Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Venus in Winter"

Gillian Bagwell united her life-long love of books, British history, and theater to write her first novel, The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn. She has lived in London, now lives in Northern California, and enjoys returning to England to conduct research for her books.

Bagwell applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Venus in Winter, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Venus in Winter, my novel about Bess of Hardwick, happens to contain many of the elements and themes that are central to the book. Bess of Hardwick was born in genteel poverty in rural Derbyshire in 1527, and rose to become the richest and most powerful woman in England after Queen Elizabeth, largely as the result of being married and widowed four times.

Each marriage took Bess higher, introducing her to more prominent and influential people, and each widowhood left her with more money and property. Bess's rise began with her being sent to act as lady in waiting to her distant relative Lady Zouche. Such service was the standard way for young people to be introduced to potential mates and people who could help them rise in the world and come to their aid in times of trouble. Bess's life is a spectacular example of how well this arrangement could work.

Page 69 includes Bess's thoughts about love and marriage, the necessity of making her way in a stratified society, and the treacherously shifting sands of the courts of the five Tudor monarchs whose reigns she survived.

From Page 69:
Bess heard murmurs and sighs. Her master and mistress seemed deeply in love with each other, she thought. She wondered what it would be like to have a husband, to look forward to a man's return and a kiss at the end of the day. The feel of Edmund's mouth on hers during that heady Christmas evening came back to her vividly, stirring a longing within her.

Her mother had sent her to the Zouche household so that she might find a husband, but with so much happening, she had scarcely given a thought to when she might meet a possible match. Well, she was in no hurry. If God wanted her to marry, no doubt He would put the right man in her path.
The festive mood at Oatlands was shattered when news swept through the court that Thomas Cromwell had been executed at Tower Hill a day earlier, on the twenty-eighth of July.

"And the headsman botched the job," Sir George told his wife. "He needed a second stroke to finish Cromwell."

"Heaven and earth," Lady Zouche murmured.

The flickering light of the candle on the table cast an eerie shadow on her face.

"But he had it easy compared to some." Sir George lowered his voice and Bess, sitting some feet away near the fireplace, strained to hear, though she was afraid of what he might say. "The Lady Mary's former tutor, the first Queen Catherine's chaplain, and another were dragged on hurdles to Smithfield to meet their deaths. And Robert Barnes, that Lutheran who helped arrange the Cleves marriage, was burned as a heretic."

Bess felt her throat and chest tighten with fear. She didn't know exactly what it meant to be a heretic. But it was clear that ending up on the wrong side of the king's favor was terribly dangerous. Keep your head down, she thought. Keep a weather eye out, and keep your head down.
Learn more about the book and author at Gillian Bagwell's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue