02/08/2010

THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR by SHARON KAY PENMAN - A NOVEL OF RICHARD III

This is one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever decided to write. Difficult is … to find the right words when something touches you so deeply. THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR  (1982) is honestly one of the most compelling and gripping novels I’ve ever read and a book to add to my “ the unforgettable”shelf . Actually it is still on my bedside table and it’ll stay there for long. Difficult is also to part from what and whom you love. And I have loved Ms Penman’s Dickon and his heartwarming story so much that it’ll be impossible to substitute him with other heroes for a while. Dickon was the family nick name for the last born son of the Duke of York. He would become the last Plantagenet king of England. He is perhaps the most controversial monarch ever to rule that island nation. Certainly the most vilified. He was Richard III.

THE PLOT (from the author’s site) The Sunne in Splendour reverberates with the sound of truth as it re-creates the life of this most complex and compelling man. Born into an England awash with intrigue and war, Richard was eight when his father was ambushed and slain, eighteen when he first blooded himself in combat. His times were torn by shifting alliances that made treachery and danger a part of life. Yet through it all, Richard remained firm in his abiding devotion to those he loved. It was his strength. And his undoing.

Caught in that vicious power struggle history has called The Wars of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his resplendent brother Edward. At nineteen and against all odds, Edward defeated the Lancastrian forces and claimed the throne for York. Headstrong, charming, and regally handsome, Edward was as famous for his sensual appetites as for his unfailing preference for the expedient over the correct. Despairing of his brother's follies, Richard nonetheless served him faithfully: through battle and exile, in war and in peace, despite the scandal of Edward's Court and the malice of his Queen. And he was rewarded with honors and lands, with titles and royal commissions, with, above all, affection and trust. Only one thing did Edward deny his favorite brother: the right to wed the woman he adored.

Anne Neville had fallen in love with Richard when they were both mere children. And he returned her love with an all-consuming passion that was to last a lifetime, enduring forced separation, a brutal marriage, and murderous loss. She was the daughter of his father's closest ally who was now his brother's worst enemy and she became an innocent pawn in a deadly game of power politics. That game was to inflict wounds of the soul that only Richard's patient tenderness could heal. The Sunne in Splendour is the story of Richard's fight to win her and to heal her.

Richard III - Shakespeare's Victim

For one who only knew Richard III as the cruel, ambitious villain, protagonist of Shakespeare’s tragedy, reading this book and entering the world of the numerous faithful Ricardians is a great lesson on history. I’ve read so many interesting articles and documents online , both during and after my reading of The Sunne in Splendour ,  that now I feel ashamed of my past ignorance.
Among the several enlightening texts I’ve found, a useful document is “What History has to say about Richard III” and you will also find a series of interesting essays HERE .
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William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, written sometime between 1591 and 1593, can indisputably be called his masterpiece. In it, he has created a character of evil incarnate in the form of Richard III. Richard’s line, ‘I am determined to prove a villain’ foreshadows Shakespeare’s intent for the whole play.
If asked of an average person to describe King Richard III, most would probably come up with a picture straight out of Shakespeare. Paul Murray Kendall wrote, ‘While the Tudor chroniclers made up the minds of subsequent historians about Richard III, Shakespeare has made up the imagination of everybody else".

The list of ‘crimes’ attributed to Richard III by William Shakespeare is long. In the play, he satisfies his all-consuming ambition by:
1.Murdering King Henry VI and murdering Edward of Lancaster
2. Contriving the death of his brother Clarence
3.Killing William, Lord Hastings
4. And, most famously, the disposing of his two child nephews in the Tower of London
5.Not content with all this, Shakespeare also has Richard poisoning his wife in order to marry his niece.
6. Physically, we are presented with a Richard, ‘Deform’d, unfinish’d…’, a twisted hunchback with a shriveled arm, reflecting a profoundly evil character .
Penman’s detailed historical research permitted her not only to rescue King Richard III’s reputation from what the Tudors’ historians first,  then Shakespeare , did of it, but also to tranform the vilified king into a modern romantic hero. The deformed killer with no moral scruples becomes a man with a conscience and capable of deep love and loyalty, both reasons of his success and his undoing. A complex modern literary creature, not merely a chivalric hero.
In this thoroughful analysis I’ve found online Shakespeare’s work is compared to historical sources and the reasons for such a distorted portrayal are revealed: Richard III – Shakespeare’s Victim

Female characters

I loved the interaction between Richard and his charismatic brother, King Edward IV; Richard and Warwick, from whom he learnt both how to become a man after his father death and the painful lesson of a friend’s betrayal; Richard and his friend Francis Lovell, whose loyalty to him remained intact from childhood to death. But I find his interactions with the female figures the most touching and memorable. My romantic side always prevail, you know.

Anyhow, I think it is impossible to deny that the love story between Richard and Anne Neville is one of the best parts in the novel. Anne loved Richard since their childhood spent together a Middleham Castle, the house of the Earl of Warwick , her father, and Richard returned her love. They went on loving each other from a distance even when Warwick betrayed the House of York and was killed in a battle against Richard and his brother, King Edward. Their love survived the impossibility to get married, the marriage of her to a Lancastrian heir, the trauma she experienced in that marriage, all the intrigues and betrayals, the lies and hatred which surrounded them . Their marriage was unusual for the time, it was based on love, loyalty and faithfulness. Their love was so deep that Richard could not have endured and survived the tragic loss of his beloved for long.

I also liked Bess much, Richard’s niece, Edward’s eldest daughter . She is a very modern female character. She is brave, loyal, independent- minded, honest and even blunt when necessary. She faced her own mother’s ambition and hypocrisy, loved Dickon dearly and loyally against all odds. She will be Queen in the end. She will marry Henry Tudor, Dickon’s victorious rival, who will defeat him at Redmore Plain (Bosworth) , will have Richard’s corpse mutilated and vilified, and will took the crown as Henry VII. Bess and Henry Tudor’s marriage will not be for love but it will sign the end of the long and bloody War of the Roses. Bess will be the mother of Henry VIII.

I would go on talking about this novel and its characters for hours but I heartily recommend you to read it , if you haven’t done that already. And , before I end this review, I must thank one person for letting me know about the existence of this unique novel: Richard Armitage. I owe to Ms Sharon Kay Penman and to him the pleasure of hours of unforgettable emotions.


“The reader is left with the haunting sensation that perhaps the good a man does can live after him – especially in the hands of a dedicated historian” (THE SAN DIEGO UNION )

10 comments:

Marg said...

This was my first Richard III novel I read and still my favourite. SKP writes such great novels.

dmw said...

I just finished this novel over the weekend. It is outstanding and will be on my "remember to read again list". It was an eye-opening saga and placed all the Plantangenet and Lancastian "players" on the chess board, gaining me a good deal of knowledge of that period in English history. But it is the love story that transcends the battles, the intrigues, the lies and the betrayals.

Your review is a wonderful peek into the pages. Thanks for the additional links!

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

Wow... this sounds great! I better check it out for myself. Thanks for the heads up. :)

Alexa Adams said...

I'm sold! Off to add it to my Amazon cart. Thanks for a great recommendation, Maria. I'll let you know when I have read it so we can gush together.

Karen said...

Wonderful review, MG! I'm still halfway through the novel, but already loving it and savouring every page!
KB

mulubinba said...

I have a lovely hardback copy still sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. Thank you for the review - it will be the next book I read :). Have you read Josephine Tey's "Daughter of Time"? I think RA may have mentioned that one as well. It is fascinating.

iz4blue said...

Thanks to a blog you tweeted I read something about the blogger mentioning nook which is an e-reader from Barnes and Nobles and they have the e-version of this book unlike Amazon's kindle. I'll have this book forever in my pocket and probably finished by the end of summer! Thanks for this beautiful review.

JaneGS said...

Wonderful review--I can't wait to read this book, though Daughter of Time comes first. You have definitely whetted my appetite.

Those darn Tudors!

Anonymous said...

The Daughter of Time was my intro to Richard III, inspiring a long love of Medieval history and Richard Plantagenet. Sunne in Splendour is an excellent portrait of Richard. And others of SK Penman's oeuvres are compelling, especially the Henry II/Eleanor of Acquitaine series.

Yes, those Tudors, the "Sainted" Thomas More and Shakespeare have much to answer for. (Are we a bit biased here? :) )

OneMoreLurker said...

I read 20 pages and just love what I was reading, I'm at 200+ pages and can't put it down. I'm so glad Richard Armitage and fellow fans kept mentioning and talking about it because reading it is a delicious experience.

OML :)