Monday, 12 March 2007

The Sixth Wife by Suzannah Dunn

Katherine Parr's life ended sadly. After three marriages to older men, the last to King Henry VIII, she finally was able to marry Thomas Seymour, someone she truely loved. Most people probably considered her to be barren after three marriages with no pregnancies to show for it. And she certainly seemed to be taken by suprise to find herself pregnant. However, she had a difficult pregnancy, both physically and emotionally. There is a secret, even then clouded with rumours and supositions, that her beloved Thomas was overfamiliar with Princess Elizabeth, and that Katherine may in fact have caught them in a passionate embrace. Katherine went on the give birth to a daughter, Mary, who unfortunately is lost to history.

Suzannah Dunn has Katherine's closest friend, Catherine Brandon (nee Willoughby) tell the story of the last part of Katherine's life. They were close friends with many similar ideals, in religion and the education of women, which were very much ahead of their time. Catherine (Cathy) is very suspicious of Thomas's marriage to Katherine, and really doesn't trust that he loves her more than his ambition to have more say in the goverment. I don't wish to spoil the storyline for those that may wish to read the book; but there is an interesting take on events. And when you think about the Tudor times, people really did seem to do pretty much anything to protect themselves and family from the hint of scandel, or were alway trying to meddle their way to the top of the heap.

It is an entertaining read, and I will be sure to read her previous book soon, as "The Queen of Subtleties" has been on my shelf for some time now. And after writing two books in succession on Tudor times, I wonder if this author is going to write about more figures of the time. I would certainly like to see more!

For my next book, I have selected "Innocent Traitor" by Alison Weir. I tend not to read books from the same time period one after the other, but I have broken my own rule here! Reason being is that one of the members of the Historical Fiction forum is meeting Alison Weir for dinner. Lucky girl SM! Anyway this book will probably be well discussed, and it just seemed fitting to read it now! And hey, its probably as close as I would ever get to personally discussing a book with such an illustrious author (6 degrees of separation and all that!

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Marie Antoinette

I have just finished "Marie Antoinette" by Stefan Zweig. Its an older biography of this much maligned queen. I have previously read only two historical novels about her. One was "The Queens Confession" by Victoria Holt, but I read this many many years ago when I was a teenager and my mum first got me interested in royalty. I must ask her if she still has it (we are so much alike in books so I know she will still have it!), and reread it. And just a few months ago I read "The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette" by Carolly Erickson. This made me keen to read more about her, and try and understand some of the truths and fictions surounding her.

I originally read the Erickson book to get in the mood for seeing the movie "Marie Antoinette". Now, I know that Antonia Fraser's biography was used as a basis for the film, but I knew that I wouldn't have enought time to read that before seeing the movie, so I had to choose a quicker read! So now after seeing the movie, I had to read a biography. And the Zweig book has been on my shelf for much longer than the Fraser one!

It seems the more you read about Marie Antoinette, the more you feel sorry for the way things panned out for her. Yes she might have been frivolous and flighty during her first years in France, but when she became a mother, and lost two of her children, it seems that life changed for her. Maybe she realised what was really important in her life as a women, and that was her children. I believe she loved Louis XVI as she might of loved a favourite brother. Yes, she was married to him for political reasons, but they went through some much during the Revolution, that I believe she felt very protective towards him, and she must of felt stronger as a person with him close by.

As for Count Fersen... Well, Zweig takes the line that he MUST of been her lover physically. He believed that the loyalty and devotion he showed to Marie Antoinette both in his endevours to gain her release from imprisonment, and in his writings, could have only come from a physical relationship. His explanations are pretty compelling, but we can never truly know what went on behind closed doors, we can only speculate. Which is part of the fun in reading about history isn't it?

The imprisonment and removal of her children are something that no woman should have to go through. And the charges of incest that were laid on her were terrible, and contrived only to bring about her death.

I look forward to learning more about Marie Antoinette, and her immediate circle of family and friends. But for now, I am back into the Tudor era. I've just started "The Sixth Wife" by Suzannah Dunn.

Thursday, 1 March 2007


Dublin by Edward Rutherford.

I have read all of the previous works of Edward Rutherford, and have enjoyed them (particulary London and Sarum). He follows a simiilar formula to James A. Michener, he tells the story of a particular place throughout history. He starts with a set of characters, whose decendants then become the centre of the story in the next part. He puts alot into character developement, as sometimes he as certain family traits or characteristics appearing down the line. The characters are also of different social standings, but these may change in later generations due to the ebb and flow of family fortunes.

Dublin is his latest effort, as I believe this is where the author now lives. This book tells the story of Dublin up till the time of Henry VIII. The story is continued in the next book (I borrowed this book from my mum and I'm sure she has the next one too). Dublin covers alot of the basics of the make up of the Irish people - their Celtic and Viking backgrounds, the chieftains, and the strength of the Irish Catholic Church. This must be setting the stage for the beginning of "the Troubles" in the next book.

Rutherford is a great storyteller, and the research he must do for these books is incredible. He clearly writes with a need to tell the story of a particular place, but he certainly endevours to do all he can to be true to history. His characters may be fictional, but they are often close to the historical figures that are pivotal to time, or are given as examples of how people at that time in history and of their social standing lived their lives.

The Lost

Lately I've been thinking that I haven't posted for a while, and needed to sit down and catch up on things. About a month ago my computer died and last weekend we went out and got another one, so I am now the proud owner of a Mac! And very lovely it is too. I will need to get accustomed to the way things are done in MacWorld, as I haven't used an Apple in the last 10 years!

So what have I been reading lately?

Well I did a reader review on a book called "The Lost" that is coming out in Australia soon. It is by Daniel Mendelsohn, and I believe that it is already published in the US. It is about the authors search for the true story behind the members of his family that perished in the Holocaust. The family originated in a small town (shetl) is what is now the Ukraine. The authors grandfather and some other siblings emigrated to the US and Israel, however one brother returned to the hometown, and it is he, his wife and four daughters that perished. But how? No one knows exactly, there are stories, but the author seeks to find the truth. He travels to the Ukraine, Australia, Israel, and Stockholm in a bid to talk to the survivors from that town, be they Jewish, Polish or Ukrainian. Through his interviews he hears many harrowing stories of those that perished and those that survived. After all, as one elderly woman says, "You didn't survive those times without terrible stories to tell". We also learn alot about the way the three cultures Jewish, Polish and Ukrainian lived together. He also goes into some detail about Judaism. He explains some of the meaninngs behind the traditions, and the relevance of the Bible. I found some of this part interesting, but a bit too detailed, however as a great publishing idea, these portions of the book are italisized, so you could easily skip over them (although I didn't - that's just not me!) There are also some lovely memories of his treasured grandfather and other relations that are very touching.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

The Mystery of Queen Elizabeth I

Well, having just finished reading Alison Plowden's "Marriage With My Kingdom", about the suitors of Queen Elizabeth I, and the reactions to them, both amongst the English people, and the European political circles, I have been pondering that old question - Why didn't she get married?

Robert Dudley at some point was said to remember of a time when they were children and she swore then that she would not marry. Most childhood pledges drop by the wayside don't they? Maybe there is a lot more to her convictions in this case, seeing as she actually ended up unmarried. Could this have been a reaction to the deaths of her mother, Anne Boleyn, and her step-mother Katherine Howard, at the hands of her father and his government?

Later in life, when she was negotiating a marriage with the Duc de Alencon, she spoke privately and frankly with the Earl of Sussex, about marriage. She is said to have told him that her reasons for avoiding marriage she "would not devulge to her twin soul." This seems to me to have something a lot deeper behind it than her wish to not name an heir, and have everyone looking to the next ruler of the kingdom. Could it have been some reason that she was ashamed of? Could there have been more to the scandal of Thomas Seymour when she was but a teenager, or with Robert Dudley? Was she so afraid of a husband that may find out that she had been "neglectful of her honour", and the scandel this would cause?

Different historians have had many different interpretations for her declining marriage, some medical (unlikely in my opinion), and physological. The questions surrounding her motives are endless.

Now I have started reading "Dublin" by Edward Rutherford. Having enjoyed "London", and "Sarum" particularly, and his other works, I'm already hooked on this book. I don't know much about the history of Ireland. Some of my ancestors are Irish. Some were from County Tyrone in the north, but I also have a strong link to the Byrne (O'Byrne) family from Wicklow near Ireland and this family gets a mention in the book. So I am keen to get a feeling about them! I might write a post about my family history one day, we will see!