Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman


Elizabeth’s Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman is a very well researched look at the life and reign of Elizabeth I, queen of England.  Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s childhood was filled with drama that could easily fill many books and most scholars have already pondered the impact of her mother’s beheading had on Elizabeth in her growing up.  But what about the step-mothers who followed (there were four more wives after Anne Boleyn’s death), Elizabeth’s step-sister Mary, and the many servants and aristocratic women both within and beyond England’s borders?

I was so excited to know that someone was going to explore such a wonderful moment in England’s history through the prism of women’s experiences.  Unfortunately, the feminist in me withered as most of the stories are told from a petty and nearly apolitical position.  The Spanish Armada is barely addressed and even when Sir Walter Raleigh makes an entrance, his volatile presence is subjugated to petty flirtations and exploits in the bedroom.  The man led a rebellion against his queen and was executed for treason and yet, after reading this book, I know more about his sexual intrigues than I do his political ones.

So in spite of the exceptional scholarship, I have to say that I would not recommend this as a primary look at Elizabeth I; rather, I would suggest anyone interested in her life read another book about her and then read this one as a compliment or a slightly different perspective.  And for those who are hoping to find loving and empowering relationship between women supported in this text, the few inspiring friendships Elizabeth seemingly had are very few indeed.  In fact, one almost gets the sense that her relationships with her male counselors and flirtations with various courtiers held more weight in Elizabeth’s life over all.

I would barely recommend this book, however, for in spite of the research the editing is so poorly managed as to be insulting.  I am appalled that the editor didn’t encourage Borman to use any word other than “ensured” (which in my edition is mis-spelled nearly every time as “insured”) because Borman clearly is enamored of the word and I literally had to set the book aside because I found it tedious to read.  The first time I read that Elizabeth was “incandescent with rage” I snickered at how the prose drew such attention to itself.  Given how often Borman uses clichés, why the editor didn’t just let her use “flew into a rage” again, especially after allowing the over-use bordering on abuse of “ensure,” I was further amused to find that this incandescent rage would manifest on the page more than once.  Really?  Can’t we find another way of saying Elizabeth was angry?  Or were we insuring that our reader wouldn’t notice how blatant it sounded if it were used more than once?

Other issues I had are editorial as well.  There is a redundancy of information that could have easily been revised so that the book would read more fluidly.  Before Mary, Queen of Scots, escapes to England the reader is told her son, James VI, would have her body properly buried long after her death.  But don’t worry because you’ll read this, dear reader, one more time before Queen Mary of Scots actually is beheaded and buried so just in case you don’t remember you’ve already been told about this Borman and her editor will make sure you read it one more time after the beheading.

So shame on her editor for not being more diligent and someone please give the author a thesaurus with the word “ensure” highlighted so she can maybe, just maybe, use another word.  Please.

So it’s a great idea for a book about Elizabeth, even one that is well researched but the execution is lacking and I would encourage and urge anyone interested in learning about Queen Elizabeth I to read another book first, even two or three others, before settling for this one.

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