Monday, April 28, 2014

So Great a Love (Book Review)

Title:  So Great a Love
Author: Gladys Malvern
Publication Information: Macrae Smith Co., 1962, Beebliome Books 2013 (ebook)
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Setting:  17th Century England
Plot:  It is 1641 and lovely Lady Henrietta Wade, known as Hal, is lady in waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England (the cover actually comes from a portrait of the Queen).  Hal was named for the Queen, who is her godmother.  French and a devoted Catholic, the Queen is resented by many of her husband’s subjects, particularly by the Roundheads/Puritans who blame her for her religion as well as for the King’s determination to retain the unlimited power of an absolute monarch. 

When the book begins, Hal’s mother, Lady Langdon, who lives in the country due to ill health, has asked the Queen to send Hal home.  Hal’s father escorts her from London and shares his concern that the unrest in the country may lead to civil war.  Hal is concerned by the rumors but she basically thinks of Puritans as spoilsports who consider it sinful for a woman to look pretty.  She is also disappointed with her father for betrothing her to the Duke of Thewes, who is old and fat.  Lord Langdon does not understand his daughter and dismisses her concerns about the disparity of age, saying merely that she is fortunate to have secured the interest of the Duke and will outrank nearly everyone at Court.

Once at Langdon Hall in Shottery, not far from Stratford-upon-Avon, Hal is glad to see both her mother and Nancy Cheam, the housekeeper who was once her nurse.  Hal grew up with Mrs. Cheam’s grandson, Jerry Vane, two years her senior.   Lord Langdon paid for Jerry, a bright young man, to be educated at Cambridge, where he has become close to John Milton.  When Jerry returns to Langdon Hall, he is a handsome and intelligent young man whose political views are anathema to the Wades – in fact, they are appalled at his disloyalty in supporting the Roundhead cause: “How dared Jerry become a Puritan,” thinks Hal, her eyes flashing angrily.  Hal sometimes appears spoilt and willful, but she and Jerry grow close as civil war approaches, despite the fact that they find themselves on opposite sides:

“If there’s war – and there surely will be – I suppose you’ll join the Roundheads?”
“And would you expect me to join the Cavaliers?”
“It’s quite indifferent to me which side you’re on.  But you Roundheads are to blame for this trouble.”
“Are we now? It would seem to me that the blame should rest on the King.”  He refused to be put on the defensive.  His pleasant voice remained calm.  “It seems to me that liberty’s a thing worth fighting for, and you’ll have to agree that the King has forced us to it.  If he’d compromise a bit – just a little.”
She glared at him. “Oh, why don’t you go to America with the other Puritans? I wish every one of you would get out of England.  Then maybe we’d have peace!”

The rapprochment doesn't happen overnight!  It takes war and personal tragedy for Hal to mature, and escape from the odious marriage arranged by her father, leaving her free to ... well, you’ll have to read the book!

What I liked:  The English Civil War is one of my favorite periods, and like fiction set during the U.S. Civil War, it provides drama and conflict between families as different loyalties are tested.  Malvern does a good job describing the different principles of Charles I and his unruly Parliament, and a teen audience would understand the positions of the characters.  Jerry doesn’t have as much personality as some of Malvern’s other heroes but maybe I just prefer Cavaliers! A modern audience might not understand that Hal is expected to sacrifice for Charles I just as her brother is expected to fight for him.  
 Malvern does show how this war affected a young woman of noble birth as Hal tries to balance her loyalty to her monarchs and her own personal happiness. 

It is a bit odd reading an interactive children’s book as an adult.  I loved the pictures of Charles 1 imbedded in the text and I like the concept of being able to touch a word (in bold) to get its meaning.  However, when I was first reading Malvern (6th or 7th grade, I think) I certainly knew words like astride and threadbare and scullery but maybe I wouldn’t have been familiar with furlough and inveigled.  My favorite references were illustrations of locations in the book such as Pendennis Castle in Plymouth.  Once I grew used to the format, I enjoyed it.

Audience:  Pre-teens and teens, fans of historical fiction and of authors such as Ann Rinaldi, Karen Cushman, and Michelle Cooper.  Although I read every Malvern in my school and public libraries, I had never come across this one so was delighted to find it back in print and enjoyed it.
Gladys Malvern
Gladys Malvern: Known for her quality historical fiction, Malvern (1897-1962) also vividly depicted the historical and contemporary theater in her books (one of my favorites is Gloria BalletDancer, which is the first in a trilogy set in mid-20th century New York about an aspiring dancer).  Gladys and her younger sister Corinne appeared on stage in vaudeville productions from a young age, and Gladys graduated to actual theater roles as a teen (just like one of her heroines).  Later the sisters and their mother moved to Los Angeles, where Corinne must have either studied art or developed natural talent as she obtained work as a fashion artist and Gladys became a copywriter.    The sisters stayed close and collaborated on several books.  Eventually, they moved to New York, and Gladys wrote more than 40 books, including Behold Your Queen, which I highly recommend - one of several novels with a biblical theme.  I used to tell people that everything I knew about Judaism as a child came from All of a Kind Family or Gladys Malvern!

Source:  I won this book through a Twitter contest from Beebliome Books, which graciously offered me my choice of a book from their list.  There were several books that caught my interest, including several rare Malvern titles and by other classic authors such as Hilda Lewis and John and Patricia Beatty.


Susie said...

Stephanie was my favorite Malvern -- French Revolution/Napoleon my favorite period. AND the book just came out on Kindle!! I never would have known, but for you. Thanks, Con!!!

CLM said...

That was a good one! Wasn't she Josephine's niece? I am sure it was the first book I read about Napoleon.