Thursday, 25 July 2013

Colonel Barker’s monstrous regiment Rose Collis

Average

This is a biography of Valerie Lilias Arhelt Smith who, as “Colonel Victor Barker” was arrested and sent to jail for falsifying records (a marriage certificate) to marry Elfrida Hayward in St Peters Church, Brighton. A scandalous trial with lots of coverage in the tabloids led to a life of notoriety. The central story is supplemented with examples from history of other cross dressing females. There is a good book in here but sadly there are a few problems. Firstly, and this may just be my issue, Collis drops the historical info, in very long (sometimes several pages) stretches of prose in italics. Seemingly with little thought as to breaking up the story and then will continue as though there had been no insertion at all. Drove me to distraction and a couple of chapters in I was reading the main biography and skipping the italics, which I then went through at the end. A little editorial control would have helped here. The other problem was a usual biographical one, she was working from minimal records, Barker for obvious reasons not writing much down, and extrapolating and surmising. This is Ok as far as it goes but sometimes, where the records are scant, there did seem to be an element of the author just making it up. However I’m glad I read this book even though it didn’t quite deliver and there are plenty of interesting episodes. Including the fact that Barker joined the British Fascists in the inter-war years and we see that many of the suffragettes went on to join the fascists & the fact that there were lots of fascist movements in Britain, which is a bit of history I know virtually nothing about. I’m aware of Mosely of course but not the other movements, who seemed to be formed to oppose the communists.

Overall – A little muddled but an interesting story for a biography

Search This Blog