Kate Summerscale The Queen of Whale Cay

ISBN 13: 9780007276660

The Queen of Whale Cay

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9780007276660: The Queen of Whale Cay

A fascinating biography of the woman champion motorboat racer of the 1920s who in the '30s bought and became 'ruler' of an island in the British West Indies. 'Joe' Carstairs was born in London in 1900, the daughter of a Scottish colonel and an American heiress. Educated in Connecticut, she returned to Europe in 1916 and drove ambulances for the Women's Legion in France. She deserted her husband at the church door (marriage was a prerequisite of her coming into her $4 million inheritance) and settled in England where she took up racing, established a boat yard at Cowes and won nearly every trophy going. In the 30s she started travelling widely, finally moving to the West Indies where she bought the island of Whale Cay. There she developed the island into a populated community, building everything from roads and schools to lighthouses and churches. Carstairs then suceeded in establishing hegemony over the 500 islanders, controlling not only their sexual morals but also their diet. In 1944 she built a deepwater harbour for the Royal Navy's use and, without a word to her population, left the island to build warcraft in Florida, where she settled for 40 years, having run a steamship freightline and set up a chain of airports. Kate Summerscale's brilliant biography brings out of obscurity a woman whose very boldness took her beyond fame and notoriety.

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Review:

British eccentric Marion "Joe" Carstairs (1900-1993) was a world-class speedboat racer, heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, ruler of her own Caribbean Island ... and a cross-dressing lesbian. This biography places Carstairs's adventurous life in the context of 20th-century attitudes toward sexual deviance. During the permissive 1920s, Carstairs was able to flaunt her taste for women in the bohemian circles of London and Paris. She had affairs with numerous gals, including Natalie Barney and Dolly Wilde, Oscar's niece. When writing about Carstairs's boat races, the press of that roaring decade regarded her as a loveable tomboy. But as social norms shifted in the '30s, Carstairs's lifestyle was frowned upon. So she acquired Whale Cay, an island off the coast of Florida, turned it into her own version of paradise, became a gentleman farmer, and had an affair with Marlene Dietrich. Carstairs's most important and long-term relationship, though, was with Lord Tod Wadley, a stuffed leather doll. --Rebecca Brown

About the Author:

Born in 1965 Kate Summerscale was brought up in Japan, England and Chile. She took a double-first at Oxford, an MA in Journalism from Stanford University, California, and for some years wrote and edited obituaries on the Daily Telegraph. Now, she writes features for the Telegraph.

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