Skip to content

Elizabeth and Mary and me

I just finished reading Elizabeth & Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn and butter my bum and call me toast if it isn’t one of the best historical books I’ve read. It describes the life of both Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, and the way their lives were connected. The whole thing is essentially an analysis of their relationship, but the way Dunn frames it and the context she provides for each Queen is really compelling. Dunn compares their individual early lives and upbringings; their attitudes towards leadership (particularly leadership by a woman) and the people they loved and relied on. It’s a great book and I’ll probably read it again.  Three things:

1. Sloppy editing makes me sad. Sure, I can let a few unnecessary comma splices slide — we’ve all been infatuated with punctuation — but I had to stop reading and have a bit of a lie-down with a cold facewasher over my eyes when I came across “definately”.  My God. I Googled it to double-check that there wasn’t some appropriate, if obscure, word spelled thusly that I had never heard of, but no. As far as I can tell, it was a big fat globby spelling error. Dunn was seriously let down by her checker(s). On one hand, I’m sympathetic: I’m an editor and I’ve never had to work with a document the size of Dunn’s book (505 pages and it would have been even bigger in its earlier drafts). I can’t begin to imagine the size of the task.  Hells bells, maybe it was a spelling-error festival when it first arrived, and “definately” is merely the last of a gazillion, fastidiously clipped out. But on the other hand…”definately” is setting off the spell checker in the WordPress post editor right here. It annoyed the spell checker in emacs, in my email client and in Open Office Writer (we shall not speak of the fortitude it took for me to type that misspelling over and over).  No reason for “definately” to appear in this book. C’mon team, you can do better.

2. This is a really well-written book. At no point do the two main ladies feel like stock characters or historical tropes, which is something I think happens easily in history writing. Both Elizabeth and Mary seemed real and vivid and, well, like people. I loved it.  I know that dull historical reading is getting rarer and rarer, especially with the trend for historical-based fiction that ‘sploded on the scene five years or so ago, but I still approach historical reading with a certain degree of trepidation. Is it going to be a list of facts, or is it going to be about the people involved? (You can probably guess which way my tastes lean.)

3. How do you choose what to read next?  I got to the end of Elizabeth & Mary and wanted something similar, but not quite the same.  There were some themes that piqued my interest and I could have followed any one of a number of paths: I could have followed the female-figure line and read my collections of letters by Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen; I could have followed the historical line and delved into my Penguin Book of Renaissance Poetry; I could have followed the feminist theme and jumped on The New Women and the Old Men (which is all about some of the society-challenging women at the close of the 1900’s); or I could have embraced the whole Elizabethan period thing and had a chew on some Shakespeare.  On the other hand, it was awesome to finish off a book I’ve had for ages — maybe I should concentrate on working through the books that have been on long-term hiatus, like Special Topics in Calamity Physics?

I took a lot of pleasure in evaluating what to read next, although I ended up taking the easy route and just reached for the closest thing on the unread list: Ockham’s Razor: A search for wonder in an age of doubt, by Wade Rowland.  (More on that when I finish it.)  It was a really good way of thinking about what I got out of Elizabeth & Mary and what I wanted from the next read. And I liked the sense of continuity of experience that it offers when you think about yourself as a reader and where you want to explore next.

Words, words, words.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *