Maeve Haran’s novel The Lady and the Poet chronicles the romance and ultimate marriage of British poet John Donne and Ann More, whose father is a third generation knight in the employ of Queen Elizabeth. He has in mind a much more prestigious match for his daughter than a poet who is the son of an ironmonger, but Ann has romantic sensibilities and strong opinions, and John Donne is who she wants. Haran’s novel is told from the point of view of Ann More, giving voice to a lady who is historically silent. The novel is ultimately a historical romance that describes how the poet and his lady fell in love and managed to marry, despite her father’s wishes.
One of my gauges of whether I loved a novel or not is my ability to put it down. I never had much trouble putting this one down. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat for John Donne or Lady Ann. Of course, I knew how it would end, but that doesn’t always prevent me from flipping madly to see how it ended up that way. On the other hand, it was a well-researched, historically accurate description of life late in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. I enjoyed some of those historical details. I enjoyed learning more about the Donnes, and historical evidence does support the notion that their marriage was a love match. I did mark a couple of passages that I enjoyed. In one, George More, Ann’s father, is admonishing Ann to stay away from Donne by describing his verse:
“[T]here is one whose company I would fain you shun, since it befits not an innocent maiden. Master John Donne. Your uncle thinks highly of him yet I came across some verse of his being handed round the Inns of Court and laughed over by its inmates like naughty schoolboys. It seemed to be both lewd, and, even worse, satirical. (104)
You have to watch out for that satire. Here’s another in which I read a modern criticism of Twitter (and yes, I acknowledge it’s just me):
Yet Prudence’s sadness at having to leave London the moment when she had just arrived, and her twittering response to each sight we passed on the road, no matter how trivial, from the marvel of paving stones, to the fascination of every shop, tavern or bear pit, and the exclamation every two minutes at how polite the Lord Keeper’s servants had been when I am sure these august gentlemen took her for a humble rustic, made me wish she had stayed behind. (108)
I’m not sorry I read it because of the insight it gave me into the life of John Donne, whose poetry I teach my British Literature students. However, it never really grabbed and convinced me I needed to keep turning pages.
Unfortunately, I ruined my copy by getting it wet. I set it carefully down next to the bath in a place I thought was dry, but was actually a puddle (thanks to my son). It took days to dry. I’ve never seen a book so wet.
This is my first book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. Fourteen more to go!