Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Vintage Snark

While researching my Plaidy article, I came across a December 7, 1947, review in The New York Times of Beyond the Blue Mountains, Plaidy's first novel written under the Plaidy name. (Edit: Make that the second Plaidy novel. Thanks, Sarah!)

The reviewer is rather unimpressed: "This novel sings of illegitmate ladies and philandering men, and a long-winded, blowsy song it is. . . . This novel of generations is here coupled with a sampling of Amber-class heroines to produce a fiction so foolish and formula that its sponsors have seen fit in one place to label the creation 'A Romantic Novel.' It should offer limited appeal exclusively to readers of whatever that is."

Whew! And you thought historical fiction took some licks nowadays!

After three more paragraphs, in which the reviewer (identified as "B.V.W.") proceeds to give away most of the plot, he or she (odds are that it's a he) concludes, "It is pleasant to note, from the author's picture on the dust jacket, that she bears a winsome and charming resemblance to the British musical-comedy actress Jessie Matthews. Perhaps Miss Plaidy has missed her calling."

Well, no. Rather, millions of Plaidy sales later, it appears that B.V.W. sure missed the boat.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Review Roundup

Royalty Reviews has put up several reviews of some Plaidy novels over the past few days, including this one. And Daphne has finished her reading of the Plantagenet saga with the review here.

And here's a review of The Rose Without a Thorn by Acr2angel. And, on the subject of Henry VIII's wives, another review of The Lady in the Tower by Alita.

Finally, here's a review that Arleigh did in May of Passage to Pontefract.

If I've missed a recent one, please let me know!

I scored a couple of Plaidys on ebay the other day and am reading Red Rose of Anjou, about Margaret of Anjou. Interesting, as it covers the period of the Wars of the Roses I'm least familiar with, that up to the Duke of York's death.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Lady in the Tower

I finished The Lady in the Tower today, about, of course, Anne Boleyn. I suspect this book is to Plaidy what The Other Boleyn Girl is to Philippa Gregory: if you've read one Plaidy book, this is probably it. It's one of the later Plaidys, published in the United States in 1986, and not surprisingly, it was one of the first two Plaidy novels to be reissued by Three Rivers Press. Judging from the very rumpled state of my library copy, it's been quite a popular read.

This was actually a re-read of this novel for me. I read it several years ago, when I was just getting interested in historical fiction in a big way, and it's probably the first novel I'd read about Anne Boleyn. Having read a number of novels about Anne since, I was pleased to see how well it compared to more recent efforts.

Like many other novels about doomed queens, The Lady in the Tower is narrated in the first person by the heroine on the eve of her execution. (Question: are there novels about doomed kings told in the first person on the eve of the hero's execution? I can't remember a single one if so.) Anne looks back to her childhood at Hever, her intellectually stimulating time at the French court, her thwarted romance with Henry Percy, and her relationship with Henry VIII. She tries to understand the mistakes she's made, and though she judges Henry harshly, she's not inclined to let herself off easily either.

Those who have been accustomed to more sensational portraits of Anne won't find one here. Anne doesn't poison anyone, sleep with anyone besides Henry, engage in wild outdoors sex, or speak in modern American slang. Plaidy's prose, however, is rather flat compared to that of some of her more recent counterparts. There's some clunky dialogue, in particular that between Anne and her brother, and the chapters in which Henry schemes to divorce Catherine tend to drag, though a reader who is new to the history involved might not think so. The first person narrative imposes its own restrictions; by being limited to Anne's perspective, we miss out on other potentially fascinating ones, such as those of Anne's male courtiers.

Still, Plaidy tells an absorbing story, and her Anne is a sympathetic, yet flawed heroine. Those who are new to the story of Henry VIII and his six wives would be well advised to start their fictional journey here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sweatin' to the Plaidy, and a Question

It being a holiday today, I spent the afternoon at the gym. This time I had the foresight to bring a book along--Jean Plaidy's The Lady in the Tower. I read it several years ago, but I thought it'd be interesting to re-read it to see how its portrayal of Anne Boleyn stacked up to later novels about her.

Usually I stop after about 10 minutes on the treadmill, not because I get tired but because I get bored. This time, however, with Plaidy for company, I managed over 20 minutes, and a full mile! (For the record, I can read about 28 pages of Plaidy per mile.) The moral here is that Jean Plaidy is not only a diverting read, but good for your health.

Anyway, I'm working on an article about the reissue of Jean Plaidy's novels. In conjunction with that, I have some questions to pose to you Plaidy fans out there: What appeals to you about Plaidy's novels? Which ones would you like to see reissued? Do you have a preference for Plaidy's novels over other historical fiction, and if so, why? Inquiring minds (or my mind, anyway) want to know!