Written by Arlene I. Shapiro
Review by Elicia Parkinson

Elizabeth Cary (née Tanfield) was a 16th-century English writer, known for having an unusual aptitude for learning languages. While her own parents were supportive of her studies, after her marriage to Sir Henry Cary her mother-in-law forbade Bess from reading. Bess turned then to writing her own poetry and dramas; her play, The Tragedy of Mariam, is considered to be the first drama written by a woman and published under her own name.

The story is well-researched in terms of Bess’s timeline and historical context. Bess was a precocious child who grew into an intelligent woman. Her life continues to be an interesting study in regard to religion and politics, and a woman’s place in them, as Bess decided to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism, a controversial act that was considered treasonous at the time. The decision resulted in her husband’s appeal for a divorce, which led to him preventing Bess from seeing their children in fear that her unconventional beliefs would sour their children’s minds.

Though the historical background and the real characters the author chooses to tell her story are accurately drawn, the manner in which the characters speak feels inaccurate for the period. This is a conscious choice for reasons of accessibility and readability, but unfortunately it results in the story reading as too modern.

Additionally, a lot of the action of the story takes place peripherally through characters telling each other of events, or in Bess’s own reflections upon the circumstances that lead to each key moment in her life. Rarely do events happen directly to the character for the reader to experience alongside Bess, resulting in a feeling of disconnectedness from the story on a deeper emotional or intellectual level.