Sunday, 2 September 2007

Book Review - From Arthur to Betty II: Tables of the Royals

Erwin Q. Blatt, author of such popular history books as The Communist Revolution from the Point of View of a Nomadic Herder in Mongolia and Node of Honour: A History of Lymph, has written a new book about the British monarchy and their infatuation with tables.

Entitled From Arthur to Betty II: Tables of the Royals, the book covers the famous and the little-known dining-room furniture of English royals. Blatt's research is astounding; very little seems to have been left out in this thrilling survey.

The book begins with the most famous table that British royalty has to offer, King Arthur's round table. While many people believe the reason for the shape was to prevent anyone from being 'head of the table' (and thus seeming more important than the others), Blatt has discovered that the real reason was that Arthur and his knights were all fans of Chinese food, and regularly shared banquets. A round table with a large Lazy Susan was the most efficient way of doing this. Indeed, one of the many instances of magic attributed to Merlin was the creation of the Lazy Susan, something that seemed otherworldly to the Knights' primitive minds.

While the table habits of some Monarchs warrant entire chapters, some require no more than a few paragraphs. Henry VIII was particularly scathing of tables, and is said to have attempted to destroy all serving surfaces in the kingdom; when this was deemed impossible by his advisors he instead started a crippling table tax, rendering table ownership incredibly unattractive to Britain's poor. The section in the book on this is mercifully short.

However, other Kings and Queens have been shown by Blatt to have been instrumental in the advancement of table science. James II, for instance, had an octagonal table in honour of the shape, discovered by British mathematicians during his reign. Queen Victoria was for some time obsessed with tables, and in 1887 ordered the creation of a spectial spherical table in honour of her Golden Jubilee. When the table was unveiled at a special reception in Westminster Abbey, however, all of the guests' soup bowls fell off the impractical table, resulting in several burnt laps. Victoria's love affair with tables ended that day.

Blatt writes with passion on the subject of tables, something that must be due to his own obsession with the furniture (he is rumoured to own at least three tables himself!). While some of his descriptions of the tables themselves occasionally become weighed down with technical jargon, there is no denying his vast knowledge on the subject.

This is the ideal birthday or Christening present for anyone who is interested in tables, royalty or bears (as there is a bear in the ninth chapter).

From Arthur to Betty II: Tables of the Royals by Erwin Q. Blatt; Artichoked to Death Press; pp639; $49.98


O. L. Sorssengåard said...

I hardly see how Erwin Q. Blatt can consider himself an expert on the subject of tables when he only owns three. I myself am in the posession of five tables and feel that my knowledge of tables is rudimentary at best.

However, I have recently published a dissertation on the subject of the royal's tables. It differs greatly from Blatt's work insofar as it is not a historical review, but a scholarly inquest into the relationship between the monarchy and the public and how the monarch's table is representative of his relationship to his subjects. You may find my work Round and Round: the Tables of Kings and Their Relationship to the King's Subjects at the Scandinavian Library for Tables and Chairs.

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Mme. Sorssengaard:

Really? You own FIVE tables? What do you do with so many tables? Do you put things on them or just display them?

I have never been lucky enough to own a single table, though I did see one once and I was very impressed.

I would very much like to read your dissertation; perhaps Mister Blatt could reference it in a later edition of his book! Ha ha! But seriously, I'm sure it's very good.