The Women of the Cousins’ War, Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin, Michael Jones
I don’t get on well with Philippa Gregory’s fiction, so I’m not terribly surprised that I wasn’t a great fan of this either. I do like David Baldwin’s work, though I think I’ve already read a full biography of Elizabeth Woodville by him; Michael Jones’ work here is strong enough and based solidly enough on actual research to intrigue me.
I actually quite liked Gregory’s introduction, ridiculously long as it is. She does actually raise valid points about the writers of history, and about how historical fiction and historical fact interact. I can at least relate to her powerful interest in the subject. On the other hand, there’s very little actually known about Jacquetta, the biography she writes, and it reads very much like the fiction books she’s already written, stripped of dialogue and sprinkled with “maybe”.
Overall, I can see this being interesting to people casually interested in the period, with enough experience of non-fiction not to complain too much about the equivocal statements (guys, if they stuck to the facts we know for absolute certain, we could say they were born, married, had children, and died — often, that’s about it; if we presented speculation as fact, that would be rather dishonest and not helpful at all to the field). I can’t really recommend it for people who’ve already delved into non-fiction on the period: this doesn’t offer much of anything new.
Well, it’s kind of Thursday now, but I’ve never let that stop me!
What did you recently finish reading? The Assassin’s Curse, by Cassandra Rose Clarke. Review coming up on the blog tomorrow: suffice it to say that I think it’s a lot of fun, and I’ve acquired the second book and the companion stories to read ASAP. Like my to read list isn’t long enough.
Before that, it was The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory, which… I just don’t get the appeal. Elizabeth Woodville was smarter than Gregory’s version, a political schemer, why does she have to melt into goo over a man? She could still be political and canny and in love, but it doesn’t seem that way.
What are you currently reading? Longbourn, by Jo Baker; “Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice“. I’m quite enjoying it. From the reviews, I didn’t expect to, but maybe it helps that I’m not precious about Austen. I do think Baker’s rather riding on Austen’s coattails, telling a story that isn’t inextricably entwined with that of Pride and Prejudice and just using the original story to garner interest. I don’t know if that feeling will stick with me.
Also, Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, because it’s high time I got round to that.
What do you think you’ll read next?
Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki — just out today! I have promised Joanne Harris that I won’t mention a certain actor’s name in my review… Also, obviously, A Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke.
I’m also interested in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. It’s being mentioned in my ethics class this week, and we had an excerpt to read. There’s some fascinating research, and I’ve found his TED talks interesting.
I didn’t get on with The Other Boleyn Girl, but I was willing to give Philippa Gregory another chance because she is such a loved writer, and it is an interesting part of history — and perhaps more importantly, the portrayal of medieval queens is something I’m really interested in academically. But gah, I’m afraid I’m really wishing I hadn’t bothered, or at least that I hadn’t bothered to buy it. €12!
The problem with it is apparent from the very first pages. Elizabeth moves from a crafty, strong woman who despises the king but does what she needs to out of necessity to a giddy girl who doesn’t even seek proper proof of what’s happening within a handful of pages. By page fifty, she’s desperately in love with him, she’s married to him, she has faith that he’ll come back to her — all based on very little character development, for us, and with no time spent getting to know him (unless, I’m going to be crude, knowing his dick very very well counts) for her.
I actually liked the references to Melusina, etc, because that was something that could well inform someone’s attitude back then. But that was about the only thing I liked. Here is this woman who was strong, capable, and at the very least politically astute if not downright clever — reduced to a melting, credulous little dove over a handsome face. Gregory’s version doesn’t feel consistent, either internally or with history. Other characters are just as mercurial, so it’s not as if this is a clever characterisation thing.
If I ever get to writing a thesis, I’ll probably have to reread this and read a lot of Gregory’s other work, but it’ll be unwillingly.