Thomas Hardy and a Literary Analysis of Jude the Obscure


Thomas Hardy and Jude the Obscure
Part I

The novels of Thomas Hardy are known for their tragic heroes and heroines and their grave, socially critical tone.  Norton states that “Hardy’s novels…show the forces of nature outside and inside individuals combining to shape human destiny” (1916).  Hardy was something of a pioneer in that he attacked dearly held British institutions, such as higher education, social class, and marriage, in his novels and stories.  Especially so in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1896).  In the latter, he lived up to this innovative nature by introducing one of the first feminist characters:  the intellectual, free-thinking Sue Bridehead.

Hardy was born in 1840 near Dorchester in England.  He trained as an architect and spent most of his life in that occupation.  The suicide of his mentor, Horace Moule, greatly affected Hardy and his writing and is said to have spurred the start of his writing career in 1862 (Jude the Obscure Author Bio. 1).  His first novel was rejected by publishers in 1868.  However, he was encouraged to write another and Desperate Remedies was published anonymously in 1871.  His first real success, Under the Greenwood Tree, was published (also anonymously) in 1872.  Now embarking on a successful career as a novelist, Hardy gave up the architectural work and wrote many novels, including A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873), Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887) and his first collection of short stories Wessex Tales (1888).  The aforementioned Tess and Jude the Obscure were published in 1891 and 1896 respectively with Jude being his last novel.  During this illustrious novelist’s career, he would marry his first wife, Emma Gifford, in 1874 and he would attain a great reputation as a writer and become a renowned presence in London’s literary circles.

Hardy was often regarded as a pessimist although he called himself a “meliorist”, one who believes that the world may be made better by human effort (Norton 1916).  Most of his novels are tragic and focus on the ironic in the lives of his characters.  In his writing, he acknowledged the role of fate in his character’s lives, but he also revealed that the men and women in his stories “are driven by the demands of their own nature as much as by anything from outside them” (Norton 1916).  In Hardy’s plots, usually a female character is found in a love triangle with two male characters who are total opposites.  She has the freedom to choose her marriage partner, but upon doing so, she inevitably makes the wrong choice and is destined for an unhappy marriage and strained sexual relations-“Hardy’s rendering of sexuality in both his male and his female characters is marked by its originality and profundity” (Daleski, par. 2).

Although much feminist criticism has considered Hardy’s treatment of gender as sexist, Daleski shows that Hardy was not a sexist “and that his female characters are sympathetically portrayed as the centers of his fictional worlds (par. 1).  In no other novel was the feminist cause more evident than in Jude the Obscure.  Sue Bridehead, with her views on marriage and her want of coexisting with a man in a purely platonic fashion, was so shocking a character to conventional British thinking that the entire novel was criticized to a depth that led Hardy to abandon the writing of novels.  In his postscript to the first edition of Jude, Hardy states that the book had a very poor reception by reviewers in England and America.  He felt that the attacks on the morality of the book sadly overshadowed the true intention of his writing the book-“the shattered ideals of the two chief characters” (Jude the Obscure Postscript 6).  Hardy’s further account of the incidents that drove him from his career as a novelist is as follows:

So much for the unhappy beginnings of Jude’s career as a book.  After these verdicts from the press its next misfortune was to be burnt by a bishop-probably in his despair at not being able to burn me.  Then somebody discovered that Jude was a moral work-austere in its treatment of a difficult subject-as if the writer had not all the time said in the Preface that it was meant to be so.  There upon many uncursed me, and the matter ended, the only effect of it on human conduct that I could discover being its effect on myself-the experience completely curing me of further interest in novel-writing. (Jude the Obscure Postscript 6)

And so Hardy ceased writing novels and became a writer of poetry.  His first collection of verse, Wessex Poems, was published in 1898.  He would devote the last thirty years of his life to writing poetry and his autobiography, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy (published posthumously 1928).  He was also known to have burned his old letters, notebooks and private papers although some of his notebooks are still in existence today.  Thomas Hardy died on January 11, 1928.

Jude the Obscure-Literary Analysis
Part II

In the novel, Jude the Obscure, the conventional British institution of marriage is brought under close scrutiny by its author.  Jude is idealic in his pursuit of higher education-determined to go to Christminster, a city of colleges and higher learning, to become a scholar.  However, he is ensnared by marriage to Arabella that appears to him to be a situation more easily attained than to become a scholar.  He soon learns that he is confined to an unhappy marriage and this is where the attack on marriage begins.  In her review of the novel, Margaret Oliphant states “that the lesson the novelist would have us learn is, that if marriage were not exacted, and people were free to form connections as the spirit moves them, none of these complications would have occurred, and all would have been well” (Jude the Obscure Criticism 382).  This is exactly the spotlight on marriage that Hardy intended and one that afforded him much criticism at the time.

Jude’s marriage ends, but he is not divorced.  His early marriage becomes an obstacle to his forming an attachment to his cousin, Sue Bridehead.  This leads us to the character of Sue who is often thought to be one of the first feminist characters of novels.  Sue has very unconventional ideas on marriage.  She lived with an undergraduate scholar platonically for two or three years until he died-quite unheard of in that time.  Jude is struck by Sue’s freethinking ways-“Jude felt much depressed; she seemed to get further and further away from him with her strange ways and curious unconsciousness of gender (Jude the Obscure 203).  Sue next goes against her nature by agreeing to marry Phillotson, who she met because of Jude’s introduction.  She has been working as a teacher under Phillotson and he arranges for her to attend the Training College at Melchester to receive her teachers’ certification.  For this reason, Sue feels obliged to marry Phillotson.

Finding herself expelled from the college and unable to be with Jude because she finds he is married, Sue-in a state of anger and frustration-marries Phillotson outright for lack of a suitable alternative.  Although she likes Phillotson, she is unattracted to, and even repulsed by, him.  She soon realizes her mistake and she confesses to Jude the following:

I am certain one ought to be allowed to undo what one has done so ignorantly! I daresay it happens to lots of women, only they submit, and I kick…When people of a later age look back upon the barbarous customs and superstitions of the times that we have the unhappiness to live in, what will they say! (Jude the Obscure 276)

Soon after this, she leaves Phillotson and they are divorced.  Jude has become divorced from Arabella in the interim.  Jude and Sue agree to live together unmarried according to Sue’s beliefs.  Jude thinks he can be happy in this arrangement as long as he is with Sue.  They find out that Arabella had a son by Jude that has been living in Australia with her parents (where Arabella fled to when her marriage to Jude ended).  The grandparents are no longer able to care for the boy so Arabella asks Jude and Sue to take him in.  Jude and Sue also have two children together at this point.  The presence of children increases the lack of acceptance by society.  They are unable to find lodging and Jude loses jobs because they are not married and have children together.  Jude’s son, who is called Little Father Time because of his adult demeanor, feels the brunt of the situation.  In despair upon finding out that Sue is pregnant again, he says “If we children was gone there’d be no trouble at all” (Jude the Obscure 408).  In the morning, Sue goes to eat breakfast with Jude, lodging elsewhere because of the situation.  Upon returning, they discover that the boy has hanged the children and himself-a note found on the floor states “Done because we are too menny” (Jude the Obscure 410).  Margaret Oliphant expresses her outrage to this part of the book, stating “Mr. Hardy knows, no doubt as everybody does, that the children are a most serious part of the question of the abolition of marriage.  Is this the way in which he considers it would be resolved best” (Jude the Obscure Criticism 383)?  Sue’s views on marriage change abruptly after this terrible murder-suicide.  She views it as the result of her crimes against the institution of marriage-her love for Jude is a sin in itself.  She expresses her anguish to Jude:

I see marriage differently now.  My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella’s child killing mine was a judgement-the right slaying the wrong. What, what shall I do! I am such a vile creature-too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings.” (Jude the Obscure 425)

Sue decides that her only right punishment is to go back to Phillotson and endure an unhappy marriage.  In despair, Jude goes back to Arabella and turns to the drink.  He has already been ill and not too long after, he dies.

And so ends Jude the Obscure, certainly tragic, but thoroughly modern in its sensibilities.  Irving Home, in his essay, “A Distinctively Modern Novel”, sums it up:

Yet the final impact of the book is shattering.  Here, in its first stirrings, is the gray poetry of modern loneliness, which Jude brings to apotheosis in the terrible words, “Let the day perish where in I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a manchild conceived.” (Jude the Obscure Criticism 404)

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H. and Greenblatt, Stephen, eds. The Norton Anthology of English literature. 7th

Edition, Vol. 2. New York:  W.W. Norton & Company. 2000.

Allingham, Philip V. ed. “A Chronology of the Life and Works of Thomas Hardy.” The

Victorian Web. 2006. 27 April 2006 <


Daleski, H.M. “Thomas Hardy and Paradoxes of Love.” University of Missouri. 26 April 2006.


Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. 1896. England: Penguin Classics. 1985.

Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. Ed. Norman Page. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.



Written by Michelle Miller, April 27, 2006 for English Masterpieces II

Categories: 19th century, Classic Literature, history, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

International Women’s Day — How far have we come?


In honor of International Women’s Day, I’m posting a primary source analysis I wrote in 2007. The source is The Goodman of Paris, written between 1392 – 1394. This analysis illustrates how women were treated in this era and gives evidence how far we have come from this age of lord and master over women. But have we really come as far as we think? We certainly didn’t get here quickly. In my opinion, women have come far in society, but there are still women out there who are lorded over and treated as second class citizens. I only hope that some day we will look back and see that women have progressed beyond our wildest imaginings.

Medieval Sourcebook:  The Goodman of Paris, 1392/94, translated by Eileen Power in The Goodman of Paris, London:  Routledge, 1928, reprinted in Richard M. Golden and Thomas Kuehns, eds., Western Societies:  Primary Sources in Social History, Vol I, New York:  St. Martins, 1993, 5 pages.

1.  At the time this source was written, “many prosperous merchants attempted to imitate noble lifestyles” and “emulated the social pretensions of the nobility” (Zophy 23).  Their wives led family-oriented lives.  They were expected to prepare, or supervise the preparation, of meals.  They managed the household and servants and completed quantities of needlework.  Women were taught from birth that they possessed an inferior status to men.  There were not many options for women.  It was important to make a good marriage.  Those who did not marry were often expected to join a convent.  (Zophy 23-24)  The author’s views on the place of women were common thoughts of the time period.  In this respect, it is not surprising that this author would outline expectations for his young wife.

2.  The source was written by an elderly Parisian merchant between 1392 and 1394.  It is a letter written to his new, and much younger, wife.  It is meant to be instructional to the young wife as it does contain a cookbook, of sorts.  Mainly, it is a statement of the writer’s ideals of marriage (1).  The husband provides her with “a general instruction that I will write for you and preto you, in three sections containing nineteen principal articles….” (1).  The author has much personal stake in the events because the behavior and performance of his wife reflects directly upon him.  “For the more you know…the greater praise will therefore be unto… me, …by whom you have been nurtured” (1).

3.  Throughout the instructions put down by the author of this source, the general attitudes of men toward women, and their duties, of the medieval and Renaissance time periods are largely evident.  As he presented this instructional in articles and sections, the fifth article of the first section outlines that the wife shall be “loving and privy towards your husband above all other living creatures” and only moderate toward kinsfolk and “very distant with all other men…” (2).  The author compares the loyalty of the wife as to that of a man’s pet dog.  That the dog stays close to the person that feeds him and is indifferent to others who are not his master.  Even if the dog is whipped, he is still loyal to his master.  (2)

The sixth article of the first section stresses the importance of obedience.  The wife should follow her husband’s “commandments”, whether they be “in earnest” or “orders to do strange things”, whether of small or great importance (2).  Basically, if the husband tells the wife to do something, she does it without question.  The author makes it perfectly clear that “his pleasure should come before yours”, that if he forbids his wife from doing anything, she is not to do it and that she shall not talk back to him or contradict anything he says (3).

The wife was subservient to the husband, as the author outlines in the seventh article.  His every comfort is her responsibility.  When he returns home, she is to take his shoes off before a good fire, wash his feet and have him fresh shoes and hose, supply him with food and drink, serve him and look after him, bed him in clean sheets and nightcaps, and cover him with fresh furs.  The next morning, he is to have clean shirts and garments. (3)  This writer is very clear that these are the things that will make a husband want to return home and not stray to another woman’s bed.

The author is straight forward in his instruction against being “a scolding woman” (3).  He warns not to be obedient and amiable in the beginning of the marriage, only to slack off later by becoming disobedient and scolding.  (4)

The detailed instructions that this writer provides are largely indicative of the societal attitudes of the time, as outlined in my introduction.  Though the wife ran the household, she did so at the bidding of her husband.  The author’s guidelines for his young wife, right down to the four recipes he includes in the text, display that the medieval household was organized and ran solely for the comfort and pleasure of the husband.

4.  This is an excellent source for the research of women’s or family issues during the medieval and Renaissance time period.  The strong point of this source is its portrayal of male attitudes toward women of the time.  The letter written by this merchant husband, although cleverly masked in a loving tone, clearly indicates the author’s belief that women are of lower status than men.  One weak point of this source might be the fact that it does not represent the woman’s point of view.  However, this source transports the reader to the time.  One can almost visualize the humble wife washing and dressing her husband’s feet before a roaring fire.  For a woman of the twenty-first century, it is quite an image, indeed.

Categories: 14th Century, history, women in history | 1 Comment

Book Review: Timothy Wilson-Smith’s Joan of Arc: Maid, Myth and History


Timothy Wilson-Smith. Joan of Arc:  Maid, Myth and History.
United Kingdom:  Sutton Publishing Limited, 2006.

Timothy Wilson-Smith’s Joan of Arc:  Maid, Myth and History is a broad, in depth, overview of the historical figure, Joan of Arc.  Wilson-Smith seeks to provide the reader with a full-bodied account of the French heroine and saint by not only accounting for her life, trial, and death by execution, but by what played out after her death—the rehabilitation of her guilty verdict, the various historical accounts, her eventual canonization, and finally her portrayal by various writers, poets, playwrights, even film and Hollywood.

The purpose of the author is somewhat misleading at first.  In the Prologue, Wilson-Smith begins a discussion of abnormal psychology as he relates the first occurrence of Joan hearing voices.  The reader might be immediately led to believe that this book is a study on whether Joan of Arc was mentally disturbed or not, which could be a detriment as some readers might not continue.  However, if the reader proceeds, she will find that the author is merely setting the stage for a depiction of Joan’s judges being ill-equipped to deal with a woman who “had unusual religious experiences” (1).

The subject of Joan of Arc is a passionate one for me and, I am sure, for many others.  If not, how else could this 15th century figure have endured for so long?  Wilson-Smith portrays every aspect of the subject of Joan.  He starts with her early life, takes us through her “calling” and her admonition as “The Maid”.  We follow her through her approach of Charles, the Dauphin of France, her battles, and her presence at the coronation of the Dauphin as King Charles VII.  Finally, the reader is present at her trial and her execution—as she is burned at the stake.  Although the author speaks of these events in a factual tone, the reader is transported, as if there.

The reader is also given an excellent look at how Joan has been portrayed historically and fictionally by various historians, theologians, and writers.  A poem by Christine de Pisan, Ditie’ de Jehanne d’Arc, “took up the case of the most extraordinary woman of the age” (97).  The Journal du siege d’ orleans et du voyage de Reims, the longest chronicle favorable to Joan.  During the time of Shakespeare, Holinshed’s ‘Union of (the) Families of York and Lancaster’ spoke unfavorably of Joan, “she rode horses in an unmaidenly way and kept her virginity because she was ugly” (161).  In modern times, George Bernard Shaw’s 1924 play Saint Joan portrays her as “a stubborn, spirited young woman, condemned by well-intentioned judges” (201) and the more recent Hollywood production of Luc Besson’s 1999 film The Messenger which depicts Joan as a hysteric.  The author’s method of tying together the scholarly and pop culture treatments of the subject of Joan of Arc make this book very approachable by professional and lay person alike.

The book is an excellent source on the subject of Joan of Arc.  Wilson-Smith gives the reader a wide range of discussion of the events during and after her life.  He ties the past to the present by linking the way various people, from her time to ours, viewed Joan and how they felt about her.  One shortcoming in the book is in the parts about the trial.  The author is redundant at times in his repetition of the events of Joan’s trial.  This could be due to the actual documentation of the trial, which Wilson-Smith states in his notes “the boring way in which the evidence was recorded by trained lawyers…” (230).

The author used many sources.  One of his main sources was compiled by Jules-Etienne-Joseph Quicherat from manuscripts in the Bibliotheque royale in the 1840s.  Proces de condamnation et de rehabilitation de Jeanne d’Arc, dite La Pucelle:  publies pour la premiere fois d’apres les manuscripts de la Bibliotheque royale, suivis de tous les documents historiques qu’on a pu reunir, et accompagnes de notes et d’eclaircissements was published in five volumes.  The early histories of Joan of Arc appear in the fourth volume.  Wilson-Smith used predominantly secondary sources dating from the late 1500s through 2004.  The author seems in tune with current scholarly arguments, such as Marina Warner’s exploration of Joan and female heroism in Joan of Arc:  The Image of Female Heroism.  Although this source dates from 1981, the author uses a great many sources within ten years of his 2006 publication date.

Overall, Joan of Arc:  Maid, Myth and History provides the reader with a well-rounded view of Joan of Arc.  Wilson-Smith gives the background of a historical heroine and then skillfully propels her in to the modern psyche, making her relevant in the past and the present.  If one was not a fan of, or did not have an interest in, “The Maid”, upon reading this book, one would be hard put not join “the Cult of Joan”.
Written October 10, 2007, Michelle Miller

Categories: 15th Century, historical figures, Joan of Arc | Tags: | 4 Comments

New Annie Leibovitz Fairy Tale Photo!

Credit: Annie Leibovitz for Disney Parks

Credit: Annie Leibovitz for Disney Parks

New stunning photographic art by Annie Leibovitz for Disney Parks,  Taylor Swift as Rapunzel.  I just adore these images, especially ones like this that have such a medieval/historical feel. (Click the image to view it in a larger size)

You can see more details and other Leibovitz Disney photos from the past HERE.

Categories: Art | Tags: , | 2 Comments

The 12 K Fitness Challenge 2013

12k fitness

Well, I decided to join this challenge because I need a motivator.  The basic premise is to work toward achieving 1 K a month for 12 months, eventually reaching 12 K at the end (or 7.46 miles).  This can be done by walking, running, treadmill, bike, etc.  She also has modified versions for the less fit (me) and the real go-getters.  This challenge runs from February 1, 2013 through January 2014 and is hosted by Team Kickin It.  Click the blog link or the image to read all the details and to sign up, if you’d like.  You can get my updates here on the blog and they will be categorized under fitness under the “A New Life” tab at the top of the blog.

As I mentioned in my “A New Life” post, my goal is to lose 100 lbs this year and I’m only going to do it if I get up and move.  I CAN do this!

Wish me luck!


Categories: fitness | Tags: , | 1 Comment

2012 in review

2013 is a new year with new goals and one of mine is to stop neglecting this blog! So be watching out for some new content and more frequent posts.  In the meantime, check out this nifty year in review compiled by WordPress.

Happy New Year!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 2 Comments

Guest Post: Robert Parry, author of Virgin and the Crab

 Welcoming author Robert Parry today in honor of the 3rd Birthday of his debut novel, Virgin and the Crab (this is a cross post from Historical Fiction Connection)!

HISTORICAL FICTION – A Writer’s Perspective on Celebrating the 3rd Birthday of his Debut Novel

Once upon a time, in the days before the interenet and the advent of so much of the passionate discussion that we now encounter online, the work of the writer of historical fiction was relatively easy. One simply got hold of a biography or two, looked up a few facts and figures, dates and places, and hey-presto! The author could then just let his or her imagination run riot and delight everyone with yet another story about their chosen heroes, all those kings and queens of bygone days and all their legendary exploits!
Now, however, it is all so different. Now every possible item of information about every prominent historical figure is scrutinised and picked to pieces by whole armies of avid enthusiasts. Do you think you know where Queen Elizabeth was located on such and such a date, who she was with, or even what she might have been eating for dinner? It’s all out there … somewhere. And it changes quite often, too. So if you are not content with one version of events, you can always find an alternative point of view, supported by this or that document or state paper or erudite thesis from prominent scholars or TV personalities who all insist they have the right answer. There also seems to be a clear trend – away from information written down by people who actually lived at the time (unreliable – what did they know, anyway!) towards the discovery of more and more unromantic counter-assertions that seek to ‘put the record straight’ or ‘explode the myths.’ There are even a number of historians who have become novelists themselves! The whole genre has moved up a notch. Or has it?
The question is, should writers of historical fiction now be quaking in their boots at the prospect of any new venture they plan? Should they pepper their pages with footnotes and provide appendices explaining why they chose to write what they did, and the sources they used – a little apologetic perhaps just in case they might have drifted too far into the realms of speculation or untruth? Should they? No, of course not. That’s why, whenever I sit at my desk and reach for the keyboard, I console myself with the recollection that literature, be it good bad or indifferent, is a branch of the arts. And whenever the day comes when artists begin to worry about what they write or whether it conforms to some external standard of conduct, or version of ‘truth’ as perceived at the time, then it probably ceases to be art at all – and then we are all in big trouble.
Well, all this might sound terribly irresponsible, and anarchic, and there are certainly many people who would disagree. But my assertion is this: it is every bit as interesting for writers and readers of historical fiction to speculate on what their characters might have been thinking about, dreaming about and imagining for themselves, as it is to describe what they actually did. This approach provides us with a number of possible insights into the past, insights that can reveal how the world we live in today might have been formed and, ultimately, why we are who we are, and why we think the way we do. And that, I believe, is important.
Thanks to Michelle for her continued support of this novel and for hosting this article here today. ‘Virgin and the Crab’ is named after the astrological signs of the two main characters: Virgo (the Virgin) for Elizabeth Tudor, and Cancer (the Crab) for her illustrious mentor John Dee. It is set in a period of twelve short years (1547 to 1559) in which England saw no less than two kings and three queens upon the throne in rapid succession. As you can imagine, there certainly was a lot of research needed in the making of it. But it’s not a history book, and the sub-title should serve as a suitable health warning: ‘Sketches Fables and Mysteries from the Early Life of John Dee and Elizabeth Tudor.’ In other words it is all rather theatrical; dramatic and full of fantasy, dreams and speculation.
To celebrate it’s 3rd Birthday there is a giveaway contest taking place over at The True Book Addict. Good luck, if you enter.
My website is on:

And looking forward, perhaps, to meeting you on my Facebook page, too, sometime:

Categories: 16th century, historical fiction, historical figures, history, Queen Elizabeth I, Tudors | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

This is a cross post from my book blog, The True Book Addict.

My thoughts:

Once again, I am fascinated and impressed with Rose’s knowledge of reincarnation.  By now, everyone knows about my interest and belief in the subject and I truly never tire of reading about it, whether it be in a fictional context or in non-fiction (although some may argue that it’s all fictional).  What I like about Rose’s portrayal of the subject is her incorporation of it with history, as well as the current events of the day.

In this book, the fourth installment in The Reincarnationist series, we are treated to ancient Egypt, another subject of endless fascination for me, and the culture’s use of fragrance as a link to past lives, particularly during the Ptolemaic period.  From there, we are whisked forward to present day China and the endless struggle between Tibet and the Chinese government to control the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama.  As usual, there is mystery and intrigue, which adds a suspenseful element to the story.  For me though, the historical aspects of the story are sufficient to keep my interest.  Add in a bit of alchemy, and you have a well-rounded and interesting story of history, science, and mysticism.

The beauty of this series is that you really can read the books without having read the earlier books.  I still have not read the first and second books in the series (although they are on my shelf), but I had no problem reading the third, The Hypnotist, and the fourth (this one) books as stand alone novels.  Rose is a talented author, with a gift for writing about a subject of whic she is clearly passionate.  I sincerely look forward to any and all future offerings from her, whether it be more books in this series, or a new set of books down the road.

About the book:

A sweeping and suspenseful tale of secrets, intrigue, and lovers separated by time, all connected through the mystical qualities of a perfume created in the days of Cleopatra–and lost for 2,000 years.

Jac L’Etoile has always been haunted by the past, her memories infused with the exotic scents that she grew up surrounded by as the heir to a storied French perfume company. In order to flee the pain of those remembrances–and of her mother’s suicide–she moved to America. Now, fourteen years later she and her brother have inherited the company along with it’s financial problems. But when Robbie hints at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives and then suddenly goes missing–leaving a dead body in his wake–Jac is plunged into a world she thought she’d left behind.

Back in Paris to investigate her brother’s disappearance, Jac becomes haunted by the legend the House of L’Etoile has been espousing since 1799. Is there a scent that can unlock the mystery of reincarnation – or is it just another dream infused perfume?

The Book of Lost Fragrances fuses history, passion, and suspense, moving from Cleopatra’s Egypt and the terrors of revolutionary France to Tibet’s battle with China and the glamour of modern-day Paris. Jac’s quest for the ancient perfume someone is willing to kill for becomes the key to understanding her own troubled past.

Categories: 18th Century, Ancient Egypt, historical fiction, historical figures, history | Tags: | 1 Comment

Book Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

This is a cross post from my book blog, The True Book Addict.

My thoughts:

It was a perilous time during the reign of Henry the VIII of England.  Women who caught his eye and who were ‘lucky’ enough to be made his wife would not feel so lucky for long.  At least, in the case of a few of them.  Loyal servants who served his will in one instance could next find themselves out of favor and facing execution for some failing, many times through no fault of their own.  And none felt the danger more than the faithful who served at the monasteries, at the priories and abbeys throughout England at the time.  These institutions were being suppressed and the nuns and monks turned out (with or without pensions, depending on the situation) to either find houses in foreign countries or to find new ways of life.  For many, a life outside of an religious order was unthinkable, but they were given no choice as Henry appointed himself the head of the Church and ushered in a new era of religious reform.

It is among this strife that this excellent novel is set.  Meticulously researched, The Crown is at once a historical novel that the reader will learn a lot from.  I am always pleasantly surprised when I learn something new from a historical novel and in this case, I learned of King Athelstan, a king that I had never heard of.  Just when you think you know pretty much everything about a particular country’s history, something like this comes along to prove you wrong.  It happened to me here in a big way.  I can’t wait to go off on my own and read more about him and the legends surrounding him.  One of these legends is about his crown which is what the book is about.  There is a desperate search for this crown and so we are also given an exciting and interesting mystery along with the excellent historical prose.  I’m not kidding when I say exciting.  I was literally on the edge of my seat during many parts of the book.

Add to what I’ve said above the seamless incorporation of historical figures, such as Mary Tudor, Katherine of Aragon, Anne and George Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, as well as compelling and heroic characters, and this book easily takes a place on my list of great works of historical fiction.  Joanna is a heroine I have a strong liking and admiration for and I look forward to the continuation of the series in the second book, The Chalice.

About the book:

An aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father—and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell’s ruthless terror. The year is 1537…

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain.

But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a sensitive young monk, Brother Edmund, to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna’s father alive. At Malmesbury, secrets of the crown are revealed that bring to light the fates of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, Arthur. The crown’s intensity and strength are beyond the earthly realm and it must not fall into the wrong hands.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must now decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

Nancy Bilyeau’s Website

Nancy Bilyeau on Twitter: @TudorScribe

Categories: 16th century, Henry VIII, historical fiction, historical figures, history, Tudors | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Rebel Wife by Taylor M. Polites

This is a cross post from my book blog, The True Book Addict.

My thoughts:

I must get one thing off my chest at the outset.  Once again, I find myself very frustrated by how women were treated in the past.  In our present times, when a woman’s husband dies, she has rights.  In most cases, she is the executor of her husband’s estate and is usually the beneficiary of the life insurance and/or will.  Of course, there are cases where a will may be in probate or a man may not leave anything to his wife (mostly in some cases of wealthy marriages), but for the most part, a woman has the right to her husband’s possessions and/or money upon his death without having to worry about a family member (or other person) bullying in on her territory.  Not so in ages past and nowhere is this fact more apparent than in The Rebel Wife.  Augusta’s husband, Eli, has died and she was under the impression that they were a well-off, well-settled family.  Not according to her cousin, Judge.  But she is getting conflicting stories from him and Eli’s trusted and loyal servant as to the truth about the money.  And Judge’s treatment of Augusta, his literally taking over everything and treating her like she has no rights, is beyond infuriating.  Mr. Polites does an excellent job of portraying exactly the situation that would have occurred back then and, although infuriating, it is the reality of the way things were.

I must say that it’s interesting that I would be reviewing this book for Tribute Books at the same time that I’m also reading Gone with the Wind.  The contrasts between Polites’s portrayal of reconstruction in the south and Mitchell’s are profound.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I still love Gone with the Wind, but one must appreciate Polite’s non-stereotypical depiction of the times.  While Mitchell made the freed slaves seem comical in many ways, Polites has shown a more surly side to these people, who had so much hope in their future as free men, only to discover that things were not going to be any better for them.  Perhaps even worse.  This surliness is believable and certainly understandable.  And though we appreciate the plucky and resourceful Scarlett O’Hara, the reality is that she would not have been able to accomplish what she did in those times.  And the dastardly Rhett Butler with the heart of gold.  There aren’t any of his sort in this book.  The war has broken these men and made them angry, greedy, and dangerous.  And so, we read Gone with the Wind for the entertaining story of Scarlett’s exploits, but The Rebel Wife is to be read and enjoyed for it’s historical accuracy.

On a final note, I must say that this book is beautifully written and it’s quite obvious that it was meticulously researched.  For a history buff like me, this is the best kind of historical fiction.  A book that allows a reader to experience the realities of the past and really feel it on a physical and emotional level.

About the book:

Set in Reconstruction Alabama, Augusta “Gus” Branson’s is a young widow whose quest for freedom turns into a race for her life when her husband Eli dies of a swift and horrifying fever and a large package of money – her only inheritance and means of survival – goes missing. Gus begins to wake to the realities that surround her: the social stigma her marriage has stained her with, what her husband did to earn his fortune, the shifting and very dangerous political and social landscape that is being destroyed by violence between the Klan and the Freeman’s Bureau, and the deadly fever that is spreading like wildfire. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she trusts is hiding something from her.

About the author:

Taylor M. Polites is a novelist living in Providence, Rhode Island with his small Chihuahua, Clovis. Polites’ first novel, The Rebel Wife, is due out in February 2012 from Simon & Schuster. He graduated in June 2010 with his MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, New York City, St. Louis and the Deep South. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BA in History and French and spent a year studying in Caen, France. He has covered arts and news for a variety of local newspapers and magazines, including the Cape CodderInNewsWeekly, Bird’s Eye View (the in-flight magazine of CapeAir), artscope Magazine and Provincetown Arts Magazine.

Taylor M. Polites’ website

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Categories: 19th century, Civil War, historical fiction, history | 1 Comment

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