Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Virgin's Lover

I'm on a historical fiction kick lately, having found new editions of 3 Jean Plaidy books about the Plantagenet reign, and then this, by Philippa Gregory, the author of The Other Boleyn Girl. It's a completely new look at the Elizabethan Age, and at Elizabeth herself. Typically Elizabeth is portrayed as ballsier than Henry VIII, as soneone who always knew what she was doing and strategically wove her toils to a greater England.

But Philippa Gregory is someone who delights in looking at history froma new perspective. Take The Other Boleyn Girl ( a sad movie now) - where most writers have focussed on Anne Boleyn, this one focusses on Mary Boleyn, who was one of Henry's mistresses but who had either the sense, the lack of ambition or just the luck ( good or bad is a matter of perspective) to get away and build a happy life for herself far away from court.

Her book about Katherine of Aragon again propounds an unusual theory, that Katherine was in love with Arthur, Henry VIII's elder brother and that they had consummated the marriage but that because of a vow she made to Arthur on his deathbed, she lied and pretended to be a virgin for the benefit of England.

The Virgin's Lover focusses on the first few years immediately after Elizabeth came to the throne. Rather than have her be the superdiva of legend, Gregory portrays her as a lost, scared young girl who has neither the familiarity with royal power and pomp, nor the assurance of a steady crown. Lost in love and scared of the circumstances that crowd upon her soon after she comes to power, she is indecisive and almost looking for a master. That's when Robert Dudley steps into the picture, and then it's a story of the intrigue and the battle of wits between Cecil, her chief advisor who always has England's long term good at heart, the Queen who loves Robert but doesn't want to lose her crown, Robert Dudley who loves the Queen and power both, and poor Amy Robsart, Robert's ignored wife.

It's a whole new perspective on Elizabeth, and as believable as one that paints her as a diva. More, in some ways, given her genes - the daughter of passionate Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and her life thus far as a sometimes ignored, sometimes imprisoned and 'deemed bastard' princess.

Crossposted at Juhubookclub.

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