October 10, 2009

The Virgin's Lover - Philippa Gregory

This was actually a book I finished quite a while ago now - just before we left for our trip. I had read another Philippa Gregory book, The Other Boleyn Girl, earlier in the year and while I wasn't exactly in love with it I did enjoy the light style and the ease with which I was able to read it. In the days leading up to going away my brain was finding it very hard to concentrate on anything too in depth and I did want to read books set in the areas in which we were travelling to which is why I picked up The Virgin's Lover.

Queen Elizabeth I is one of my favourite historical figures - not really sure why, she just always comes across as such a strong, independent woman at a time when that must have been extremely difficult to uphold. The Virgin's Lover tells the story of Elizabeth shortly after she becomes Queen and her friendship/relationship with Sir Robert Dudley develops. Historical writing and research seems divided on whether or not there was actually a sexual relationship between the two but literature and films of the modern age seem to jump to the idea that they could have and taken it for a spin.

The Virgin's Lover is no exception and the author in this case really brings home her interpretation of the relationship, in my mind to the detriment of the development of Elizabeth's strong character. I did enjoy reading the book but it certainly isn't a feminist portrayal of Elizabeth's story - something that is important to me in my reading of this woman, fiction or not.

In fact, women as a gender don't really do too well in this book, Sir Robert's neglected and poorly treated wife, Amy, doesn't end up well either and although her behaviour was probably typical and appropriate for married women of that era it really bothered me to read her story in this way.

Having said that I am still quite keen to read Gregory's new novel, The White Queen which focuses on the War of the Roses period of English history. Has anyone read this one yet? If so, how does it compare to Gregory's earlier novels?


Teresa said...

I haven't read this or The White Queen, but in my experience the women in Gregory's books tend to be more defined by who they are sleeping with than by who they are. (Anne of Cleves in The Boleyn Inheritance being a possible exception.) That's one reason I pretty much gave up on Gregory's books, even though they are compulsively readable. I just couldn't get past that.

Interestingly, Wolf Hall, which focuses on a man, features much stronger women than Gregory's book.

Karen said...

Hi Teresa - that is so true!! I think that fact will make it hard for me to read anymore of her books even though I am really interested in the area of history she writes about.

Anonymous said...

I loved The Other Boleyn Girl which we did for an old book group and oddly it didnt make a great book for discussion even though we all loved it. I have since read The Other Queen which didnt do so well with me, I love Bess of Hardwick and just felt it was a rush job!

Karen said...

Hi Savidgereads - thanks so much for the feedback. I am really interested in reading her new book but it doesn't sound like it is going to be all that satisfying??

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