Saturday, September 06, 2008

51. The Lady Elizabeth

by Alison Weir
read by Rosalyn Landor

Unlike historian Weir’s first novel, Innocent Traitor, The Lady Elizabeth is more historical fiction than biographical novel, told in the third-person omniscient viewpoint, rather than in the multiple first-person diary-style viewpoint of Innocent Traitor. The book covers the life of Elizabeth I of England from 1536, when three-year-old Elizabeth learns of her mother Anne Boleyn’s death (in this book, from her sister Mary), to 1558, when 25-year-old Elizabeth ascends to the throne at Mary’s death.

It’s interesting to compare Weir’s interpretation of Elizabeth in this book to that of author Philippa Gregory in The Virgin’s Lover and The Queen’s Fool. While Gregory gives us an Elizabeth who is wily and actively pursuing a romance and sexual relationship with Robert Dudley (and not discouraging the advances of Thomas Seymour), Weir is more sympathetic to Elizabeth. Although Weir postulates a different result for Elizabeth’s involvement with Seymour (trying to not reveal too much here!), she does a good job showing how the events of Elizabeth’s early life may have led to her decisions (particularly about marriage) in adulthood.

Like Gregory, Weir is sympathetic towards Mary, and paints her as someone most influenced by her desire to please her beloved husband, Philip II of Spain. Both authors, however, show Philip as also intrigued by Elizabeth and wanting to be at least a friend to her for his political advantage.

In an author’s note at the end of the book, Weir writes:
I make no apology for the fact that, for dramatic purposes, I have woven into my story a tale that goes against all my instincts as a historian! Indeed, I have argued many times in the past, in print, in lectures, and on radio and television, why I firmly believe that Elizabeth I was the Virgin Queen she claimed to be, since the historical evidence would appear to support that. Yet we can never know for certain what happens in a person’s private life. There were rumors and there were legends, and upon them I have based the highly controversial aspect of this novel...I am not, as a historian, saying that it could have happened; but as a novelist, I enjoy the heady freedom to ask: What if it had?

Weir goes on to explain other assumptions she makes in the novel. Critics would do well to remember she is writing historical fiction here and not history or biography. Weir’s website indicates she will be writing a sequel to The Lady Elizabeth.

I enjoyed British actress Rosalyn Landor’s unabridged narration of this book. She did a fine job creating different voices for the multitude of characters in the story.

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