Literary Ramblings


I have a complaint but I’m not sure where to direct it – the gods of the weather maybe. March has begun – where is autumn? We’re in the middle of a predicted fortnight of very warm humid weather with no rain in sight. Summer was better than expected – no extreme hot days or heatwaves, quite a bit of rain – but it should be over now! There, rant over. Unfortunately my hopeful autumn poem on Sunday has had no effect. Maybe the weather is the reason for my blogging slump. Again, instead of a considered review, I’m just going to share a couple of mini reviews & a progress report. At least Phoebe has the right idea. Maybe she’s trying to encourage me to choose one of my unread Slightly Foxed editions next? The new issue of Slightly Foxed dropped into my letter box on Friday &, as always, I’m looking forward to reading it.

I’d also just like to mention two bloggers that have recently returned to the blogosphere after a break. I’d only just discovered The Quince Tree when Sue decided to focus more on Instagram. However, she’s returned to the blog recently with posts on nut butter, marmalade & Sue Gee (posts on food & books predominate as you can see). I especially like Sue’s reading lists on Spring or just a collection of middlebrow favourites. Penny at Scottish Vegan Homemaker blogs infrequently but it’s always lovely to catch up with what she’s been reading, cooking & doing. Since her last blog post Penny has graduated with a BA (Hons) in Humanities, said goodbye to a dear pet, become an enthusiastic convert to bullet journaling, celebrated a major birthday & been reading Jan Struther.

richardsonclarissaI mentioned here that I’m reading Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. It’s an epistolary novel & I’m reading it on the dates the letters were written in the novel. The days also match up which is fun. 100 pages in & Clarissa is under immense pressure from her family to marry the odious Mr Solmes. Even her fond & sympathetic mother has been bullied into submission by her husband & son. Clarissa’s long letters to her friend, Anna Howe, record every twist & turn of the measures taken by the family to push her into this marriage. It highlights just how powerless a woman could be, even a woman like Clarissa who has inherited property from her grandfather. As ever, when reading epistolary novels, I wonder where the characters find the time to write in such detail but that’s the fun of suspending disbelief & pretending that I’m receiving these letters in the post or, as here, by the machinations of servants leaving them in a hen house to be collected by another servant.


I wanted to read some of Frederick Forsyth’s fiction after listening to his memoir, The Outsider. I chose The Odessa File, read by David Rintoul. This was Forsyth’s second novel & is a terrific thriller. Set in Germany in 1963 (it begins on the day of President Kennedy’s assassination), journalist Peter Miller attends a routine scene, the suicide of an elderly man. A police officer on the case gives Miller a diary found with the man’s possessions. Solomon Tauber was Jewish & had kept notes during his time as a prisoner in Riga during WWII which he later wrote up as a detailed diary. Miller is shocked by the diary as young Germans of his age have been told very little about the war & the crimes committed against the Jews. Reading the diary sets him off on a mission to track down Eduard Roschmann, the SS Commandant of the prison at Riga.

Miller’s search leads him to a Jewish group dedicated to tracking down the former SS officers still alive, many of them living in Germany with new identities. Miller masquerades as a former SS soldier who fears exposure to get close to Roschmann &, as he tracks down his quarry, becomes the object of interest to the men known as the Odessa, ex-SS men who help their former comrades escape justice. There are some incredibly tense scenes as Miller approaches the end of his quest & I loved the archival research he does & the steps of his investigation which take him from Germany to Switzerland & England. The pace slowed a bit in the scenes where Miller is trained in his ex-SS soldier disguise & sometimes Forsyth’s research is a bit too obvious & intrusive but overall, I enjoyed it very much &, as always, David Rintoul’s narration was excellent. I’m now back in the 4th century with Volume III of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire read by David Timson.


The 16th century was the great age of powerful women in Europe. A monstrous regiment of women according to John Knox but a diverse group of women wielding power as Regents, Queen Consorts or Queen Regnants from Spain to Scotland, France to England & the Netherlands. Sarah Gristwood’s group portrait begins with Isabella of Castille in the 1470s & ends of Elizabeth I’s death in 1603. A book like this can be incredibly confusing with so many protagonists, many with the same or similar names (several Marys, Annes, Catherines, Margarets & a Marguerite). Gristwood does a good job of keeping the stories separate while showing the connections between the women. Many of them were related or acted as mentors for younger women. I found the stories of the less familiar women the most fascinating. I’ve read many books about the Tudors & Mary, Queen of Scots but I was interested to learn more about the women who were Regents of the Netherlands through the 16th century. The Hapsburg princess Margaret of Austria was married & widowed three times by her mid twenties. She became Regent of the Spanish Netherlands for her nephew, Charles V, & continued in the role as Charles’s focus on Spain led his ambitions in other directions. Margaret raised her niece, Mary of Hungary, who eventually succeeded her as Regent.Mary then raised her niece, Margaret of Parma, who became Regent in her turn for her half-brother, Philip II, in the 1550s. Although all three women ruled in the name of a male monarch, in reality they held sway over the territory with minimal interference from Spain.

Louise of Savoy rose from obscurity to exercise power through her son who became Francois I of France after successive kings died without heirs. She had a significant influence over his early reign & her example influenced her granddaughter, Jeanne d’Albret, who inherited her father’s kingdom of Navarre, strategically positioned between Spain & France. Jeanne was attracted to the Protestant religion & would become one of the leaders of the French Huguenots in the bitter religious wars of the later 16th century which culminated in the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day in 1572. The massacre took place on the occasion of the marriage of Jeanne’s son, Henri of Navarre to Margot, daughter of Catherine de Medici, the powerful Queen Mother of France.

I always enjoy Gristwood’s books. In her previous book, Blood Sisters, about the women of the Wars of the Roses, she used the metaphor of Fortune’s Wheel to describe the arc of the story. In Game of Queens, apart from the nod to Game of Thrones, chess & especially the role of the Queen in that game, is the dominant metaphor. The role of the queen in chess was changing during this period, giving the piece the power to move anywhere on the board & Gristwood sees this as a useful way to track the change from a period in which women exercised power on behalf of or in concert with a male ruler to the later 16th century when several women ruled in their own right. It was the last time when women rulers, particularly in England, could really be said to rule as well as reign. Later English queens like the Stuarts Mary II & Anne were increasingly constrained by Parliament as constitutional monarchy became the norm.


Sunday Poetry – William Cowper


William Cowper lived in Norfolk for the last years of his life & was buried in St Nicholas Church in East Dereham. This beautiful stained glass window (photo by John Salmon from Wikimedia Commons) above his tomb depicts Cowper reading to his pet hares, Bess, Tiney & Puss. This poem, Epitaph on a Hare, was written when Tiney died.

Cowper suffered from depression throughout his life & lived a retired life. His poetry is often about the delights of the countryside which is probably why it appealed to Jane Austen who gives Marianne Dashwood & Fanny Price his lines to quote. I like the mock-serious attitude of this epitaph about a beloved pet whose habits Cowper had obviously observed closely, even down to his favourite foods.

Here lies, whom hound did ne’er pursue,
    Nor swifter greyhound follow,
Whose foot ne’er tainted morning dew,
    Nor ear heard huntsman’s hallo’,

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
    Who, nursed with tender care,
And to domesticate bounds confined,
    Was still a wild jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
    His pittance every night,
He did it with a jealous look,
    And, when he could, would bite.

His diet was of wheaten bread,
    And milk, and oats, and straw,
Thistles, or lettuces instead,
    With sand to scour his maw.

On twigs of hawthorn he regaled,
    On pippins’ russet peel;
And, when his juicy salads failed,
    Sliced carrot pleased him well.

A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
    Whereon he loved to bound,
To skip and gambol like a fawn,
    And swing his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
    For then he lost his fear;
But most before approaching showers,
    Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round-rolling moons
    He thus saw steal away,
Dozing out all his idle noons,
    And every night at play.

I kept him for his humor’s sake,
    For he would oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
    And force me to a smile.

But now, beneath this walnut-shade
    He finds his long, last home,
And waits in snug concealment laid,
    Till gentler Puss shall come.

He, still more agèd, feels the shocks
    From which no care can save,
And, partner once of Tiney’s box,
    Must soon partake his grave.

Literary Ramblings


Here are just a few bits & pieces that I want to share – a quick review, some publishing news (more Furrowed Middlebrow – hooray!), a blog post that had me reaching for the tissues with tears of laughter & some new bookcases with obligatory cat picture. Phoebe is not defying gravity here, she’s decided that my new bookshelf is her new favourite spot for sleeping & just generally looking out over her world. I don’t know why photos I take on my phone refuse to be rotated even when they look fine in my editing software. Anyway, you’ll just have to look sideways at this one.

shelfThe new shelves were a gift from some friends who are downsizing. I’ve used them to shelve my unread Slightly Foxed & Folio Society editions. Apart from looking lovely, this has also freed up some room on the tbr shelves in the study. Not that I’m buying books. I’ve bought only a few books since October & have no desire to buy at the moment. This is what happens. I stop buying & then, gradually, the desire to buy just fades away… I only have two preordered books  – Isabella of Castile by Giles Tremlett (due in a couple of weeks)  & Richard III by Chris Skidmore (which I ordered in August 2014 & is now due in September although I’m not holding my breath).


I also now have all my DVDs in one place & in alphabetical order. I haven’t separated the watched & unwatched, they’re just one sequence. These shelves were the exact size I was looking for, as you can see. They fit perfectly in the space beside the window.


I’ve just finished listening to a wonderful audio book, The Outsider, Frederick Forsyth’s memoir. I haven’t read any of his novels (although I’m now keen to read or listen to The Day of the Jackal & The Odessa File)but I was intrigued to listen to this after John le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel. It sounds a silly thing to say about an author who has sold millions of copies of his books over the last 45 years but he’s such a great storyteller. I loved hearing about his wartime evacuation as a baby to a Norland training school where the nannies practiced on him, learning French & German on holidays where he immersed himself in the languages by staying with local families, his experiences as the youngest pilot in the RAF, the years in East Berlin & Africa as a journalist & the experience of writing his early novels & seeing Jackal made into a film. Beautifully read by Robert Powell, one of my favourite narrators.


Darlene at Cosy Books has reviewed one of the latest Persephones, Long Live Great Bardfield by Tirzah Garwood. If this review doesn’t make you long to get hold of this book, I don’t know what will. It’s very close to the top of my tbr pile.


Speaking of Persephone, another book has leapt from the tbr shelves to the reading table after reading the latest Persephone Letter. As well as short stories & wartime letters from London, Mollie Panter-Downes also wrote this account of Ooty, one of the Indian hill stations where the English of the Raj spent the summer months. I picked this up second hand years ago in a previous fit of Panter-Downes enthusiasm. I wonder if Persephone are planning a reprint?

The most exciting publishing news I’ve heard in a while has been Scott’s announcement of the next titles in his Furrowed Middlebrow imprint (in conjunction with Dean Street Press). I’m especially excited by the Elizabeth Fair titles which sound perfect for fans of D E Stevenson, Angela Thirkell or E M Delafield. Also The Lark by E Nesbit which was enthusiastically reviewed by Simon here. They’re being published in March so I can feel a fit of preordering coming on when the books are listed at the Book Depository.


Finally, I’ve also started another long book. A group of readers (see the post here at I’ve Been Reading Lately) are going to read Clarissa by Samuel Richardson on the dates that the letters in the book were written (it’s an epistolary novel). It’s not too late to join in. The book begins on January 10th & there’s a flurry of letters until January 20th then nothing until February 20th.

Sunday Poetry – Sir Thomas Wyatt


I’ve mentioned this terrific site before, Interesting Literature (do sign up for their daily email newsletter, I’m often reminded of an author or poem I love). Here they discuss one of my favourite poems by Sir Thomas Wyatt. I’m fascinated by his life which seems to have been so unsatisfied & thwarted by political & personal misfortunes. It’s partly his connection to Anne Boleyn & the court of Henry VIII but I also find him an attractive figure & one of my favourite poets, for all the difficulty of deciphering his allusive poetry. Nicola Shulman’s book, Graven with Diamonds, is an excellent account of Wyatt’s life & times & helped me understand the poetry more than anything else I’ve read about him.

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, ‘Dear heart, how like you this?’

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

The Uninvited – Dorothy Macardle


Roddy Fitzgerald is a writer & critic, living in London with his sister, Pamela, who has been nursing their father & is mentally & physically worn out. The Fitzgeralds are tired of London life & are on the lookout for a place in the country. On a road trip, they discover Cliff End, a remote, slightly dilapidated but beautiful Georgian house on the coast in Devon. Pamela falls in love immediately & can see the possibilities while Roddy doesn’t think they can afford to buy it. Surprisingly, the owner, Commander Brooke, agrees to sell it for a nominal price, leaving the Fitzgeralds to pay for renovations. The Commander, a gruff man, seems uneasy about the house but says little about its history. He lives with his orphaned granddaughter, Stella, who has led a sheltered life at boarding school. Stella lived at Cliff End as a young child until the tragic death of her mother, Mary, who fell from the cliff. Her father, the artist Llewellyn Meredith, left England & the Commander cared for Stella with the help of Mary’s friend, Miss Holloway. Mary’s death combined with the scandal of Meredith’s relationship with his Spanish model, Carmel, may account for the Commander’s dislike of the house but local rumour whispers of the house being haunted.

Pamela begins the renovations with local help & Roddy winds up their London life. He plans to write a book but soon begins a play. Lizzie Flynn, the Fitzgerald’s Irish housekeeper, completes the household. Lizzie soon picks up the local gossip & her cat, Whiskey, refuses to go upstairs.  Stella is fascinated with the house & the Fitzgeralds are keen to invite her but her grandfather refuses absolutely, without reason, to allow the friendship to develop. Stella does visit the house & the manifestations seem to be stimulated by her presence. Stella’s reveres the mother she can barely remember but the spirit in the house seems to be both loving & vengeful. Is it trying to protect Stella or harm her? However much Roddy & Pamela love the house, there’s an unpleasant atmosphere in some of the rooms. Sobbing in the night & patches of intense cold lead to more frightening manifestations.

My hand groped, trembling, for the light switch; I turned it on and ran bare-foot downstairs. everything was as we had left it: a white cloth, thrown over the laden table, made it like a bier; the nursery was empty, the curtains closed; face powder strewed the dressing table; the scent of mimosa lingered, potent still.

I leaned against the wall, waiting for my heart to recover its natural beat, but a cold shivering had taken me and I longed for my own room. I turned the lights out and tried to go upstairs.

I could not do it; I trembled at the knees and shuddered convulsively, sick with the chill that seemed to shrink the flesh on my bones and wrinkle my skin.My breast was hollow and a breath blew over my heart. If I had not clung to the newel-post, fighting, I would have panicked; I would have shouted for Max or pulled the front door open and torn out of the house. I thought something was coming down the stairs.

The Uninvited is a genuinely creepy tale of ghosts & the influence that the past can have on the present. The familiar tropes of the ghost story – the remote, abandoned house, the noises in the night, patches of unexplained cold, the cat who refuses to go into certain rooms – are there but very much grounded in a domestic story of renovating a house, making a home. Roddy’s growing love for Stella is protective but his desire to rescue her from whatever is haunting the house is combined with a recognition that she is her own person. She has been stifled by her grandfather & by the image of the saintly Mary, encouraged by the sinister Miss Holloway (whose obsession with Mary reminded me of Mrs Danvers) as well as the locals. The Commander’s desire to root out any influence from Stella’s artistic, immoral father is almost pathological.

“She is her father’s daughter. She remembers him; that is the trouble. … She resembles him physically. The influence of that strain in her is so potent that it has been my life’s aim to break it down. God knows, I’ve left nothing undone! When Mary died I retired from the navy and dedicated myself to that purpose – to make Mary’s child the woman Mary would have wished her to be. I paid an exorbitant salary to Mary’s confidential nurse; I surrounded Stella with Mary’s pictures, gave her Mary’s books, sent her to the same school. It was a sacrifice: I missed her. But when she returned home a year ago I was pleased. She would always be without her mother’s grace, charm, beauty, but she was good. She was serious; she carried out her duties conscientiously; she continued her studies under my direction. I planned to take her abroad.”

To combat this stifling atmosphere becomes the goal of both Roddy & Pamela. In the course of this struggle for Stella’s future happiness, they are fighting not only her stubborn grandfather but also the uninvited inhabitants of Cliff End. Their determination to win through & release Stella from the ties of the past leads to a truly exciting climax.


The Uninvited was made into what is considered one of the best supernatural movies ever made, one of the first to treat ghosts seriously & not just as comic relief. Starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp (one of my favourite character actors) & Gail Russell as Stella, it has a screenplay by Dodie Smith (of I Capture the Castle & Look Back with Love fame). I watched the movie first & it was very close to the book. The friends who visit the Fitzgeralds, Roddy’s play writing & most of the locals are left out but that just heightens the solitary atmosphere of the house & the supernatural manifestations. The Irishness is also almost completely removed. Macardle was an Irish writer, very active in the Republican movement, & much is made of the Irishness of the Fitzgeralds in the book. Lizzie’s Catholicism is very potent & more than just peasant superstition (which it tends to be in the movie) & the local priest, Father Anson, has a greater role.

The lovely new edition I read is part of Irish publisher Tramp Press‘s Recovered Voices series (I reviewed the first of the series, A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell, a couple of years ago). It’s a beautifully produced book with French flaps & an informative introduction by Luke Gibbons.

Sunday Poetry – Christina Rossetti


This poem by Christina Rossetti, Up-Hill, is featured in Dorothy Whipple’s Because of the Lockwoods. Thea is impressed by Angela Harvey’s recitation of it at a fête. The poem is infused with Rossetti’s Christian belief & I’ve always loved it for the hopeful, reassuring ending.

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
   Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
   From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
   You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
   Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
   They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
   Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
   Yea, beds for all who come.

All’s well that ends with cake

Well, the great boiled fruit cake experiment seems to have been pretty successful. It only took 2 hours to bake not 3 as the manual recommended but I checked it after 2 hours & took it out. I probably could have left it in for a bit longer. When I cut it, it was a little crumbly as you can see, but I’m sure it will taste fine &, for my friends at work, that’s the main thing.

The flesh tailor – Kate Ellis

The Flesh Tailor is the latest in Kate Ellis’s terrific series of police procedurals. I’ve been reading this series since the first book, The Merchant’s House, was published in 1998. I love the mix of history, archaeology & mystery that is such a feature of the books. The books are set in Tradmouth, a coastal town in Southern England. D I Wes Peterson & DCI Gerry Heffernan are a great team. Wes is a young man from a medical family. He’s the odd one out, a policeman instead of a doctor. He’s married to Pam, a teacher, & they have two young children. Gerry is older, widowed with grown-up children but recently Joyce, his “lady friend”, has come into his life. Gerry’s Liverpudlian good humour, lack of computer skills & enthusiastic temper contrast well with Wesley’s calm, organized manner.

Wes studied archaeology at university & his friend, Neil Watson, is now working for the County Archaeology Department. So, when skeletal remains are found at Tailors Court during renovations, Neil is called in to investigate. The first three skeletons seem to be hundreds of years old so they’re Neil’s rather than Wesley’s problem. But, when the next skeleton proves to be that of a child buried with a 1930s coin, Wesley investigates. Tailors Court was a farm during the war & several children were evacuated there. Was there a connection between the evacuees & the child’s remains? And why do all the skeletons have cuts on them? Cuts that, according to the pathologist, look like an amateur’s attempt at dissection?

Wes & Gerry are also investigating the murder of a local GP, James Dalcott. He was shot at point blank range at his front door. Dalcott worked with Wesley’s sister, Maritia, & was well-liked. But, there are several people with motives. A young couple blame him when their son dies of undiagnosed meningitis. James’s soon to be ex-wife, Roz, also had a motive. She left him for another man & she’s now pregnant. Had James told her that he was about to change his will, disinheriting her? Then there’s Dalcott’s work at the secretive private clinic where drug trials sometimes go horribly wrong. Ellis has come up with an incredibly complicated plot with strands going right back to the sixteenth century. Tailors Court was then known as Flesh Tailor’s Court & the sinister Simon Garchard dissected dead bodies in the attic. There are some truly creepy descriptions of Neil’s investigations in the attic, left untouched for many years, & the gruesome drawings he finds behind the panelling in one of the rooms.

The Flesh Tailor is a very atmospheric, creepy novel. I’m always fascinated by the clever way Ellis combines the historical & modern strands of her plot without flashbacks or dual narratives. This time, each chapter is headed by a section of a transcript of the memories of Mabel Cleary who had been one of the child evacuees. Wes & Gerry’s investigations take them back to wartime Devon, the 1950s & the present day. If you enjoy British police procedurals with a historical theme, this is a wonderful series.

Recently arrived

I’ve only bought a couple of books in the last 4 months so I decided to have a little splurge. I’ve really loved choosing books from my tbr shelves as well as books from the library where I work & it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be to just stop rushing to the Book Depository whenever I read a review or heard about a wonderful new book. Or a wonderful old book for that matter. So, I did a little preordering – Nella Last in the 1950s, Anne Boleyn by George Bernard (apparently he has a new theory that Anne was guilty of adultery), Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford, Peking Picnic by Ann Bridge (both Capuchin Classics), The adventures of Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico & Henrietta sees it through by Joyce Dennys (both Bloomsbury Group). And I also ordered the stack in the photo above that have all arrived over the last week.

The top four are all for the 19th century Yahoo group I belong to. They’ve decided to do a theme for the next few months of reading books which have been made into operas or musicals. I can borrow some titles from work but I’ve bought The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, Peter Pan by J M Barrie, Carmen & other stories by Prosper Merimee & Kipps by H G Wells (which became the musical Half a Sixpence).

Next is Pot Luck by Zola. This is a prequel of sorts to The Ladies’ Paradise which I loved & reviewed here. The Complete Richard Hannay by John Buchan, because I read The 39 Steps & Greenmantle last year as part of a Boys’ Own Adventure reading theme I found myself on after reading King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard for the 19th century group & found I really wanted to read the other Hannay books. I also love those big Penguin omnibuses.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, because Cornflower mentioned it recently & I’ve never read it & I fell in love with the new Vintage cover. Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green, because I recently read The Blessing & I haven’t read this early novel which has never been reprinted. It caused lots of upset in the family so Nancy wouldn’t allow it to be reprinted. Penguin are reprinting most of Mitford’s novels at the moment. Desperate Reader reviewed Wigs on the Green here. Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole because it’s the first in a series of four historical novels set in the Lake District in the 18th century & I’ve read about them but never read them. Nella Last mentioned Judith Paris, one of the main characters as a favourite of hers in her post-war diary & John Buchan is quoted on the front of this lovely new Frances Lincoln edition saying Rogue Herries is, “The finest English novel since Jude the Obscure.” How could I resist? I’ve enjoyed the sight of Book Depository bags on the doormat when I’ve come home from work but, with my preorders arriving at regular intervals, I think I’ve had enough book buying for a while. I’ve made lots of gaps in the tbr shelves (which I’m now about to fill up again of course!) & I want to make further inroads before I order anything else.

As you can see by the photo above, I have a new camera. So, if Abby is in the mood tomorrow, I’ll take some photos of her in her new collar. I plan to get out into the garden & do some tidying up & I’m sure to have company as Abby loves supervising my work so fingers crossed.

Elizabeth’s women – Tracy Borman

There are countless biographies of Elizabeth I. There have been books about Elizabeth as a politician, an icon of art & poetry, her influence as a literary figure. There was even a book called Elizabeth I, CEO. There have been many books about Elizabeth’s relationships with men, her favourites & advisers like Leicester, Cecil & Walsingham & her suitors, Philip of Spain & the Duc d’Alencon. There have been hundreds of novels. I always loved Margaret Irwin’s Young Bess & the movie made from it with Jean Simmons & Stewart Granger as Thomas Seymour. What a pity Seymour was really so sleazy, nothing at all like lovely, noble Stewart Granger in the movie. Oh well, real life is rarely like the movies. *

Tracy Borman’s new book concentrates on Elizabeth’s relationships with women. There are chapters on Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, her stepmothers, cousins the Grey sisters, Margaret Douglas & Mary, Queen of Scots. Rivals such as Douglas Sheffield & Lettice Knollys & her servants & ladies-in-waiting. I’m not sure how true the subtitle, The hidden story of the Virgin Queen, is as all these women have been part of Elizabeth’s story in every biography I’ve read. Several have their own biographies & there have been lots of novels written about them, too. Does anyone else remember My Enemy, the Queen by Jean Plaidy about Lettice Knollys? I loved that book. However, it’s an interesting idea to bring all their stories together in one book, & Tracy Borman does an excellent job of telling Elizabeth’s story through her relationships with these women.

Many of these women, her servants & ladies of the court, had a more intimate relationship with the Queen than anyone else. They were with her every minute of the day, she was rarely alone. They dressed her, washed her, entertained her & often slept in her bedchamber. They had enormous influence, which probably accounts for their willingness to serve at Court, as they were often poorly paid & lived in very basic accommodation. They often paid dearly for that privilege. Lady Mary Sidney, sister of Robert Dudley, nursed Elizabeth through smallpox but caught the disease herself, was left horribly disfigured & left Court to live in the country. During the perilous times of Mary I’s reign, when Elizabeth’s life was often in danger, her governess, Kat Ashley, found herself in the Tower several times. Admittedly it was mostly because Kat was a foolish woman who loved to gossip & often caused trouble with her indiscretions. But, she was utterly loyal to Elizabeth, she was the closest thing to a mother Elizabeth had ever known, & she was repaid by lifelong love & loyalty by the Queen after her accession. Ladies like Bess Throckmorton & Elizabeth Vernon who fell in love with courtiers & wanted to marry met a frosty reception from the Queen who was a jealous mistress, demanding total loyalty, even at the expense of her ladies’ happiness. Secret marriages & pregnancies were often the result & some unlucky ladies ended up in the Tower. There’s lots of scandal, treason, ambition & duplicity in the stories of these women. If you’ve read other books about Elizabeth, this will give you another perspective on her life.

* Dani at A Work In Progress has just reviewed the Sourcebooks reprint of Young Bess here. What a gorgeous cover this new edition has. I love the fact that Sourcebooks have been reprinting some wonderful English fiction in recent years. Georgette Heyer, R F Delderfield & now Margaret Irwin among others. I believe they’re going to reprint Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ Morland Dynasty series as well.