March 28, 2012

The Tudor Book Blog Book Reviews: The Lady and the Poet

The Lady and the Poet by Maeve Haran

*Warning, there are several spoilers in this review!


This novel is centered around Lady Ann More, and focuses on the last years of Elizabeth I's reign. Ann is a young girl, about 14, who is one of four daughters to Sir George More and niece to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Seal. She meets John Donne, a poet and secretary to Ann's uncle, the Lord Keeper. The two fall in love and eventually marry in secret, much to the horror of Ann's father and uncle.

According to the author, "The Lady and the Poet, based on fact and also on imagination, tells an extraordinary and little-known love story and attempts to paint a picture, my picture, of the Ann who is absent from history."


A young, and dashing, John Donne
Before beginning this book, I knew next to nothing about Ann More or John Donne. Because of this, I think I enjoyed the book all the more. Normally when I read books on the Tudor period, I am slightly distracted by historical accuracy, or knowing what is coming next. Here, however, I waited until I finished the book to look into the history behind it.

When delving into the history, I was pleasantly surprised to find how accurate it was! I always love authors that stick to history. Maeve Haran professes that John Donne has been her lifelong passion. I found it interesting then that she wrote the book from Ann's point of view. As she points out in her post script, little is known about Ann. She is only vaguely remembered by history as the wife of John Donne. There is no portrait of her, nor much historical evidence. However, Haran does a masterful job of bringing Ann to life. She clearly follows the events in Donne's life, but fills in the gaps with wonderfully written fiction.

Though Ann is a nobleman's daughter, she goes on many adventures throughout London alone. Haran really brings late Elizabethan London to life, describing the swarms of abandoned children and rampant stink. It is nothing like the romanticized London many have come to know through films and plays. Rather, it is a cesspool of filth and poverty.

Loseley, where Ann spent much time pining after Donne
Ann, in another extreme, also makes a trip to court where she encounters Queen Elizabeth. She is shown as a jealous, and almost insane, woman bent on mortifying her ladies and jealously holding on to her favorites. I actually really loved seeing this outside perspective of Elizabeth. I must admit, I am glad Ann did not take a position at court. I was not really interested in this becoming another Elizabeth novel. Rather, you really get a sense of life outside the court during Elizabeth's reign, rather than within it. 

Though I found the novel wonderfully written and the characters beautifully developed, I found myself disliking Ann at times. She constantly pines after Donne and does little to stop it. The two eventually profess their love for each other, then spend months (and at one point a year) apart. She does not attempt to see him, write him, or do much of anything to let him know she misses him. Rather, she mopes around, complains, and becomes depressed when she doesn't hear from him. I honestly had a hard time trusting Donne. Throughout the novel I wondered if he was paying Ann lip service, if he really loved her and was willing to do what it took to be with her. Ann wonders these things herself. She eventually finds out that he did really love her, but that his letters were intercepted. However, she then waits around to write him again! Perhaps I am being a little harsh, as she was under strict supervision by her family, but she still managed to secretly marry the man. The least she could do was get him a letter in a speedy manner...

"The Flea," one of Donne's most
popular poems.
That aside, I really liked Ann. She never let herself be stopped by societal restrictions. She married the man she loved, despite the fact that there was absolutely no benefit to it, and more likely extreme danger to it. Both give up their lives for this marriage; Ann her family and Donne his position. They are forced to leave London and live on a small estate with a member of Ann's family. However, some of Donne's greatest poetry came out of this time period.

When the marriage is finally discovered by Ann's father, it is not in the way I (or Ann) expected. Donne sends a letter to Ann's father via a nobleman. I felt it was a bit cowardly. Certainly, for honor's sake (and to be far more entertaining), Donne should have confronted Ann's father himself. However, he does at least tell him of it. Donne quickly finds himself imprisoned, despite not showing up himself to tell. He nearly dies in prison, but thanks to Ann's intervention with her father and uncle, is finally released. I felt this part of the book had a lot of lead up and a slightly disappointing climax. I felt because of this, the end was a bit rushed. I wish the author had gone into more detail about Ann and Donne's life after their marriage rather than briefly covering it in a postscript. However, the rest of the book certainly makes up for it. 

I was sad to read in the postscript that Ann dies in childbirth years later. Donne never remarried. I would love the author to write a companion to this novel from Donne's point of view. I think his view would be quite different and extremely interesting.

I give this novel four and a half Tudor Roses.

I loved it and highly recommend it to those who know a lot or nothing about Elizabethan England. It is easy to read and very engrossing.

*Note: A big thank you to the author for sending me a copy! I can't wait to read your next work!

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