21/06/2011

VIRGIN WIDOW by ANNE O'BRIEN - BOOK REVIEW

"I was a penniless, landless petitioner, my Neville blood a curse, my future dependent on the charity of those who despised me ..."
As soon as Anne O'Brien talked to me of her first book on Anne Neville, VIRGIN WIDOW, while  we were arranging her interview at Fly High to present her second historical novel, Queen Defiant, I wished I could read it. After  Sharon Key Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, and Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time , I wanted to know more about  those events linked to the War of the Roses and to  King Richard III's personal story. I was curious to see those known facts from a different point of view, from Anne Neville's eyes. 
She lived for only twenty- eight years and left little imprint of herself in history books so, maybe, this is what makes her an intriguing enigma. Such a fascinating character, whose personality may be freely created through imagination- since other than the date of birth and death and a minimum record of the significant events in her life, we know nothing about her likes, temper, wishes, personal reactions - couldn't go on  ignored by historical fiction. This is the blank  Anne O'Brien tried to fill in writing VIRGIN WIDOW.
This novel is first of all a romance, following the legendary love story between Anne Neville and her cousin, Richard Plantagenet; then it is an adventure story full of action, conspiracy, battles, horseback journeys, dangerous crossing the Channel, lots of twists and turns;  it is also a formation novel following Anne's growing up and turning from a very young, arrogant, proud girl from a powerful and privileged family to a mature, determined and even stoic young woman; finally, it is a thorough accurate narration of historical events. 
The narrative opens in medias res, with the Nevilles and Clarence leaving England for France on exile. We follow Anne Neville's memories and witness the present events through her first person narration. We follow the story of her young years as the heiress and daughter of the Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, is trapped in a deadly tangle of political intrigue, used by the houses of Neville, York and Lancaster alike. Then, her fall into disgrace, her struggle through the most terrible, humiliating experiences both in France, as the wife of Edward of Lancaster, as well as in her country, where she must defend herself from her own sister's and brother-in-law's plot.
Richard Plantagenet, though he acts as a knight in shining armour to protect and finally wed his beloved Anne, in this novel is quite a round character with his own flaws and faults, quite different from the almost perfect portrayal we've met in other novels about him. 
Anne herself is a rather gripping character, for her strength and bravery, but also for her human imperfection, especially in her relationship with Richard, where she shows all her frailty and vulnerability.
There are some differences of opinion among historians : did Anne remain a virgin throughout her first marriage?  Did the birth of Anne and Richard's son's  - the date is uncertain - suggest his conception before their marriage? There is no evidence of an attraction between Anne and Richard during their upbringing at Middleham - but there is no evidence it did not exist. 
Anne O'Brien works on these speculations creating a convincing plot, a compulsively readable novel, supported by her vivid prose and accurate knowledge of the historical background.  We leave Anne and Richard at the apex of their happiness. Their son has just been born, they are young and both deeply in love. The worst moments in the past are dark memories. The future yet unknown to them. Alas, not to us.


"Richard smiles at me.His eyes are dark with pride and love" 

Middleham Castle

Further readings about Anne Neville:

6 comments:

maribea said...

Hi Maria Grazia. I'm reading The hite queen by Philippa Gregory. So I'm back to the War of roses too. I'm so surprised at how much history can be compelling and interesting!!! So many changes and rises and falls. I was planning to read The red queen too in order to see the same events from another point of view. And if I'm not wrong Philippa Gregory is writing something about Anne Neville, too. Or was it Alison Weir? I'm not that sure at the moment, but it seems that English writers are getting more and more interested in this historical figure. And after all, it is a good way to put historical women into light after centuries of shadows.

lunarossa said...

@MG: Sounds a good book. Have to read it as well, following The Sunne in Splendour and The Daguhter of Time you have recommended!
@maribea: as far as I know Philippa Gregory's new book, that's coming out in September in the UK, is about Jacquetta, Elizabeth Woodville's mother while Alison Weir's new book is about Mary Boleyn, but they might have something else in the pipeline! Ciao. A.
PS: MG, I still have to use Firefox to comment here!

Carolina Venturini said...

Hi Maria Grazia! I have a little question about this book. Is it translated in Italian?
I have never read anything about her books.
I think I should start to read in English again.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Carolina
To read English books and watch films and TV movies in the original version can help you improve fluency. I think you should try. Anne's books haven't been translated into Italian, I'm afraid.Philippa Gregory's books about the queens of the War of the Roses have been translated into Italian as "La Regina della Rosa Bianca" (Elizabeth Woodville) e "La Regina della Rosa Rossa" (Margaret de Beaufort). Philippa Gregory is a great story-teller. I don't know if the translations are good though.
@lunarossa
I'm sorry for the inconvenience, my friend. But I can't do anything apart from moving to wordpress. Just give me some time. Maybe during the holidays. Have you read The Sunne in Splendour? And The Daughter of Time?
@Maribea
I've read about Philippa Gregory's Red and White Queens. I'm tempted to buy and read them. Are you reading The White Queen in Italian or English?

maribea said...

@Maria Grazia: I'm reading The white queen in English. I don't know if it has already been translated into Italian.
@Lunarossa: thanks for the information. It seems that I was rather confused about their new release, but I'm still interested in reading books about Anne Neville!!! I love reading about female the history tried to hide. Writing can shade new light where there were only shadows.

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