Dell, $6.99, ISBN 0-440-22208-7
Historical Fiction, 2000 (Reissue)
Virginia Henley has decided to do a fictionalized account of Elizabeth Hardwick Barlow’s life, or rather, from the teenage years to the start of her fourth marriage. Bess Hardwick is an actual person who is depicted by historians as a mercenary, money-grubbing Xenia Onatopp. That’s all I know from my scanty history lessons, and that’s all I know after finishing A Woman of Passion.
Except that I can’t tell any of Bess’s four husbands apart, maybe.
From days as a shrewish teenager in a Tudor ghetto to her rise to fame as a shrewish Lady of the Bedchamber of Queen Elizabeth, Bess lives through the opulent bawdiness of Tudor England, which the author manages to depict wonderfully. Shades of The Hawk And The Dove here. Lots of details abound, from every garment in Bess’ increasingly widening wardrobe to the jewel her menfolk adorn her with. But after a while, all the rich details can’t hide the fact that this work is lazy in terms of characterization.
Bess is shrewish, hot-tempered, and beautiful from the first to the last page. Oh, and she has perky, oversized mammary glands, much to every man’s delight. William Cavendish, her lover and fourth hubby, is a one-note oversexed hero, a sad shadow of the author’s better heroes of yore. And the other three husbands who are relegated to cardboards, what a waste. Can’t even recall their names by the time I’m writing this.
What I do get though – apart from a fine history lesson in Tudorian politics – is lots of bloody rogue, bloody devil, bloody knave, bloody me and silly descriptions of one’s genitalia. Let’s see, it pouts, it breaks, it shudders, it quivers, and it throbs. I’ve lost my appetite already.
There’s so much promise in A Woman of Passion but little is delivered. It’s not even a fine historical novel, because the main characters are so scantily developed when they aren’t boinking. When the secondary characters have more dimension than the main characters, this book is in trouble. The author hasn’t been quite the same since her transition to hardcover.