by Priya Parmar
Release Date: Feb 1, 2011
Source: sent by publisher
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Summary from goodreads.com:
While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater’s proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England. Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn’t enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance. Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen’s diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.
I've been very intrigued by Nell Gwynne for some time and this book was a really enjoyable read about her life. The "cast" is full of colorful characters. It's difficult sometimes so read books and watch movies about historical figures because each author puts their own spin on their personality. I really liked Parmar's vision of Nell/Ellen, I thought she treated her with dignity and respect, in spite of her being most famous for being a mistress.
I thought the journal format would be awkward at first, but I found it made the book move really quickly. I loved the "Ambrose Rose" articles (even though I was wrong about his identity!) but I found the letters often unnecessary. I liked that they tied King Charles into the story from the beginning, but they seemed irrelevant to me.
What I liked best about this book is that it made me think, both about Ellen, and myself. It made me want to research even more about Ellen and her contemporaries, and see for myself what's fact and what's fiction. It also made me think about what I would have done in her shoes. I don't agree with some of her choices, so it's interesting to think about what I would have done differently.
I have such a soft spot for Charles Hart, Ellen's first lover. I felt like Ellen was pretty hard on him and he was so good to her and her family as well. Sure, he was sulky and jealous, but who wouldn't be when they knew their lover didn't love them anymore? One of the kickers for me was when Hart was taking Ellen and her family to his country house to escape the plague. People were beating on the windows begging to go with them, but Hart wouldn't let them add another person because of the danger of being infected. Ellen knew she and her family would be out there begging if not for Hart. I feel like this was supposed to make Hart look mean but really wasn't he just protecting them from the disease wiping out most of London? Ellen had a way of not appreciating what she had. She also mooned about later in the story saying she wanted only one man who would love her. But I feel like she didn't want that when she had it with Hart.
The supporting cast was great in this book, especially Teddy. At first I thought he was going to be written as some kind of caricature of a man who was famous for playing women onstage. But I quickly realized Teddy wasn't a caricature or a mockery at all, but a sweet, caring friend to Ellen, who was always there when she needed him.
Main Characters: 4/5
Supporting Characters: 5/5
Bottom Line: This is a very enjoyable book. the characters come to life and are lovingly written. And most importantly, it makes you think.