The Lady and the Poet
When passionate teenager Ann More is sent by her ambitious father to stay in London with her aunt, Lady Egerton, she is expected either to take a position at the court of the ageing Elizabeth I or to submit to an arranged marriage. When, instead, she becomes fascinated by John Donne—libertine, writer of erotically charged poetry, suspected Catholic and impoverished secretary to her uncle, Lord Keeper— the stage is set for a battle between love and duty in which Ann will have to draw on all her strength, determination and ingenuity to fight for the man she loves.
Maeve Haran is better known for her contemporary women’s fiction, but she has certainly done her research in order to bring the past to life. Indeed, the weight of all this research in the early chapters in particular could have become overwhelming if Ann’s narrative voice were not so engaging. She is, in many ways, a woman ahead of her time, but in a way that is plausible within the framework of the era in which she lived. Haran captures the feel of the language of the period so well that the four or five occasions when a more modern phrase slips in are both more noticeable and more forgivable.
If I do have a slight criticism, it is that occasionally Ann seems a little too well placed to overhear significant conversations or witness historically documented incidents, like Queen Elizabeth’s turbulent relationship with her favourite, Essex. Nevertheless, a satisfying read.