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Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes Hardcover – 5 Oct 2006


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; First Edition edition (5 Oct. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571228593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571228591
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 678,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

A wonderful snapshot of a moment in history - the final swansong for the debutantes and an era of aristocratic British social history.

About the Author

With her widely acclaimed book Eric Gill, published in 1989, Fiona MacCarthy established herself as one of the leading writers of biography in Britain. This was followed by William Morris (1994), which won several literary awards including the Wolfson History Prize and was described by A.S. Byatt as 'one of the finest biographies ever published in this country.' Byron: Life and Legend (2002) was described as 'one of the great literary biographies of our time' by Mark Bostridge in the Independent on Sunday. Fiona MacCarthy writes regularly for the Guardian and lives in Derbyshire.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 62 people found the following review helpful By helen on 2 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
I think readers might fear this book could be a little twee, or perhaps over-nostalgic. (After all, I seem to be the first person to review it!) But nothing could be futher from the truth. Fiona MacCarthy has written a splendid account of a specific period with lots of fascinating details about food (canned soup with a drop of Tio Pepe for a smart occasion...), clothing (naturally) and class, but she is particularly good on psychology. Not surprising really, as she writes about her own coming out year, 1958. Quite how the debs themselves fared (everything is possible, from becoming the Begum Aga Khan, to fighting in the IRA!), how styles, thought processes and people changed or adapted, is a fascinating story in its own right. Equally interesting to read where they were all coming from (historically speaking) and how post-war society still had a grip on finances, morals and ideals.
Context is everything, and this book puts a small topic (the debs and their coming out) into a fascinatíng web of social historical detail. Wish all social history books were like this!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book a lot more interesting than I'd anticipated. It's effectively about the end of an era, the end of the Season, the final débutantes to be presented to the Queen, the changing mores and attitudes of the aristocracy. The death-knell for the aristocracy was effectively cast by the First World War, but its death-throes lingered well into the 50s. In a way, the world painted in this book is more redolent of the pre-WW1 era than the 1950s.

MacCarthy herself was one of the last débutantes to be presented to the Queen, and in this book she traces both the history of the custom and what happened to those women in 1958, what futures they carved out for themselves. So many of them broke out of the stranglehold their society had on them, strengthened by the changing world of the 1960s. Many forged their own businesses, one became the Begum Aga Khan, another joined the IRA!

It's fascinating to read about this kind of life - a life so alien to the majority of us today. Daughters were then, as always, considered little more than marriage prospects: education wasn't valued and the whole point of the Season was pretty much to find a husband. The amount of time and energy focused on the dresses, the dinner dances, the cocktail parties, afternoon teas at Henley and Eton, Royal Asoct, the columns in Tatler and Queen - it all seems so out-dated and quaint.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Marand TOP 100 REVIEWER on 19 July 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author was among the final group of debs to be presented at court in 1958, something that was a shameful "and unmentionably embarrassing secret" when she worked at 'The Guardian' during the 1960s. The author's closeness to the system has its advantages and its disadvantages - having been through the system she has an insight that outsiders lack and connections that provide further insight, but the closeness also means at times that she seems to me to attach more importance to the end of the debutante presentations than is warranted. For example, she says "the end of the curtsey was part of the whole story of England" and that the end of the presentations was "a symptom and a symbol of wide changes in Britain in the 1950s". The changes that she talks about were a result of the war aided and abetted by the damaging effect of the Suez crisis - the end of presentations had no real impact or importance and at best confirmed changes in society that had already taken place. As the author herself mentions, the nature of the presentations had changed enormously since the beginning of the 20th century, from being almost exclusively the domain of the aristocracy and the landowning classes, to a situation where fewer than half the debutantes came from that circle by 1958.

I must confess I was irritated by the author's repeated assertions that, notwithstanding being a member of the hugely wealthy McAlpine family, her mother was 'hard-up'. The detachment from reality was astonishing - hard-up widows do not have houses in Chelsea, retain a live-in nanny, educate their children privately or put their daughters through the Season including a couture dress for the dance held at the Dorchester.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a delightful read! Ms. MacCarthy writes about the last generation of girls who were presented at court. Her description of the trials and tribulations the girls and also their parents went through are thoroughly amusing. She decribes the generation of my mother and believe it or not, this book made me understand her better.

The women of this generation had to experience big changes. The standards and rules of their parents did not apply to them any more and since there were very few female role models, they all had to cope somehow. The reinvented and redefined themselves and became our role models. I could not put it down and I immediately purchased another copy for my mother.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By M. K. Laidler on 7 Nov. 2007
Format: Paperback
I was a little doubtful when I first bought this book. I was greatly suprised, that when I started reading this book I could not put it down.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in social history.This truly is a book which describes an era of modern history that has long gone.
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