Sunday, May 26, 2013

Elizabeth 1: A novel

Finished reading 'Elizabeth -I by Margaret George' last month but didn't get around to writing about it till now.
I love to learn history in the context of characters and philosophies but don’t care to memorize names and dates so it was never my favorite subject in school but love to revisit it now. This book was a wonderful refresher course in the British history and I could enjoy it thoroughly without any bias since it was based in an era before British turned India into its colony.

The book is very well researched and written, I was amazed by the long bibliography mentioned at the end of the book. And the best part was that the author declared the few incidents where she took liberty and invented scenarios that is not substantiated by written historic facts.
All the while when I was reading this book, I constantly checked Google Maps. We took a brief visit to London in 2006 and it was wonderful to virtually walk those streets again and in context with this book. Traveled up the Thames on Google Maps and imagined the houses described in the book, Gotta love technology. And of course since I didn't realize the accuracy of the book early on, Wikipedia became my good friend too. I checked it first to confirm the affair between Queen's cousin and Shakespeare but then I was hooked trying to confirm the facts and descriptions of locales.  

For every ruler and specially for a matriarch, there would be good things and bad things in the history but authors style of presenting those facts was beautiful, she made sure that Elizabeth remains the central and positive character of the book despite the shortcomings that each of us possess as individuals and rulers as well. The author imagined logical explanations for controversial decisions from the queens perspective to lay a point forward for people who would at times fail to comprehend a big picture or a vision for the future.

The wonderful writing style and portrayal of characters was further emphasized when in the wake of this book I read another historic fiction about the Queen Mary of Scot: The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots 
Even though this book about Mary claims to be a memoir, it failed to convey anything personal about her thoughts and subsequent actions. Throughout the book, Mary claimed that her right to the English throne was greater than Elizabeth and Elizabeth was portrayed to be a vicious queen but her lineage or why was she more legit that Elizabeth was never explained. I found it out through Wikipedia. 

She couldn't keep her throne in Scotland and her leadership style and concern for her rein was never elaborated besides the gowns she got made and the lavish lifestyle she lived contrary to Catholic belief angering her subjects Catholics and non-Catholics. Nothing was mentioned of the court tactics that she must have learned while growing up at the French court or perhaps that her return to Scotland was the freedom that she wished for and rebelled against her nurture. Nothing in the book explained her erratic (often referred as mysterious) behavior, neither a contemplation and nor any of her potential thoughts. 

My biggest concern about the book was that I never for one moment identify with the heroine of the book I was reading. I was never privy to her thoughts or afterthoughts, it was a series of happenings sewn together into a novel. And as for Mary, it seems never wanted to be a queen for the people or for her rein but just for herself and her luxury irrespective of the conditions of her subjects. At least that's what I gathered from the memoirs mentioned from her stay at Scotland. Also, it seems she never had a trustworthy council to lean onto for governing the rein and I gathered from the book that she failed to cultivate that for herself. 
All in all, a pretty pathetic book and I usually don't mention bad books here only the ones that I enjoyed reading but this back to back historic fiction reading brought forth some starkness between writing styles and I couldn't resist sharing it with you all...


  1. Thanks for the reviews.
    I really didn't get into history until I had an amazing professor in college. She really made it interesting.
    Lately I have been trying to learn more about President Lincoln, the Civil War and slavery.

  2. Mary Jo, if you find a 'good' true to history novel about President Lincoln, please share it with me.
    I'd be interested.