecdotes and snippets of information from her own past, that she seems compelled to include, afford the audience a closer look at this remarkable woman.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publishing of Mary Queen of Scots, Fraser looked back to its beginnings: a near obsession with Mary, starting at an early age, that grew into a compulsion to write: a passion and desperation that she claims fuelled her writing with a sense of urgency which enriched her biography with the vividness Mary’s story deserved. I was glad to hear her views on gender with regard to biographies as she utterly refuted the idea that biographical writing has been feminised, claiming that her only real identification she had with Mary Queen of Scots was her height!

Aside from tackling some of the finer details of Mary Queen of Scots’ fraught life: from her husbands, the intrigues surrounding her, and her relationship with Elizabeth I, to her accent (a soft Scottish lilt, rather than a thick Gallic enunciation- one of Fraser’s greatest irks), Antonia Fraser provided us with transporting tales from her research and correspondence. One doesn’t tend to imagine historians of note receiving letters along the lines of ‘Dear Madam, Clearly when writing your history, you did not pause to consider a Polish ex-miner from the Ukraine reading your book in north America with no knowledge of the French language, and no French dictionary to hand.’ Or, the barrage of mail she receives from the re-incarnation lobby, such as one gentleman who in response to seeing the publication of Mary Queen of Scots, sent: ‘Madam, you dare to write about my life!’

At the close of an hour, I was reminded of the skill of this woman in recreating history for the masses and hoping that she might diverge from biography and try writing her own history.

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