There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
~ Emily Dickinson

Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness. ~ Helen Keller

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Philippa Gregory's Cousins' War Novels

 The following are some thoughts on the novels in Philippa Gregory's Cousin's War series that I've read (or listened to as audiobooks) in recent months.

The White Queen
 I first listened to this novel (about Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort of Edward IV) as an abridged audiobook early in the year and was disappointed. The abridged version showed little of the York court, concentrating on Elizabeth's times in sanctuary during the wars and Lancastrian restoration. It also expunged references to Edward's unfaithfulness, a thing that would have doubtless been sometimes on Elizabeth's mind, even if she tolerated it. However, skimming through the hardback book, I found that these elements were indeed there. I still wouldn't call it a favorite; I didn't connect with the portrayal of Elizabeth's personality. That said, Gregory should be commended for writing a decently sympathetic portrait of the woman who was - and in historical fiction (such as The Sunne in Splendour) still seems to be - the reviled Wallis Simpson of her age. As with her novel about Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Gregory portrays women as using forbidden herbalism and magic to gain their own form of power in a man's world.

The Red Queen 
The extreme piety and sense of purpose that makes many readers dislike Gregory's characterization of Margaret Beaufort (grandmother of Henry VIII) at first enlisted my sympathy, reminding me of Dorothea Brooke in my beloved Middlemarch. However, eventually Margaret's self-centered outlook, and a rather slow-moving plot, turned me off. I only finished it to find out Gregory's unusual theory on the fate of the Princes in the Tower

The Kingmaker's Daughter

 This novel - centering on the life of Anne Neville, queen consort of Richard III - was rather uneven. It had some wonderful moments showing the absolute horror and danger of childbirth in late Medieval times. Anne's relationship with her sister Isabel was depicted as close and complex. However, I never really felt like Anne's character was well defined. Especially confusing was how quickly she became loyal to her formerly-feared mother-in-law, Margaret d'Angou. Richard (yes, of course that's who we're really interested in) is quite well-drawn. Gregory doesn't come across as a raving Ricardian or a Shakespearean hater. Her Richard can be kind or ruthless, simultaneously charismatic and calculating.

 While Gregory isn't a very highbrow author, I probably will pick up the other books in the series when I see them at the library. Of course I'm already raising my eyebrows at the premise of her new book on Princess Elizabeth of York. SPOILERS FOLLOW which appears to be that Elizabeth and Richard III were lovers. It is, of course, not an unprecedented idea and it's hardly surprising that it was the route Gregory chose to take. She is certainly never one to miss out on the most sensational interpretation.


  1. I think Hilary Mantel would be a better bet lol. By the way what do you think of the difference in Philippa Gregory's and Hilary Mantel's prose styles? I haven't read Gregory, so wouldn't know, but while Mantel is thick with content, her prose is rather ... clipped, dull, prosaic. I read a less balanced, less intelligent novel on the Booker shortlist, but I found myself preferring that novel, because the prose style was gorgeous, and the descriptions vivid. (Shallow I know).

  2. Hilary Mantel's novels (at least the historical fiction ones I know about) are about a different period. I _am_ somewhat proud that I've never read Gregory's "Other Boleyn Girl" from which they made those horrible, prurient movies. I also justify my reading of a light, slightly sensational author like Gregory by listening to her works as audiobooks while doing yard work, house work, cooking, etc.

    I can't really compare Mantel's prose because I still haven't gotten around to her novels. Gregory's prose aren't anything memorable, but I think I put up with that kind of thing more easily than you. Certainly most historical fiction isn't the exquisite craft that the Victorian novels are, but I've always been interested in history in a narrative "How were individuals emotionally effected by [name big event]?" way. All your reading of the Romantics and Victorians probably doesn't make you the best suited to enjoy more ephemeral works.