Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jean Plaidy

I have always loved history and, at one point of time, wanted to major in it at college. So it's no surprise that I enjoy writers who write historical fiction/ biography. I discovered Jean Plaidy at one of Kolkata's many second hand bookshops during post-grad. I remember, we used to have a lo-ong bus journey from Joka to Free School Street, on the BaroC bus. The entire street used to have these dingy, tiny little cubby-holey shops stuffed with old books from the floor to the rafters. It used to be like a treasure-hunting expedition to sift the grain from the chaff, then you would bargain for the books you wanted, because every five bucks - or even two - that you managed to save made the difference between being able to order toast at the night-canteen on campus and making do with burnt coffee.

Jean Plaidy books were always from the Pan editions - thick books with tiny print, the pages yellowed and brittle with age. They covered a wide range of historical figures, from the English Plantagenets to the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Hanovers and the Victorian age to the French Capet dynasty - Louis Quinze and his peccadillos, Louis Seize and his poor, silly wife Marie, Mary Stuart, Catherine de Medici...there were some books about the fascinating Lucrezia Borgia and the mad Georges and the Regency in England...In all she must have covered about 800 years worth of history through her books. Each book is incredibly detailed and the mind boggles to think of the amount of research that goes into each and every book, particularly because she did it in the dark ages, i.e. before computers, WWW and Google. I always used to buy two or three Jean Plaidy's and then proceed to get so completely immersed in the period that it used to take me by surprise to find myself in a well-lit, modern cubicle bedroom instead of an ancient stone castle with rush flooring and gloomy tapers.

Over the two years in Cal, while I bought quite a few of her books, I also passed up several due to sheer lack of funds, for which I can only weep now. the last time I visited Free School Street a couple of years ago, the quality of the stock in the stores had really deteriorated, and I hardly found anything to buy ( which is so rare for me, I can barely begin to explain - I buy books the way most people buy groceries - cartsful at a time). Amazon does work out to be an expensive option so if you're not a collector but an avid reader, does the trick. They have literally thousands of second-hand bookstores on their list which stock all kinds of authors. I have lately been adding to my Plaidy collection through abe, and picked up 3-4 relating to the time around the death of Queen Anne of England ( who has always fascinated me for the furniture designed in her reign and the flower named after her - Queen Anne's Lace) and the entry of the Hanovers into England.

The Hanovers seem so much the opposite of what merrie England expected of her rulers that it's a wonder that they not only survived but that their descendants are still around and, going by reports, quite popular. Pompous, eccentric, not too intelligent and the first couple of them far more attached to Germany than England. A far cry from the imperious but merry, profligate but intelligent Tudors and Stuarts who were beloved by the country. The books are written with such insight into the daily life and thoughts of the characters that you actually feel as if you're observing them, as if they are alive...

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