Curl up with…….The Tudors

The Tudors

Bizarrely enough when I was younger I wasn’t anywhere near as interested by history as I am now and I hear that quite a lot from adults I know (probably growing up and staritng to get a sense of your own mortality has a lot to do with it!); but the one thing I do remember absolutely loving learning about in school was the Tudors. Henry VIII and his six wives fascinated me: all that greedy guzzling at banquets, heads being chopped off left, right and centre and stuck on London bridges for the publics viewing pleasure, the fashion, the scandals…..I loved it all.

A couple of weekends ago, Mr Whisperer and I went for a day out at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire as I love the huge grounds there and there are gorgoues gardens, cute gift shops and yummy tea and cakes!

 
 
 
 
 

Chatsworth House

We didn’t realise when before we got there was that there was a Tudor Village set up in the grounds with a tent to get a spit-roast pork sandwich and a cider and wander round the various craft stalls manned by people dressed up in the Tudor garb.  

 
 

Not a good time to loose ones head!

Man doing something Tudorish

All hail Queen Boof!

Of course all these meanderings through village and stall, eating freshly roasted meat got me thinking about the books I have read about the Tudors. Here are a selection of my favourites:

 

I’m Henry VIII I am, I am!

Love him or hate him, you have to admit that old Henry is one of the most fascinating characters ever to grace Blighty, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. The man is a legend! King of England for 38 years back in the early-mid 1500’s, Henry not only had six wives but he found a way to get rid of his first wife (Catherine of Aragon) after 20 or so years becuase he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn instead. Back in the days before being able to divorce, Henry decided that the only way he could get rid of Catherine was to change religion from Catholic to Protestant and bring the whole of England along with him for the ride. Don’t like that idea?: then prepare to loose your head!

After ditching Catherine he finally married Anne Boleyn but soon realised his mistake when he found that she wasn’t the sweet little lapdog he thought she was. How to get rid of Anne? Chop her head off by accusing her of sleeping with her own brother! (Oh, and chop the head of said brother off too, and why not her music teachers too for good measure?). After Anne came Jane Seymour, the love of his life, but the poor (or is that lucky?) girl died in child birth after giving birth to his only son. Then came Anne of Cleves who he divorced for being too ugly (maybe he had never looked in a mirror), Katherine Howard who was too slutty and lost her head for her pains (fancy being in love with someone her own age, and then being forced to marry the King of England and then said King finding out that she had the nerve to be in love with someone else before she met him! Tsk!) and finally Katherine Parr, who it is claimed (I hope this is true for her sake) never had to sleep with the King as he was infirm with a gangrenous leg at the time and only had to mop his brow and show up to events as his Queen.

As well as his numerous wives and extra-curricular bedroom activities (he had at least 2 illegitimate children) King Henry also had a little thing for destroying monestaries up and down the UK to name but one of his hobbies. 

 
 

by Margaret George

 This is one of my favourite books about Henry. At almost 1000 pages (and pretty small print) it’s not a quick read but having said that, I was so engrossed in the story that it did take me only about 10 days to read. The story is told by his “fool” Will Sommers and charts Henry’s life from before birth to after his death. So much research and period detail has gone into this book and I have read that it took Margaret George over 10 years to write. It really is such a great book and if, like me, you haven’t read anything about the Tudors since you were at school this is a great refresher. It assumes no knowledge of those times but isn’t patronising. I never once felt lost or out of my depth; just engrossed in a page-turning book.

Another great book about Henry and his wives (but non-fiction) is Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Even if you’re not a fan of non-fiction, this is really readable and almost reads like fiction: really interesting too.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

 

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, is probably my favourite of all six wives. Possibly because she was around for the longest, or that she was dgnified to the end, but also because her own background is fascinating too. Catherine (or Catalina) was the daughter of Queen Isabella of Spain and grew up in the time when the Moors were drivin the Jews out of Spain to towards Portugal and town after town was being sacked.

Jean Plaidy has written a great book called Daugthers of Spain which is about Queen Isabella’s 4 daughters (and one son). It is actually third in a trilogy of books about Isabella but they all work as stand alones. This book tells the story of Catalina growing up and who was married off to whom and for what reason (it’s all about the power!). One of Catalina’s sisters, Joanna (Juana) was known as Juana La Loca as she was a little (or a lot) crazy. There is a book called The Last Queen which I really want to read that is all about her life but I haven’t got round to it yet. 

Daughers of Spain - Jean Plaidy

 

Lady Jane Gray 

Perhaps one of the more overlooked Tudors: probably because not only did she only rule England for nine days, there is not as much known about her earlier life as the more prominent royals.

Innocent Traitor (again by Alison Weir) is a work of fiction based upon real facts and is one of my favourite Tudor reads. There is snobbery, coruption, abuse, child neglect and ruthlessness galore inside these 400 pages. Honestly, it’s like watching an episode of Shamless but with posh people. It really is an eye-opener into the goings on of the Tudor court (and peoples attempt to get into it). 

 
 

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

 

I have so many more books on my bookshelf from the Tudor period that I really want to get to soon.

Do you like books about the Tudors? Which ones do you recommend?

 

 

 

Advertisements

Curl Up With……. Enid Blyton

My first idea for my  next “Curl Up With…” in the series was to do a piece on my favourite childhood books but when I got to work listing my favourites, it appeared that a good 75% were by Enid Blyton. That being the case I decided that this wonderful author deserved her own post.

My favourite childhood author

Enid Blyton was (and still is) one of my favourite ever authors. I credit her with my love of, not just books, but with story-telling, Here is an author whose tales of adventure took me to worlds I wanted to inhabit;  worlds of excitement and wonder and freedom and thrills.

Enid Mary Blyton was born on 11th August 1897 in London and wrote a staggering 800 books which were  translated into 90 languages making her the 5th most translated author ever, just behind Shakespeare (for anyone who is interested the actual top 10 is: Walt Disney Productions, Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, Shakespeare, Enid Blyton, Lenin, Barbara Cartland, Danielle Steel, Hans Christian Andersen, and Stephen King).

Noddy

 

1949 cover

My love affair with Blytons books started with Noddy, the little wooden boy who lives in his own house in Toyland and drives around in a yellow taxi with his friends Big Ears, Bumpy Dog and Mr Wobbly Man. Hot on Noddy’s heals came The Magic Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair series – infact one of my earliest memories is my Dad reading The Magic Faraway Tree to me at bedtime; I can still remember the excitement of knowing that we were going to read another chapter and being desperate to know what happened next. I can still relive that memory of pure joy and excitement at inhabiting this world.

The Magic Faraway Tree

In the first novel in the series, Jo, Bessie, Dick and Fanny (although these days their names have been changed to Joe, Beth, Rick and Frannie!) move to live near a large wood. One day, they go for a walk in the wood and discover an enormous tree whose branches seem to reach into the clouds. This is the Faraway Tree.

When the children climb the Faraway Tree they discover it is inhabited by different magical creatures, including Moon-face, Silky the fairy, The Saucepan Man, Dame Washalot, Mr. Watzisname and the Angry Pixie. They befriend some of these creatures, in particular Moon-face and Silky. At the very top of the tree they discover a ladder which leads them to a magical land. The lands at the top are sometimes extremely unpleasant – for example the Land of Dame Slap, an aggressive schoolteacher – and sometimes fantastically enjoyable – notably, the Land of Birthdays, Land of Goodies and the Land of Take-What-You-Want.

 Oh how I wanted to go!

The Famous Five

Three of the children, Julian, Dick and Anne, are brothers and sister. During their holidays, they are regularly sent to the seaside town of Kirrin to stay with their Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin, whose daughter, Georgina, is a tomboy who insists on being called George. George owns a large mongrel dog, Timmy, who is very much part of the group and a character in his own right. Timmy accompanies the four children on every adventure.

The stories always take place in the children’s school holidays when they return from their respective boarding schools. Every time they meet, they get caught up in an adventure, the location of which varies from book to book. Sometimes the scene is set close to George’s family home at Kirrin Cottage in Cornwall: “Kirrin Island“, a picturesque island owned by George and her family in Kirrin Bay, for example, presents many opportunities for adventure. George’s own home and various other houses the children visit or stay in are hundreds of years old, and often contain secret passages or smugglers‘ tunnels. In some books, the children go camping in the countryside, on a hike or holiday together elsewhere. The settings, however, are almost always rural and enable the children to discover the simple joys of cottages, islands, the English and Welsh countryside and sea shores, as well as the adventures, picnics, lemonade, bicycle trips, home-made food, and lashings of ginger beer.

Blyton always said that George was based on a real girl she had once known: in her later life, she admitted that the girl was herself.

 

The Mallory Towers  and St Clare’s series

My absolute favourite series and I still really, really, really want to go to those schools! (Yes, even now!) I want to have midnight feasts with lashings of ginger beer and to have high tea after a game of lacrosse. I have lost count of how many times I have read both these series and just reminiscing now is making me want to read them all over again right now!

 

There are 6 books in each series and each one is a different school year at the boarding schools of Mallory Towers and St Clare’s respectively. Mallory Towers is set on the cliff tops in Cornwall and its main character is Darrell Rivers.

 

The cover of my book from back in the 70's

The main characters of St Clare’s are twins Isabel and Pat O’Sullivan. The characters in both series are fabulous – there are nice girls, horrible girls, tricks played on teachers, midnight feasts, arguments, runaways, but ultimately fun and adventures. I WANT TO GO THERE!!

 

Controversy

Blyton’s status as a bestselling author is in spite of disapproval of her works from various perspectives, which has led to altered reprints of the books and withdrawals or “bans” from libraries. In the 1990s, Chorion, the owners of Blyton’s works, edited her books to remove passages that were deemed racist or sexist.

The Famous Five come under fire for both, starting with tomboy George often struggling to make herself heard over her older male cousins: In Five on a Hike Together, Julian gives the order  to George: “You may look like a boy and behave like a boy, but you’re a girl all the same. And like it or not, girls have got to be taken care of.” But perhaps more startling is the phrase “black as a nigger with soot” when Five Go Off to Camp. This is one of a number of phrases which ultimately rendered some of her books banned by libraries. These have now, obviously, been omitted from reprints along with name changes (there were rarther a lot of Dicks and Fanny’s in her originals).

Have you read any Enid Blyton?

 Just writing this post had made me want to drag down all my Malory Towers books from the shelf and emmerse myself in a world of sunshine, fun and adventure once again. A huge part of me owes my love of the printed word to this lady and I can still vividly remember the joy I got from eagerly anticipating the next installment of her books at bedtime.

Do you have any fond memories of childhood favourites? Have you read any Enid Blyton and if so what do you think?

 

Curl Up With…. The Victorians

Welcome to my first ever “Curl up with…” post. My first topic is something that is very dear to my heart – the Victorians.

Who are the Victorians?

Ah, that crinoline-clad lot who graced most of the 19th century and introduced us to the telephone, photography, coca cola, postage stamps, the electric light bulb, underground trains and gramophones. But more importantly (to me, anyway) is they are responsible for some of the greatest literature ever written. Under the rule of the mighty Queen Victoria from 1827 to 1901, beautiful and timeless novels were written by the likes of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Thomas Hardy and Wilkie Collins to name but a few.

Why do I love the Victorians so much?

Interestingly, I didn’t until about a year ago. Yes, I had read a couple of Victorian books in school when we had studied them, but other than that I had little desire to delve any further into this world, imagining nothing but hard work and dryness. How utterly wrong I was! A couple of members of one of the groups I am in on Goodreads picked up Jane Eyre just over a year ago and started a discussion between themselves (interestingly they were the two friends who stayed with me only two weeks ago and I took them to Haworth to see the Bronte Village). I watched their conversation develop with interest and more than a mild dose of curiosity: these two friends were not massive classics readers either but yet they were using words like beautiful and fun. On a whim, I grabbed the tanned-paged copy that had been on my shelf for several years and flipped open to the first page. This was all it took! Page one of Jane Eyre is where I fell head over heels in love with the Victorians and I have never looked back.

What is my favourite Victorian book?

Jane Eyre. It has to be – this is where my love affair started. I was drawn so completely into that world and that place that it shot straight in at number 1 of my all-time favourite books. I read Villette, also by Charlotte Bronte, very quickly afterwards and my hero worship of this genius was sealed. I don’t want to dwell too much on the Bronte’s right now as I will be doing a separate Curl up with… about them in the future (I have too much to say).

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Which book surprised me the most?

Possibly East Lynne by Ellen Wood which I read only a few weeks ago. It’s not one of the well known Victorian classics but I was drawn to the cover and picked it up. I was expecting a nice read, with it not being so well known, but what I got was a GREAT read! What a fabulous romp through a 19th century English village, complete with adultery, murder, faked death, disguises and revenge. Brilliant!

East Lynne by Ellen Wood

Which book would I recommend for a beginner to Victorian literature?

There are so many! I remember being really surprised at how easy and accessible these books were when for years I had imagined dry and dusty. For a complete beginner then something like Lady Audley’s Secret is such good fun you can’t fail to love it. This is classed as one of the first sensation novels ever to be written and it’s full of swishing curtain and “DUN DUN DUNNNN” moments that are (in this day and age) really funny.

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

 

What about something a bit grittier?

Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a book that made me sit up and think. This is the book that her sister Charlotte wanted to burn as it was too scandalous. The book is way ahead of its time in terms of feminism, and it is also a really good read.  Charles Dickens is one author that I haven’t spent nearly enough time on yet, having only read (and loved) two of his books. His books are pretty gritty in terms of plenty of questionable characters and they centre more around the working classes than the aristocracy of some other books.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hally by Anne Bronte

What is my favourite Victorian lit genre?

It has to be the sensation novels. I just LOVE them. They have me turning the pages, and making me laugh (maybe in places I’m not meant to laugh, but that’s part of the appeal for me – such melodrama!). I can highly recommend The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins as well as the two I have mentioned above.

Where did my new-found love of Victorian literature take me?

Not long after I read my first few Victorian books I set up my own group on Goodreads.com called Victorians! (funnily enough). A year later we have almost 700 members, I have another fabulous (and life-saving) moderator, Paula, to help me run the group. We discuss all things Victorian and we nominate and vote on monthly reads where we then have group discussions. It’s a lovely group and I’m really proud of how the group has grown and lovely the members who participate are. If you want to check us out, here is the link. We’d love to see you around.

Introducing the Victorian Geek

Please welcome the Victorian Geek! I found Catherine’s blog a month or so ago and I have been reading it ever since – it’s fantastic. Catherine is a Victorian scholar and really knows her stuff. She also has another website that is dedicated to making neglected 19th century novels available to the modern public. I asked her if she would like to guest blog on my Curl up with…The Victorians post and here is what she had to say:

Boof:  Which book would you recommend for someone who hasn’t read any (or has read very little) Victorian literature to give them a taste for the genre and why? 

Victorian Geek: That’s an interesting question.  I actually asked it of the VICTORIA listserv last year and it was hotly debated.  The results are on my blog although they’re certainly not conclusive.  Many neophytes are simply overfaced by the sheer size of many Victorian novels (the three decker format is a menace, in many respects).  Also, it rather depends on the genres to which the prospective reader is normally drawn.

My general recommendation would be Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, as there is a strong plot and a powerful evocation of the Dorset landscape. 

Boof:  Which is your favourite Victorian book and author? 

Victorian Geek: Well, there are so many Victorian novels I’ve loved, and for many different reasons.  The one I hold in the greatest affection is Mrs Henry Wood’s ‘East Lynne’.  I first read it about 12 years ago and it inspired my love of sensation fiction. 

The greatest Victorian novel, in my opinion, is Sarah Grand’s ‘The Beth Book’: it’s clever, witty, moving, and compelling – everything I would look for in a book. 

My favourite author would have to be Florence Marryat.  Not because she’s a great writer (she certainly isn’t), but because much of her work is so engaging and her themes so varied.  Fingers crossed this enthusiasm endures through the next three years of writing my doctoral thesis on her! 

Boof:  Which, out of the Victorian books that you have discovered during your studies that is currently out of print and really shouldn’t be? 

Victorian Geek: Ah, there any many that have been unjustly neglected.  I have managed to resurrect a few through Victorian Secrets, my tiny publishing house, and Valancourt Books (www.valancourtbooks.com) are doing brilliant work in this area, bringing us novels by Eliza Lynn Linton, Sarah Grand and Mary Cholmondeley. 

I’d very much like to see new critical editions of ‘The Beth Book’, ‘The Heavenly Twins’ and Mary Cholmondeley’s ‘Red Pottage’.  Pickering and Chatto are publishing a scholarly edition of the latter, but it will be a prohibitively expensive hardback.  

Boof:  What is it about the Victorians that fascinated you so much? 

Victorian Geek: I was struck by the fact that they are chronologically so close to us, yet often referred to almost as an entirely different breed.  I started out with many questions (some of which I’ve answered) and have accumulated more along the way.  The term “Victorian” is often used pejoratively to refer to a particular mindset and I feel duty-bound to protect them and elevate their image.  Of course, the Victorians did much that was bad and wrong (I could never forgive their imperialism, for example), but they also made many advances in science, welfare and the arts.  Many Victorian women writers are truly inspirational, and they have created my insatiable thirst to find out more about the age in which they lived.

Thank you to Catherine for stopping by and some really interesting answers. I really want to read The Beth Book now!

 

What other websites / resources are there?

There are a few blogs and websites that I follow that I really like and give some fantastic information on all things Victorian. They are:

 

So now I would love to hear what you think about Victorian literature? Are you an addict or never really tried it? What are your favourites?

 

Up coming posts in Curl up with…. will be Favourite Childhood Books, The Brontes, Ghost Stories and Mysteries (to name but a few).