Plain Jane: A Novel of Jane Seymour
Young Jane Seymour is stunned when she overhears her parents discussing her future: as they consider Jane too plain to attract a husband, they will send her to a nunnery – at least when they can find one that won’t demand too high an offering. Jane vows to prove them wrong about this bleak prospect. She does so, spectacularly.
Unlike the earlier novels in this series, where ladies in waiting are major characters, Plain Jane focuses on Jane herself. Gardner’s Jane is an opportunist in the positive sense of the word, able to seize upon what life offers her and to make the best of it, whether it be an invitation to join the court or a chance to marry the king. The reader can’t blame her for pursuing the latter option, for the Anne Boleyn portrayed here is thoroughly disagreeable, sometimes to the point of caricature. Henry VIII, by contrast, is more complex: kindly to Jane most of the time, he is capable of turning viciously on her when she seems to him to be meddling in his affairs.
The writing style here is somewhat choppy. There are long stretches of one- or two-sentence paragraphs, which I found distracting. More problematic was the fact that Gardner at times carries the theme of plainness versus beauty too far. It seems simplistic, for instance, to ascribe Anne Boleyn’s downfall to her being so “deceived by her long reign of beauty” that she fails to understand Henry. On the whole, however, I found this novel to be an engaging portrait of a determined woman.