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Kathleen Burk: Anglo-American marriages are the stuff of fairy tales

From a lecture delivered at Gresham College, London, by the Professor of Rhetoric

Beginning about 1870, the union of American money and the British aristocracy was a continuing theme in the Anglo-American relationship. This was a development which had its basis in economics - in American economic growth and British sectoral economic decline. However, it was probably the social aspects which mesmerised American public opinion over five decades.

Indeed, such marriages continued thereafter, although usually attracting much less publicity - with the overwhelming exception of that between the former King Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Warfield Simpson in 1938. Yet there was something special about the earlier period: perhaps it was the number of such unions, or the amount of cash involved. Perhaps it was the sheer hardheadedness of many of the transactions. For whatever reasons, these fairy tales - or horror stories - provided the plot for many a newspaper article, novel and play.

But there was another tale, one less sprinkled with stardust and less immortalised in song and story. This was the saga of the GI brides of World War II. The American armed services, strongly supported by the British government, tried to prevent such marriages; American public opinion resented them. Frequently treated with contempt, prone to anxiety and despair, theirs is not the the most admirable tale in Anglo-American relations.

Much happiness was matched by much despair. In this sense, all Anglo-American marriages, for richer or poorer, were the same.