08 March 2021

Guest Review: The Charleston Scandal by Pamela Hart

The Charleston Scandal by Pamela Hart book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *


Today the media is abuzz with news of Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah Winfrey and the royal scandal of Megxit continues. It's not the first royal scandal, nor will it be the last. Today guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise shares his thoughts on The Charleston Scandal, an historical fiction novel by Australian author Pamela Hart about a scandal involving a member of the royal family in the 1920s.

Neil's Review

It is 1923. The Great War that killed about 40 million ended five years ago, it is history. The suffragettes will be marching their case through the streets of London until 1928. A promising young ex-serviceman-turned-politician named Hitler has floated some interesting ideas in Germany. Homosexual acts between men over 21 will remain a jailable offence in Britain until 1967. Actresses are considered, at best, to be whores in polite society, and the Prince of Wales, son of the ruling monarch Queen Victoria, Bertie to his friends, is a renowned, if rather embarrassing, playboy of questionable morals.

Against this confusing and conflicted background, Pamela Hart presents The Charleston Scandal. Hart features the life of an actress, Kit Scott, and her acting/dancing partner, Zeke Gardiner as Kit stumbles uncertainly between the ever-tenuous life of the ingenue actress and her potential acceptance among the ‘titled gentry’ who ‘play’ on the margins of the Prince of Wales debauchery.

It is 1923. Women in Australia have had the right to vote for over 20 years. The automobile has become a common feature on the roads. Women can attend university – even become doctors and lawyers. Some actors and actresses are well recognised in society: In Melbourne, in 1921, Sarah Bernhardt played to “a critical and intelligent audience” and Nellie Melba was a leading soprano at Covent Garden from 1888. Out of this background of emerging acceptance of theatre as a respectable career - even for women - Kit Scott has left Australia, to the consternation of her father, Dean of St Andrews cathedral, and the horror of her mother and sister to confirm her career as an actress in London. It was a common path for young women in pursuit of an acting career.

The scandal of Kit having her photo published in the tabloid press dancing the highly risqué (for the time) Charleston with the Prince of Wales provides the title for this novel. However, it is the presentation of the characters with their various social backgrounds – Kit is Australian (a colonial! Yikes!) while Zeke is a Canadian with a farming background and an abusive father. These events and key characters offer Hart the opportunity to explore and present the stolid resistance of the upper classes to any threat to their entitled existence and, simultaneously, to review the living conditions and aspirations of young, mostly working class, women.

Zeke and Kit seem to be an unlikely pairing but their common aspirations and their rapidly emerging acting skills generate a sharing of emotions and thoughts, an empathy which they strain to deny to themselves is love, albeit a necessarily platonic love.

While there is romance, and even recrimination, The Charleston Scandal presents a highly enjoyable exploration of the upper-class demand for total subjugation of those ‘beneath’ them. It illuminates their adherence to a world which Jane Austen presented a century before them. In contrast, Hart demonstrates, sometimes maybe too sympathetically, the generosity, the vivacity, the professional determination of the actresses who compete in audition for too few roles.

As a side-bar, the arrival of Zeke’s father, the abusive farmer from British Columbia, from whom Zeke is trying to free his mother, offers a convenient opportunity to review the issues of domestic violence, care for the poor, ill and aged and the uncertainty of future care for the working class family as they become unemployed.

The Charleston Scandal is a romance-filled romp through life in London a century ago. At the same time, it confronts its readers with issues which are all-too prevalent a century on. After all, it is now 2021! Pamela Hart has given us a novel of tough love. To read of the maintenance of a Jane Austen society one century on must give us pause to reflect on what still remains entrenched in our current social structures one further century on.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

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