Kenilworthby Walter Scott
In the court of Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, is favoured above all the noblemen of England. It is rumoured that the Queen may chose him for her husband, but Leicester has secretly married the beautiful Amy Robsart. Fearing ruin if this were known, he keeps his lovely young wife a virtual prisoner in an old country house. Meanwhile Leicester's… See more details below
In the court of Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, is favoured above all the noblemen of England. It is rumoured that the Queen may chose him for her husband, but Leicester has secretly married the beautiful Amy Robsart. Fearing ruin if this were known, he keeps his lovely young wife a virtual prisoner in an old country house. Meanwhile Leicester's manservant Varney has sinister designs on Amy, and enlists an alchemist to help him further his evil ambitions. Brilliantly recreating the splendour and pageantry of Elizabethan England, with Shakespeare, Walter Ralegh and Elizabeth herself among its characters, Kenilworth (1821) is a compelling depiction of intrigue, power struggles and superstition in a bygone age.
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The description looks interesting but then as I read I am scared. The storyline is a complete reverse of the facts. Amy Dudley, while pretty and loyal, was never at Kenilworth as she was dead long before it was inhabited by Leicester. Also her marriage to Dudley was well known to the Queen. Elizabeth was at their wedding. It was Dudley's marriage to Lettice Knollys that was a secret. I'm afraid if these very basic facts escaped the author that reading the book would just annoy me.
Sir Walter Scott's 1821 novel KENILWORTH was written in less than three months, with the author at the peak of his powers. It is set in 1575 England. Mary Queen of Scots is in her seventh year of captivity at the hands of her cousin Elizabeth Tudor, who is now in her 18th year on the throne. *** This tale unravels one secret after another. Terrible mistakes are made by well intended people, notably Queen Elizabeth, because one primal secret is so well kept for so long. As Scott's epigraph to Chapter XXXII puts it: -- 'The wisest Sovereigns err like private men,/ ...... ...Kings do their best -- and they and we/ Must answer for the intent, and not the event.' -- *** We are drawn to wonder first who a minor fictional figure is and why he or she is in the tale, then are led clue by clue up a chain of power into the world of great historical figures, culminating in Queen Elizabeth and her mighty courtiers. *** Much of the darkest action takes place at a village within four miles of Oxford, at Cumnor Hall -- a largely ruined former monastery -- and in the Black Bear Inn. *** One thread leads to another. By the time we have read a third of the way through KENILWORTH we have a pretty good sense of where the mystery lies and what its ending might be. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, has charmed the Virgin Queen and is presented with and presses home his opportunity to wed her and become King of England. Trouble is: Leicester is already secretly married to the beauteous young Amy Robsart. Her jilted fiance Edmund Tressilian of Cornwall is commissioned by her father Sir Hugh Robsart to find her and bring her home. Leicester, through his Master of the Horse, Richard Varney, has hidden Amy at Cumnor Manor. In a confrontation at Elizabeth's court, black-hearted Varney saves Dudley's reputation by a lying declaration that he himself is wed to Amy and the Puritan Earl is too ambitious to deny it. *** Elizabeth demands to meet Amy -- thought to be Mrs Varney -- during a forthcoming state visit to the Earl's castle at Kenilworth. The very feminine queen wonders how Amy could reject a good looking man like Tressilian for the ugly Varney. Varney, arguably the greatest villain in literature, intends to rise as The Earl rises and convinces his Lord that the only obstacle to Leicester's becoming king is his secret marriage to Amy. At a key turning point -- though not the last -- of the novel, Robert Dudley impatiently tells Varney 'Manage it as thou wilt,' meaning the problem of Amy. *** Few modern readers know KENILWORTH. So I shall not reveal its ending. Remember, though, that KENILWORTH is 'historical fiction.' There is indeed history: major characters, especially Elizabeth and Leicester really existed and interacted. But KENILWORTH is also fiction, alternative history, asking: what if Leicester had a young, gorgeous, adoring wife but Elizabeth thought him a bachelor, etc. *** Scott's contemporary Samuel Taylor Coleridge endorsed, for readers of poetic fiction, 'That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.' In KENILWORTH Scott himself cautions us -- referring to 17th Century belief in the efficacy of a particular medicine --: 'The reader must be contented, for the time he peruses these pages, to hold the same opinion, which was once universally received by the learned as well as the vulgar' -- Ch. XIII. *** KENILWORTH starts slowly, very, very slowly. But as character s clumsily grasp this piece or that of the mystery, then this tale of love, ambition and treachery gathers and keeps its momentum. It is hard to put the last six chapters down. -OOO-
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