Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hickman, Katie "Daughters of Britannia"

Hickman, Katie "Daughters of Britannia. The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives" - 1999

The story of many many wives of British diplomats, past and present, told by the daughter of one of them. Someone who grew up with this, someone who can give us a different perspective.

I am not a diplomats wife but I know quite a few women who have followed their husband to foreign countries, myself included. And whether you move to a country far away or nearby, you are always the foreigner. I think in some respect, those who move with their country behind them might even have a slight advantage over those who are thrown into the deep water without a safety net.

Anyway, the book. A lot of details, an enormous amount of details, some of them highly interesting, others not so much, at least not for me, I don't care how large a diamond is that some lady wears, for example, it's enough to know that it's gigantic. But I loved to get to know the different wives, especially that the author introduced Isabel Burton, the wife of Richard Burton whom I got to know in "The Collector of Worlds" and "Nomad On Four Continents" (in German only). She was just as adventurous as he was. Then there are the different lists, like the ingredients of the typical household medicine cabinet in the 1800s. I love to see the difference to today, how far medicine has come since then.

All in all, if you have lived abroad or are just slightly interested in different worlds, different customs, this is a very interesting book.

Some of the quotes that touched me most because I have felt this often myself:
"It was then that I realised that the major problems arising from our nomadic life were going to affect me rather than him."

"I suppose, that different persons observe different things, and attribute to them a different degree of importance."

"'Women around fifty feel they have given up a lot in terms of a career of their own,' explains one Foreign Office counsellor. 'And then when they get to fifty they wonder where they are.'
It is not only jobs which are sacrificed. In diplomatic life a continuing sense of loss can permeate almost every aspect of life. 'You settle down for three or four years, you go off again, you settle again, you move again. Your children in general go away, when other parents in the UK are not experiencing that. You lose job opportunities; you lose friends; you lose identity, I think

From the back cover:

"In an absorbing mixture of poignant biography and wonderfully entertaining social history, Daughters of Britannia offers the story of diplomatic life as it has never been told before.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Vita Sackville-West, and Lady Diana Cooper are among the well-known wives of diplomats who represented Britain in the far-flung corners of the globe. Yet, despite serving such crucial roles, the vast majority of these women are entirely unknown to history.

Drawing on letters, private journals, and memoirs, as well as contemporary oral history, Katie Hickman explores not only the public pomp and glamour of diplomatic life but also the most intimate, private face of this most fascinating and mysterious world.

Touching on the lives of nearly 100 diplomatic wives (as well as sisters and daughters),
Daughters of Britannia is a brilliant and compelling account of more than three centuries of British diplomacy as seen through the eyes of some of its most intrepid but least heralded participants."


  1. Life is definitely different living away from your home country. It can be exciting and fun or exasperating and difficult. Our family has hit the point where one is at university in the States working towards their career with the other starting high school. Where have the years flown? Meanwhile, we expect to be in Europe until Mike retires in 9 years. I've had so many different "jobs" since 2001, I almost can't keep track. They aren't my traditional career because it isn't available here. I'm a homeschooler (two different countries), professional driver, professional volunteer, substitute teacher and chief cook and bottle washer! The bottom line is I wouldn't want life to be any different because it is part of God's plan for us! I definitely will be adding this book to my list!

  2. Yes, Jane, I think I have done about the same "jobs" you have, except for the home-schooling, that is just not an option for us. For me the difficulty is that I stay in a country where I don't fit in and don't have my whole nation behind me, either. It's though staying in a place like that for three years but for us it's going to be 24 years. Not easy.