Monday, November 24, 2008
Book Report: The Lady Elizabeth
Alison Weir, a well-known historian of medieval European history, has written many non-fiction books (especially biographies) pertaining to this period. The Lady Elizabeth is her second novel. In the three sections covering Elizabeth's life from age 3 to her coronation, Weir unpacks historical events and adds her own literary imagination. She weaves together flowing dialogues, glimpses of 16th century Tudor England and intriguing character studies.
The novel is broken into 3 sections: The King's Daughter, The King's Sister, and The Queen's Sister. As the book opens, Elizabeth is told by her half-sister, Mary, that her father King Henry VIII has had her mother, Anne Boleyn beheaded. Thus we are thrust into the complexities of these royal relationships. Elizabeth wrestles with adoring her father knowing that he had the mother she hardly knew executed. Mary sways between affection for her helpless younger sister while bitterly blaming the girl's mother for her disgrace. Mary's almost fanatical Catholicism clashes with Elizabeth's pragmatic Reformed ideas.
One reviewer wrote:
Indulging in some fictional legerdemain, the author has crafted an intriguing protagonist, her destiny writ large long before she ascends the throne after her unhappy sister’s death. Her world littered with plots and temptations, Elizabeth instinctively steps through a minefield of the ambitions of others, proving her mettle in the most dire of circumstances, a born ruler long before she steps up to the throne of England.
Since I'd read another of Alison Weir's books (Eleanor of Aquitaine) I trusted her historical accuracy and interpretation. I was confident that she would be authentic and portray the period with integrity. In her other non-fiction writings, she is sympathetic to her characters, interpreting them according to the times they live in, not according to modern sensibilities, values and mores.
My only frustration with the novel was her rendering of the thoughts and motivations of Elizabeth and Edward as children. Often, writers give children the same complex thought processes that adults use. Weir's depiction of Elizabeth from her early adolescence to early adulthood rings far truer than that of the characters in their youngest years.
There is but one questionable scene. To quote another reviewer:
I am not going to give anything away here, but these passages are certainly eyebrow raisers -- and, as Weir has noted in interviews, was a matter of historical record. Very intriguing. And in case you think historians write dry prose, think again. The love scenes in "The Lady Elizabeth" are descriptive but not vulgar. But she gets her point across, that's for sure.
I recommend this book to any European history buff.