New biography of Queen Mary pales alongside old; Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor, by Anne Edwards. New York: William Morrow & Co. Illustrated. 527 pp. $18.95.
Queen Mary, who was born Princess Victoria Mary of Teck in 1867 and subsequently became the consort of George V of Great Britain, is not one of the more interesting characters produced by European royalty. Yet there is enough in her rise from morganatic obscurity to Queen of England, Empress of India to occupy any skilled biographer. Indeed, she has been the subject of one of the half-dozen best biographies written in English in the past half century: James Pope-Hennessy's ''Queen Mary'' (1959). Pope-Hennessy went behind Mary's familiar image as a stiff, hide-bound, humorless figurehead to produce a magnificent portrait of a complex woman amid some of the most turbulent crosscurrents of recent history.
Anne Edwards, biographer of Judy Garland, Vivien Leigh, Margaret Mitchell, and Countess Tolstoy, appears to be out of her depth this time. She stays only on the surface of her subject and does not even do that very well. Her book lacks both vividness and finesse. Neglecting Mary's interesting early life, the book begins with her engagement at the age of 24 to the heir-presumptive to Victoria's crown. Much detail, little illumination, and far too much speculation then ensue about her subsequent life. The book is shot through with errors of all kinds: in dates, titles, diction, protocol, and even captioning. It is most regrettable that the publisher, as well as its author, should have permitted it to appear in such slipshod condition.