12 Jan 2013

"Last Curtsey" by Fiona MacCarthy

I've always been really interested in the history of women, I love reading about influential women in history and about those points in history when the fates and fortunes of women changed. "Last Curtsey" by Fiona MacCarthy is about a very British rite of passage that a select number of privileged young women had to go through (some more willingly than others) in order to be introduced into polite society. These young women were called debutantes and they came from the most privileged, the wealthiest, titled families and the rite of passage that they went through was called the season, the highpoint of which was the curtsy to the Queen, the presentation at court.  

Fiona MacCarthy was one of these debutantes, actually she was in the last batch of debutantes ever to be presented at court and in "Last Curtsey" she shares the story of the debutantes and their lives during the season. 

It is a fascinating read with host of interesting characters : the debs delights, young men escorting the debutantes to parties, some of whom were branded by the debs' mothers with the "can't be trusted in cabs"; the golden debs who had their pictures featured in magazines, walked in Cardin fashion shows or went on to marry rich and influential men; the independent debs who soon gave up the dresses and dances to pursue careers. And then there are the quaint details and historic notes such as accounts showing the expenses that a budget or a full-scale season would have cost or the musings on the traditional menu at the pre-ball dinners. 

"Last Curtsey" is the story of United Kingdom that is no more and it also hints at why because it is obvious that although the dresses, the balls and the dancing is fascinating at first, it demands nothing more of the girls than that they be pretty and sociable and there are no expectations of careers or achievements beyond marriage and kids. MacCarthy writes sensitively, hiding no flaws but condemning no one for their choices and brings to life a long-gone era in an engaging, interesting and thoughtful manner. 


  1. This sounds really interesting - I like books exploring women and social history, so I'll have to keep an eye out for this one. :)

  2. This sounds interesting in a nostalgic sort of way, although I'm glad the tradition no longer exists.

  3. This sounds really interesting! I loved my Women's Studies class in college and despite not taking more classes of it's like, I usually paid extra attention to the women in history that have done remarkable things (or just lived normal lives that would be considered drastically different than mine). This sounds like something of the latter. :) Really cool, thanks for reviewing.

  4. Thanks all three for your comments. It is really interesting, mostly because (as BookGeek mentions) it's the story of a relatively normal girl but her life is so different. It really opened my eyes to how much a girl, even a clever girl with a good background, was dependent on making a good match up until very recently. Really cool book.