Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review of Elizabeth and Mary by Jane Dunn

This book was excellent. I read one review where a reader complained that Dunn repeats herself too often, reiterating points as if you aren't going retain them otherwise. That's one reason I loved this book!  The reinforcement kept the important stuff fresh in my memory and left me feeling, by the end, I could probably given an impromptu lecture on characters of Mary and Elizabeth.

As for the impressions I personally came away with: Mary was an unfortunate product of the French court that taught her that rule was hers by right. She honed the art of charm but never wisdom. Between her chronic self-indulgence and her (likely) manic depressive cycles, she made a life-long series of decisions that sealed her fate. I have a difficult time with the enduring myth of her Catholic martyrdom; her behavior throughout her life was characterized far more by self-indulgence than faith. I felt as though her role as martyr was a last-ditch effort to improve her legacy. (Dunn seems to present it this way.)

Elizabeth, by contrast, became queen by a chain of uncanny events and never took rule for granted. She was discerning and so careful in her decision-making that indecision (contrasted with Mary's trademark rashness) was a weakness. Her eventual decision to behead Mary can hardly be called a decision at all,  as you will see if you read, and even though Mary was skilled at flattery and deference to Elizabeth in their early acquaintance, I got the impression that Elizabeth had more genuine feelings for and loyalty to Mary -- something she couldn't afford to entertain. 

I don't want to take the time to chronicle the numerous and critical mistakes that marked Mary's reign, but I will list three decisions I believe hurt Elizabeth's chances of solidifying a trustworthy relationship with Mary: her refusal to ever meet Mary face-to-face, her stall tactics over selecting a possible husband for Mary, and her refusal to grant Mary the asylum she sought when she fled Scotland. Her decision on these matters were complicated by the volatile political and religious situation at the time, and my opinion is an amateur one, but there it is. 

Overall, these historical females were brought to life for me in a very personal way, and I am anxious to read more historical books, especially written by Jane Dunn.