13 May, 2007

Two New Novels of Edward II's Reign (2)

Part two of my post on Virginia Henley's Notorious and Edith Felber's Queen of Shadows: A Novel of Isabella, Wife of King Edward II. The first part is directly below this one, or you can read it here.
This part also includes some comments on Alison Weir's Isabella, She-Wolf of France, Queen of England.

**Warning: plot spoilers!**

Characterisation and Stereotyping
Virginia Henley's depiction of Edward II in Notorious is just horrible. He's presented as "flabby...soft...his mouth is weak and petulant, like that of a spoiled woman". He's a worm of a man who makes women shudder with distaste whenever they see him, including Isabella, who by contrast is depicted as perfect in every respect. There's so much hatred and contempt for Edward in the novel that I actually felt quite ill reading it - even his lover Hugh Despenser despises him and watches him with "veiled contempt". Edward doesn't have a single redeeming feature; he doesn't even care about his children, and only "grudgingly agreed to pay for the children's nursemaids". Isabella says that Edward gives her no money to pay for her household, which isn't correct - although her income was drastically reduced, she certainly had enough money to pay her servants. And this reduction occurred in 1324, not 1321 or earlier as shown in Notorious.

And, offensively, Edward is highly feminised. Once more, in Notorious we're fed the stereotype that 'a man who loves men = feminine and weak'. Even the non-fictional biography of Isabella by Alison Weir is guilty of this. Weir describes Roger Mortimer as "everything that Edward II was not: strong, manly, unequivocally heterosexual, virile..."

Weir also describes Despenser's presumed sexual dominance over Edward as "perverted"; however, Mortimer's presumed sexual dominance over Isabella is proof of his manliness and strength, and also provides a convenient excuse for Isabella not to be responsible for any of their unpleasant deeds. Such depictions of non-heterosexual men are pretty nasty and offensive, especially given that we're in the 2000s - and notice that the excuse of 'sexual dominance' doesn't apply to Edward II, who's held completely responsible for his misdeeds and for allowing Despenser to rule him. In the Introduction to the biography, Weir even describes Isabella as "the victim, not of her own wickedness, but of circumstances, unscrupulous men and the sexual prejudices of those who chose to record her story." Given the negative attitude on display towards Edward II's non-heterosexuality, complaining about 'sexual prejudices' strikes me as deeply ironic.

And ah yes, those useful unscrupulous men, who often crop up to take the rap when a woman does something 'bad'. I'm not sure whether the "sexual prejudices" belong to fourteenth-century chroniclers, or historians of more recent times, or both, but yet again, here's the 'woman as perpetual victim' theme. Am I the only one getting really sick of it? "She's a strong, empowered woman...but ooooh, she did something horrid! Blame a man, quick! It can't possibly be her fault! She's not strong after all, a nasty man made her do it, poor ickle thing! But look, now she's doing something praiseworthy! Suddenly she's strong and empowered again, and the man had nothing to do with it!"

Much of Weir's biography has the effect of making Isabella seem weak, not strong - apparently, men are responsible for their own actions, whereas women are not. This attitude reduces women to the level of children. And almost every time Isabella does something that's less than perfect, Weir jumps in to defend and justify her actions. Edward's mistakes and misdeeds are evidence of his incompetence and weakness, and are frequently exaggerated; Isabella's are merely an understandable reaction to her long 'suffering' and are minimised as much as possible. Weir is at least honest enough to admit that the 1326 executions of the Earl of Arundel and his friends were "acts of tyranny, and Isabella was a party to them"; she also acknowledges Isabella's role in the judicial murder of her brother-in-law the Earl of Kent.

Weir does, however, ignore some of Isabella's more spiteful actions, such as the forced veiling of three of Hugh Despenser's young daughters, and her shabby treatment of Alice de Lacy, Countess of Lincoln, her aunt by marriage, by allowing Roger Mortimer to take over her most valuable lands. Although Weir states that Isabella "had sworn on the soul of her father that she would have justice" and had ordered the bailiffs of Winchester to execute Kent without delay, on the next page she states that Isabella was "deeply in thrall" to her lover, "[b]linded by her lust or love for him", and "tainted by association with him". Right at the end of the book, she comments "Isabella's downfall lay in her involvement with the rapacious Mortimer". To me, all this makes her sound passive, tolerating Mortimer's actions rather than sharing full responsibility for them, or even instigating them. Paul Doherty in Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II agrees, saying that "Isabella was a remarkable queen, a woman of outstanding ability, flawed by her infatuation with Mortimer."
However, the mother of all one-sided depictions of Isabella is Katherine Allocco's PhD thesis, which is less an evaluation of Isabella's life and roles than it is a demand for her immediate canonisation.

I get that Isabella was vilified as 'the She-Wolf' for centuries, and a more balanced, sympathetic view of her was long overdue. But why do we have to go so far in the other direction? Isabella wasn't a she-wolf. But neither was she a long-suffering much-wronged saint, or an empowered feminist icon. She was a complex character with some great qualities, and a few flaws too - just like everyone else, including Edward II.

In the comments on my first part of this post, Susan pointed out the analogy with Richard III - for nearly five centuries, until around 1970, he was seen as practically the epitome of evil; these days, he's viewed by many people as the exact opposite, a hero with no discernable flaws, with several recent novels implausibly portraying him as the next best thing to a saint. But surely it's far more interesting to show people's flaws, too?

As I wrote a few months ago in a comment on Susan's post on Isabella, the modern re-telling of Isabella's life strikes me as a twenty-first century narrative, not a medieval one. A popular theme of recent years has been of people suffering through terrible situations, such as abuse, grinding poverty, drug addiction, etc, and overcoming them. And also, women finding the strength to get out of a bad, abusive marriage and take control of their own destiny, discovering happiness and fulfilment with lovers who are far superior to their husbands.

Isabella's story is made to fit into this category, which involves exaggerating her sufferings (and I'm not at all denying here that Edward II and Hugh Despenser treated her badly) and glossing over her faults - and also glossing over the fact that Mortimer himself was married. Weir barely mentions Joan de Geneville, and neither does Edith Felber in Shadows; I talk briefly about Henley's depiction of her in Notorious, below.

Rather belatedly coming back to the main topic of the post: Edith Felber, to her immense credit, doesn't go the route of feminising Edward II in Shadows. I read a review of the novel somewhere which said that Edward's homosexuality [bisexuality, surely?] is "clumsily handled." I don't agree. There's nothing remotely feminine about Edward here; in fact, he's described as an image of "masculine perfection" and called "a beautiful man" on several occasions. He's "tall, but lithe and graceful and perfect in every proportion." He's also courteous, "an intelligent man, and, according to his lights, a good one." Even in 1321, he makes Isabella's breath catch when she sees him, and she shivers in pleasure as she remembers the feel of his soft hair on her skin when they made love, a nicely erotic image. Even Gwenith, his "mortal enemy" (why??), thinks he's "beautiful and bright, clever and astonishingly charming". He's rather wonderful, in fact. ;)

And although Isabella recalls an occasion when she saw Edward and Piers Gaveston making love together, and knows full well that Hugh Despenser shares her husband's bed, there's not a hint that the reader is meant to be disgusted by this, and, again to Felber's great credit, she doesn't use Edward's sexuality as an easy way to garner sympathy for Isabella. It's Hugh Despenser's political power and disrespect towards Isabella that she hates and refuses to tolerate any longer.

So I was even more disappointed when I saw that I wouldn't be getting the balanced, sympathetic view of Edward and Isabella I expected from the early part of the novel. At times later in the novel, Edward is witty, sparkling, often very likeable, and near the end, there's a nice scene where he acknowledges his faults and his infatuation with Hugh Despenser, which he describes "like a high fever...leaving me weak and foolish". But nooo, for the most part, the usual clichés of Isabella The Great Victim are trotted out, such as 'losing' her children, and Edward running away and abandoning her "behind your enemy's lines" (an oddly modern-sounding phrase) in Scotland. Not to mention the atrocities he didn't commit in Wales and the Jewish people he didn't murder.

And coming back to unbalanced portrayals, everyone and everything in Notorious is totally black or white. Edward II and Hugh Despenser are totally bad, while Isabella and Roger Mortimer are perfectly good. I've enjoyed some of Henley's other romances, and she can write much more nuanced characterisation than she shows here. Her Marriage Prize, which I really enjoyed, is much more historically accurate than this one, and the characters are not nearly so stereotyped and one-dimensional. In Notorious, Edward is reduced to nothing more than a feeble, pathetic caricature, whereas Roger Mortimer is such a big manly hunk of manly chivalrous manly macho manly testosterone-ridden manly manliness as to be totally unbelievable. All the female characters swoon over him, while shuddering over Edward. Everything Roger is and does in the novel is over-valued - for example, the fact that many of the English nobility are his cousins is somehow proof of his "shrewdness". Umm, how? Did he go back in time and order his ancestors to make advantageous marriage alliances?

Roger's wife Joan de Geneville is an unsympathetic, rather pathetic figure in Notorious, despite being the hero's mother. She's very overweight and unattractive, presumably to ensure that she's not a rival to Isabella -who's incredibly beautiful, naturally - in any way. At the end, we learn that Joan is happy to put up with her husband's infidelity with Isabella because she gets her lands back. Which conveniently absolves Perfect Isabella and Perfect Roger from having to feel any guilt. Roger grants his and Joan's son Wolf the lands and possessions of his late uncle, Mortimer of Chirk - Henley conveniently forgetting to mention Chirk's grandson John Mortimer, who was disinherited by his cousin in 1330 (Roger claimed he was illegitimate, and took over his lands. Hugh Despenser would have been proud.)

In Queen of Shadows, Roger Mortimer never came to life for me at all. We're often told that he's handsome and brave, but somehow I never really felt it. Then there's the problematic expository dialogue, which does nothing to improve his characterisation.
By contrast, Hugh Despenser is by far the most vivid character in the novel, which improves immeasurably every time he gets a scene. He knows exactly what he is and why he does what he does; this self-insight makes him rather appealing, although he's a total lecher, with men and women - as well as greedy, ruthless and cruel. But kudos to Felber for not having him rape Isabella in the story, as Paul Doherty and Alison Weir have recently suggested (with zero evidence) he might have done. He desires her, but says that he'd never touch her without her permission.

On the subject of lechers, I found the hero of Notorious, Wolf Mortimer, pretty creepy. Henley dusts off another useful cliché, that of the Celtic character with the gift of second sight and other advanced mental powers - this time, it's Wolf. Mostly, he doesn't use his talents for anything useful - like warning his father that Edward is going to arrest him - but to spy on Brianna, watching her (in his mind) undressing. Eww.

Notorious has a pretty abrupt ending. We don't see the successful 1326 invasion of England, or Hugh Despenser's execution, or Edward's deposition, but only read it about before it happens through one of Wolf's numerous visions. The final scene takes place in June 1327, Perfect Isabella and Perfect Roger are being perfect, and everyone (except Edward II, one presumes) is deliriously happy - including Guy Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who's looking pretty good for a man who's been dead for twelve years. He's even partially regained his lost sight, but I suppose that's a minor miracle for a man who's been animating a corpse for more than a decade.

The ending of Shadows is so abrupt I looked for the missing chapters, then wondered if Felber had a pressing deadline from her publisher, or if she'd reached her word count and just put her pen down. It doesn't end, it just - stops, when the story is starting to get really exciting. Isabella is coming to realise what a horrible mistake she's made and how wrong she was about Roger - there's a nice bit where she sees Hugh Despenser sitting on the throne, then realises it's her lover. He has imprisoned Edward III (which didn't happen historically) and is proving to be every bit as tyrannical as Despenser. You turn the page and - suddenly it's 1355. The whole story is wrapped up in a couple of pages. Mortimer's fate is dealt with in a paragraph - apparently Isabella, who's overthrown a king, inexplicably becomes unable to deal with a mere baron and has to wait for her teenage son to save her.

Then there's the odd lines "Her beloved grandson Edward was the image of his father. God willing, he'd never know that." How would Edward of Woodstock, who lived to his mid forties, not know if he looked like his father Edward III or not?? I can only assume that 'grandson' is a mistake for 'son', and Felber meant to say that Edward III looks just like his real father - whoever he may be. Even right at the end, we never learn the identity of Isabella's mysterious lover.

In both novels, even the Author's Note/Afterword at the end contain historical errors. Henley says that "most historians" agree that Edward II suffered the 'red-hot poker' death. Wish she'd tell me one historian who believes it to be totally, definitively true, never mind 'most'. Felber says that Edward III moved against Roger Mortimer "almost immediately" after his marriage to Philippa; it was nearly three years later. The Earl of Lancaster didn't die of plague in 1345, as it hadn't reached England then. Edward III didn't have "many mistresses" and "many illegitimate children" that anyone knows of (only one acknowledged mistress, Alice Perrers, and three illegitimate children). And it's disengenuous of Henley to claim that Isabella only became known as 'the She-Wolf' because of her marital infidelity. That's part of it, but I'd imagine that invading her husband's country, imprisoning him, deposing him, executing his friends, not allowing him to see his children, and (just possibly) being responsible for his murder comes into it too.

Probably a lot of people would say "But this is fiction, not a history book!" Of course, and I should point out that I don't think it's possible to write historical fiction without some errors. I'm not looking for perfection. But there are many gaps in our knowledge, and that's where historical novels can really come into their own. In the fourteenth century, we know what people did, but for the most part we have no idea why, or how they felt or what they thought. How Isabella really felt about her husband before the 1320s is anyone's guess. Maybe she truly loved him, or maybe she was dissatisfied in her marriage but made the best of it, or maybe she took the decision to depose him reluctantly and at the last minute, or maybe she had long despised him and plotted his downfall...there's no way of knowing, and this is something historical fiction can explore.

But if you choose to write about real people, I think you have a duty to stay as close to the known facts as possible. If you don't want to do that, why not invent your own characters? Then you can do anything you like with them! If Isabella was known not to be in Scotland in 1312 - and she certainly wasn't - then you shouldn't put her there. In Paul Doherty's Death of a King, he changes Edward III's date of birth from November 1312 to March 1312, so that he can work in the plot device that Roger Mortimer was his real father [which, in fact, still doesn't work, as Mortimer was in Ireland]. Maybe lots of readers would say 'March, November, what's the difference?' But I think that changing a historical date which is not in doubt or dispute to hang a major plot point on it, without acknowledging the fact, is, simply, cheating. Doherty was awarded a DPhil from Oxford for his thesis on Queen Isabella; obviously, he knows Edward III's correct date of birth.

Personally, I much prefer Sharon Penman's approach. She sticks closely to the facts, rounds out her characters brilliantly, and mentions in her Author's Note when she changes something, which are only ever small details. For example, in Falls the Shadow, she changes the date of a meeting by a few weeks, to accommodate the birth of Eleanor and Simon de Montfort's son Harry - which is a pretty minor change anyway.

Ultimately, I found Notorious and especially Queen of Shadows terribly frustrating, because both authors are capable of so much better. Some of Henley's other romances are far superior to this stereotypical, one-dimensional, melodramatic, totally inaccurate effort - and Brianna's often-repeated credo "I shouldn't...but I shall!" is even more irritating than Jory's "I've quite made up my mind!" in Infamous.

In much of Queen of Shadows, you can see what a good writer Edith Felber is, and there are occasional glimpses of what a terrific novel this could have been - but isn't. Some scenes sparkle and crackle with tension, some are pretty moving, and Hugh Despenser is such a well-developed and well-written character he comes right off the page. But Felber lets herself down with most of her dialogue, the endless repetition, the silly coy hints of Isabella's affair, the many historical inaccuracies, and the bizarrely abrupt ending. A good edit would have made this an infinitely better novel, and would have left a lot more space to explore Isabella's actions and feelings during the most eventful phase of her life, 1327-30.

Throughout much of the post, I found myself wanting to write a disclaimer about Notorious - something along the lines of "well, it's only a romance". But that sounds pretty insulting to the romance genre, which I don't mean at all. I've read and enjoyed some damn good romances, and I don't see why their characterisation, dialogue etc shouldn't be judged in the same way as other genres. Maybe Henley's fans would argue that the romance is key - which of course it is - and that the background doesn't matter. But if Henley chooses to write about real people and events rather than invented ones, she should make a much greater effort to get them correct. If she chooses real political events to serve as the backdrop to her novel, then I think I have the right to point out all her errors.

If an author wants complete control over her characters, then she should invent them. If she writes about real people, she shouldn't change most of the details of their lives to suit her story. And if she wants to write about people who lived 700 years ago, she shouldn't give them modern attitudes, ideas, and freedoms - especially when the sympathetic characters hold twenty-first century, politically correct opinions, while the unsympathetic ones hold views compatible with their time and society. That's just dishonest.


Unknown said...

Another great post Alianore! I couldn't agree more with your statement that authors who want such total control over characters and events should stick to total fiction. Why do they insist on writing about real, historical characters if they're going to change things so totally? It doesn't make sense. On a side not, I wonder how many girls were called 'Brianna' in the 1300s?? And how many boys were called 'Wolf'?

Anonymous said...

This is such a good read! Love it!

Kathryn Warner said...

Kathy - thanks for dropping by and commenting - glad you liked the post!

Liam - thanks too. To be fair, 'Wolf' is apparently a nickname bestowed in early childhood, because he likes wolves so much. (He has a perfectly tame pet wolf.) But we never learn his real name.

There's a good short article here, saying that Brianna is not found before the modern era:


suburbanbeatnik said...

All writers, I think, always reflect the culture they write in, even when they try to be true to the culture of an earlier period. I suppose the difference lies in how hard one attempts to portray the period...

As I stated earlier, I have absolutely no respect for Henley; I think she's a talentless and dishonest hack. As for Penman, I've tried to read "Sunne in Splendour" on the recommendation of a medievalist friend, but wasn't able to get beyond fifty pages. Maybe all the battles and such were portrayed accurately, but I couldn't shake the feeling that all the characters were 1980s people in SCA clothing. I also found myself completely uninterested in the proceedings, and felt that I was given no reason to care about anyone in it. When I put the book down, I remember thinking I'd probably better learn more about the Wars of the Roses from well-written non-fiction, then from that particular novel.

My favorite historical novelists are Gillian Bradshaw, Hilary Mantel and Rafael Sabatini. I'm sure you'd be flattered to know that I enjoyed your excerpts on your site a lot more than anything written by Penman! *grins*

Kathryn Warner said...

That's true, Joanne, and I wonder if it's even possible to write a historical novel where modern attitudes and beliefs don't creep in occasionally. And even if you could - you also have to make your characters sympathetic to your modern audience, so it's a balancing act. I'm just sick of reading historical novels where people act shocked that they'll be 'forced' into an arranged marriage, and where women have nearly as much freedom as today (in many parts of the world at least).

With reference to my complaint that Isabella wasn't in Scotland in 1312, I should have pointed out in the post that it wouldn't bother me if Felber had put her in, say, Lincoln, when she was actually in York. Even I'm not that picky - unless she still puts forward the theory that Ed II didn't father Ed III. ;) What annoys me is that Scotland back then was a foreign country, at war with England, which is a totally different scenario from putting Isabella in another part of England. And the mysterious Scottish lover is really irritating.

I much preferred Penman's Welsh trilogy to Sunne in Splendour - most of the characters seemed far more real to me. I'll have to take a look at your favourite novelists - haven't read anything by them yet, so thanks for the recommendation!

And yes, I'm extremely flattered by the comparison to Penman - thank you very much! :)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Gillian Bradshaw has written some pretty good books. I don't like everything by her, but the Arthur trilogy (which is historical Fantasy), Beacon of Alexandria, Island of Ghosts and Wolf Hunt are among my favourite books.

Weir's attitude towards Isabella reminds me a bit of Stefan Zweig's portrayal of Mary Stuart - when she's wrong it's because of the men she falls in lust with. ;)

suburbanbeatnik said...

Yeah, I have my own laundry list of peeves in historicals, including the old cliche of the spitfire girl who dresses up as a boy but is still unbelievably hot. Oh yes, and who hates anything "ladylike" and rushes around being all feisty and tomboyish. *yawns*

I think the whole "arranged marriage" issue was handled well by Elizabeth Janet Gray in the children's classic, "Adam of the Road." Adam, a 10 year old minstrel's son, is having a discussion with his friend Hugh; he's comparing his other friend Simon, a poor but handsome squire, to a character in a romance (one about a poor squire who marries a king's daughter) because Simon is in love with one of the lord's daughters. Hugh tells Adam that the daughter in question is promised to a rich knight- so why should she marry a poor squire? "Maybe she'd rather marry Simon," says Adam; and Hugh tells him she's only a girl and she needs to do what she's told.

For a moment Adam ponders the discrepancy between reality and the world of romance; then he shrugs it off. A few pages later, the daughter gets married to the rich knight, and Adam's only thoughts are for where he and his dad will go next. So, the author throws a small bone to modern sensibilities, but doesn't lay it on with a trowel.

Anyway, yes- "Queen of Shadows" does sound very silly, and I can understand your frustration about a book with promising elements, but ultimately derails. I feel the same way about Isolde Martyn's books... :P

Perhaps I should try one of Penman's later books, before I write her off completely. Is there one you recommend? Hopefully, it's not too dense. One of my main problems with a lot of adult historical novels is that they strike me as being really pompous and overwritten. From what I've read of Penman, she definitely falls into that camp... but perhaps one of her later books would be more my cup of tea?

From what I've read of your writing, you do remind me a bit of Gillian Bradshaw. I particularly like "Cleopatra's Heir," "Render unto Caesar" and "Imperial Purple." Her Arthurian trilogy is also exceptionally good. (As for Hilary Mantel, her French Revolution novel, "A Place of Greater Safety," is amazing. As for Sabatini, "Scaramouche" [French Rev as well] and "The Sea Hawk" [Elizabethan England/the Barbary Coast] are classics of historical adventure.)

So, if you don't mind my asking, how far along are you? Are you thinking of finding a publisher, or going the self-publishing route?

Kathryn Warner said...

I'll have to check out Gillian Bradshaw's Arthurian trilogy, now that two of you have recommended it!

Joanne - I know, if I ever read the word 'feisty' again to describe the heroine of a novel, I might well scream. ;) Also, novels which show the 'strength' of a female character by making her stroppy ("Look, she argues with men! How strong she is!") And novels which have women in the Middle Ages making a living as painters, which I seem to have seen quite a bit lately (though I can't remember where, haha!)

The most brilliantly inaccurate historical novel I've ever seen is Evangelynn Stratton's Lady Blue, which I assumed had to be a parody, but unfortunately isn't. It's set in England in 1499, and the characters are called things like Willow, Rutherford Sedgeworth III, Ivy, Frank and Eartha. They eat jacket potatoes, tomato salad and chocolate mousse, drink tea, and ask the police for help...;) And loads more! That's one of the novels that has a woman as a painter, come to think of it.

The Gray novel sounds like she handles the concept of arranged marriage very well.

Yes, books that start very promisingly, but don't match up to expectations, are very disappointing. I much prefer novels that are the other way round! I've just been reading Carol Wensby-Scott's Percy trilogy, and didn't think at first that I'd get into the first one - but after a few pages I was hooked, and I think all three novels are brilliant.

My personal favourite novel of Penman's is The Reckoning, the last part of her Welsh trilogy. (This may be because Edward I, Eleanor of Castile and other people I know a lot about are in it...;) The story continues from the first two, Here Be Dragons and Falls the Shadow, but I think you could read it as a stand-alone too. I was glad that Penman had given up her (to me) irritating habit of writing dialogue such as 'I did tell him' and 'Be the lads all right?'

The Reckoning is the story of Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales, his wife Eleanor de Montfort, and Edward I's conquest of Wales. There's a very long list of characters, though, and it's very detailed.

My problem is that I'm so fascinated by everyone and everything in Ed II's reign, I haven't been able to commit to a fixed number of characters and a plot, if you get what I mean. So I've written hundreds of thousands of words, and I still don't have anything approximating a novel. ;) But, all the writing is good practice - I can really see the difference in quality between my later work and when I first started - and I know the characters very well, so it's certainly not a waste. It will probably be years before I have anything finished... It would be great to get it published the traditional route, but it's still so far in the future, it's hard to say at the moment! :)

Carla said...

I agree. If a novel is going to use real events and people it ought to get them right as far as possible. There are usually more than enough holes in the known facts to spin a story in, and there's almost always enormous scope for interpreting character and motivation. If the events don't fit the story, I much prefer an invented world, a la Guy Gavriel Kay, rather than a novel with the real history twisted out of shape.

It's exactly right that the key cornerstones of story - character and motivation - are nearly always missing from the records, and that's where the historical novel can flower. Likely no two authors will agree - e.g. the demonisation/canonisation of Richard III - but that's part of the pleasure of historical fiction.

Kathryn Warner said...

Exactly, Carla - that's why I love reading Ed II historical fiction, to gain new insights into the possible motivations of Ed, Isa, Mortimer etc. It's fascinating to see how authors can write the same events with such different interpretations. Of course the same applies to other historical events. The story of Anne Boleyn, say, has been written so many times, with a different Anne each time. It's great! :)

GeorgeD said...

It's with a lot of hesitation that I'm speaking up here ... I'm standing so much in awe of this brilliant blog. If there is something here that I've not read during the last months, I must have been so unfortunate as to inexplicably overlook it. I'm no reader of historical novels, (though I promise that I'll buy your book when it's in print, Alianore!). In general, I much prefer genuine historical information. That's what I've found here, and what I relish here, and what I can't thank you enough for. When I came here, what I knew of Edward and his times just consisted in having watched the Derek Jarman film; and I can't express how grateful I am for all the knowledge and insight you are sharing on the web, for free. Let me just state that I agree with all that has been said here about changing facts and conditions for making historical novels better fit the expectations of 21st century readers. One of the reasons why I don't like reading historical novels is that they always give me the feeling of looking on a strange landscape through a keyhole ... which is the author's mind. And that all too frequent attitude of "we must set auld wrongs right" is particularly unnerving. No, you're not the only one getting sick of this:

here's the 'woman as perpetual victim' theme. [...] "She's a strong, empowered woman...but ooooh, she did something horrid! Blame a man, quick! It can't possibly be her fault! She's not strong after all, a nasty man made her do it, poor ickle thing! But look, now she's doing something praiseworthy! Suddenly she's strong and empowered again, and the man had nothing to do with it!"

If I hadn't loved your blog before, I'd love it because of that paragraph!

Just one word on Richard III. Methinks that battle is raging since 1952, when Josephine Tey published her not so historical novel "The Daughter of Time"; which I love very much, but wouldn't recommend to anyone who thinks history writing should never be critizised. However, none of Tey's criticisms would apply to this blog -- and that's the highest praise I can think of for any one dealing with history.

Kathryn Warner said...

GeorgeD: thank you so much! It's really great that you're enjoying the blog. To be honest, I'm still kind of amazed that anyone at all reads it. ;) I started it because I had so much info about Ed II and his times swirling around in my brain, and I write a lot of the posts as a way of sorting out all the info in my head and analysing it, if that makes sense - writing the posts really clarifies my thoughts and opinions. And I thought, might as well write it online as in a Word document - maybe there's a handful of people out there who might be interested in my ramblings. ;)

I've also learnt quite a lot since I started the blog - especially about the women of Ed's reign. I do love collecting all the facts together, from different sources - and it's so exciting to find little snippets of info in unexpected places!

I just hope that I manage to get a novel finished before all of us have one foot in the grave...;)

Of course, I'd forgotten about Daughter of Time - I must read it again some time (I read it when I was about 16).

Please don't hesitate to comment here - I'd love to hear your opinions!