Beatrice – The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune, a biography that examines Christianity vs. capitalism
On May 17, 2012 At 12:11 am
Responses : 3 Comments
A riches-to-rags love story in which two idealistic missionary pacifists challenge the authorities during two world wars, denounce the capitalism which made them rich and attempt to live by strict Christian values, without money or possessions.
Beatrice Cadbury, youngest daughter of the co-founder of the world-famous chocolate empire, grew up with all the privileges of her wealthy status: a fine mansion with servants, a well-rounded education and the chance to travel the world. But being a ‘have’ in a world of ‘have-nots’ was troubling and in conflict with her Quaker beliefs. So in 1920 she decided to ‘give back’ all the Cadbury shares she had inherited to the Bournville factory workers … her family were horrified.
But the story of Beatrice, her Dutch husband, Kees Boeke and their lifetime struggle against capitalism, injustice and war goes far beyond this single act of reckless generosity. It includes fascinating insights into the world of Quaker industry at the end of the 19th century and the inconsistencies of their egalitarian principles. It reveals the reality of being pacifists in Britain at the outbreak of the First World War and the horrors of hiding Jewish refugee children in their home in occupied Holland during the Second World War. Between the wars it tells how the couple repeatedly faced jail in Holland rather than remain silent and compromise their beliefs. Most fascinating of all, the tale shows what happened when the couple and their seven children try to live strictly according the teachings of Jesus, how their 'open house' becomes overrun by vagrants, and all their possessions stolen so they are forced to move out and live in tents on borrowed land.
There is even a happy ending! Beatrice and Kees insisted on educating their children at home and over the years their methods developed into a revolutionary, progressive system of schooling, much in demand after the second world war by the rich and fashionable. Even the Dutch Queen's daughter, Princess Juliana, sent her children to the school founded by Kees Boeke!
Unusual for a biography, this new book has a highly compelling narrative. Its clear literary style and dramatic storyline make it hard to put down. But it is also immensely thought provoking and surprisingly contemporary in the decade of Occupy and banker's bonuses.