Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Review: The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory

Title: The Virgin's Lover

Author: Philippa Gregory

Rating: 2/5

Year: 2004

Plot: In the summer of 1558, church bells across England ring out the news - Elizabeth is queen. One woman hears them with dread; Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, knows that with Elizabeth on the throne he will return to the glamourous Tudor court. Amy's hopes that the ambitions of the Dudley family had died when Robert's father was beheaded are ended. The triumphant peal of bells summon her husband once more to power - and to a passionate young queen.

Elizabeth has inherited a bankrupt and rebellious country. Her advisor William Cecil warns that she will only survive if she marries a strong prince, but the only man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend.

Robert is sure that he can reclaim his destiny at Elizabeth's side. And as queen and courtier fall in love, Dudley begins to contemplate the impossible - setting aside his loving wife to marry the young Elizabeth ...

(Taken from the back cover of Philippa Gregory, 2005, The Other Boleyn Girl, Great Britain: HarperCollinsPublishers.)

Review: I'm a history buff. My specialist subject is The Tudor family. As a result, I love all historical fiction that revolves around that time period and, though I'm more than aware that Philippa Gregory's novels are less than historically accurate, I do enjoy her books.

However, I was greatly disappointed with this one. I'm not going to spend too long talking about it because I want to move on and away from it. The biggest issue I had with this book were the way the characters were written.

Let's start with Elizabeth. Now, the whole reason Queen Elizabeth I is a big deal for this country is that she was the first queen to rule alone at a time when women were regarded as second-rate. Her time was regarded as 'The Golden Age' and she chose not to marry (to the frustration of her council) and did it all alone. She is a strong, fiercely ambitious woman in history that saw this country through wars, rebellions, religious hatred and near bankruptcy for the entire country. And she did it without leaning on her 'King' husband for help. That son and heir Henry VIII always wanted was her.

Gregory's portrayal of Elizabeth is a whiney, spoilt, little girl who has no clue what she's doing. I'm under no illusions that when Elizabeth first came to the throne she knew all the tricks of the trade. But I also find it hard to believe that this feisty redhead who knew how to get what she wanted was controlled so badly by Robert Dudley that she grew too scared of him to stand up for herself. Gregory's Elizabeth finds herself taking orders from Dudley as though he is king. She is weak, feeble-minded, and doesn't know how to make decisions for herself. Gregory's Elizabeth is merely a sorority girl plucked from obscurity and placed onto the throne at the Tudor court - not my kind of Elizabeth!

While Robert Dudley is probably represented quite accurately - as a man longing for power and to always remain the favourite of the Queen - I think my judgement is probably clouded by Joseph Fiennes' portrayal of the lord in Elizabeth (1998). I picked up a book entitled The Queen's Lover to read about a great love story between a powerful woman and an ambitious man - not to read about a weak, silly little girl seduced by a womanising sod who has no ounce of charm. He's often described as charming, good-looking and irresistable in the novel (as history tells it) but there's no evidence from his actions here to support that.

Amy Dudley's character was pathetic: Everything a woman was expected to be at that time - running after and forgiving her husband for every major flaw. When she discovers he's having a very public affair with the Queen, she mopes around her friend's houses with nothing better to do.

The only thing that kept me reading this story was William Cecil, Elizabeth's advisor. The second half of the novel seemed to focus on him and his opinion a great deal and it was only because of his intolerance for the relationship and quick intelligence that there seemed to be any reason to stick with the story.

Portraying Elizabeth as a selfish, flirtatious Barbie seems to be a trend among historical fiction writers these days. It almost appears to be too taboo to think about her strength as a woman during those times. (Would anyone like to recommend a book that does focus on that?) Yes, Elizabeth had lovers and knew exactly how to use her sexuality ... but so did her father, and her grandfather, and every other king before and after her who had wives and multiple mistresses. But, of course, because a woman does it, it's a big deal. And she's a tramp.

A very disappointing read, especially when I'd enjoyed Gregory's other novels (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen's Fool, The Wise Woman). Let's hope the next ones I read improve.

About the Author: Philippa Gregory is an established writer and broadcaster for radio and television. She holds a PhD in eighteenth-century literature from the University of Edinburgh. She has been widely praised for her historical novels, including Earthly Joys, Virgin Earth, A Respectable Trade, The Other Boleyn Girl (which was adapted for BBC television) and The Queen's Fool, as well as her works of contemporary suspense. Philippa Gregory lives in the North of England with her family.

(Taken from the inside cover of Philippa Gregory, 2005, The Other Boleyn Girl, Great Britain: HarperCollinsPublishers.)  


Melody said...

I'm sorry this book is a disappointment to you. I've only read The Other Boleyn Girl and Fallen Skies by Philippa so far; and I've another one or two titles by her in my pile, though I can't remember the titles! :P

I hope the next one will be better for you. :)

Violet said...

I've read Zelda's cut by Philippa Gregory which is a contemporary novel but none of her hsitoricals.

It would be hard to like a book if you don't like the way a character is portrayed. I really like your review.

And love the cover too :)

The Bookworm said...

sorry to hear you didnt enjoy it. I read this one a few months ago, I do agree that Elizabeth was portrayed as spoiled and childish.

Ceri said...

Mel - Thanks :-) I'd definitely recommend reading The Queen's Fool if you enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl.

Violet - I'll be giving Zelda's Cut a try as I've never read any of her contemporaries. :-)

Naida - Yeah, I have no doubt she was very spoilt but it gets old if you keep on reading about how bratty she is. :-S