Many years ago I read this novel written in the 1950s. It’s the story of John of Gaunt’s mistress, Katherine Swynford set in England circa 1380. I am reading it again and as an historical novelist myself, I’m reading it much more critically. In some ways the book is a period piece. It is written in the omniscient point of view and has lots of historical details and descriptions. Do readers today have the patience to wade through the political and social problems surrounding the Peasants’ Revolt and John Wycliff? And would they be tolerant of the use of unfamiliar historical terms? I think not! However, the book is still in print. So someone must be reading it.
As I am reading it, I keep wanting the heroine to be more assertive, more in charge of her fate. But in some ways the book is more accurate than those written today in that noble women were most often pawns in the marriage game. Today heroines are proactive, gutsy, in charge.
This presents a problem for me as a writer. I chose to write a novel about a medieval heroine, Ermengarde of Narbonne, who actually lived and was proactive, gutsy and in charge. But can the reader appreciate that she is an exception to a society in which women had little power and few rights? I hope so.