Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend reading

I started another Laurie R. King book last night, The Moor. It's part of King's Mary Russell series and feature Sherlock Holmes in the years after he retired and became a rural beekeeper. Mary Russell is a young woman in her mid-teens when she first meets Holmes. Holmes, of course, is a heck of a lot older, although, as King makes clear, not elderly. She suggests that Holmes was actually much younger than Conan Doyle's accounts of his exploits made him appear, probably because she recognized that if she made him too old in her own books it would be hard to keep him believable. A middle-aged man might be plausible as a hero; someone's who slid over the geezer line into "you kids get off my lawn" territory is not.

I think the first one I read in the series was The Beekeeper's Apprentice. I was dubious -- I've read a number of books where authors attempted to use the Sherlock Holmes character and didn't do a particularly good job with the effort. In the end, King did well enough that I went looking for other books by her, including another series set in modern day San Francisco, but I still have some reservations about the whole Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes thing. The plot lines are interesting, the characters are fleshed out enough to feel like real people, the historical backdrop is obviously thoroughly researched . . . but there's that whole May-December romance thing.

It isn't that I don't believe a woman, particularly a young woman, could exist who could actually think circles around Holmes and be as intellectually detached as him -- a meeting of like minds, so to speak. I can understand two seemingly very dissimilar people discovering that they're actually perfectly matched. I'm just thoroughly creeped out at the moment by the age thing.

Of course, I may be noticing it more than I usually do when reading a Mary Russell mystery because I just finished The Wives of Henry VIII. Reading descriptions of Henry Tudor in hot pursuit of a nubile bride, someone who could give him sons, is enough to evoke shudders in any reader. Antonia Fraser quotes from documents (letters, diaries, and even official legal records) that make it clear that by the time Henry was married to wife #4 --Ann of Cleves -- the only way he could perform was to be with a woman so young she barely qualified as an adult. An amazing amount of documentation exists giving explicit details of the king's sex life, or lack thereof. By the time he's in his 40s he's pretty adamant about expecting a girlish virgin in the bed, and Ann didn't fit the model. She wasn't petite, her breasts weren't perky, and she was pushing 30, something that hadn't bothered him in the abstract while the negotiations for the marriage were in progress, but obviously hit home once she arrived in England.

Followed reading about Henry's messed up love life with watching the news and seeing John McCain having applesauce accidents in supermarkets, and older men are looking very creepy indeed.


  1. I have read every book imaginable on henry the VIII and his favorite time in history...henry was fooled into thinking anne of cleves was beautiful because the artist holbin(spelling) fell in love with her mind and painted her as he saw her..when H8th saw her he said he'd rather bed a flanders mare than her...they never had sex, he couldn't get it up and after he divorced her they became like brother and sister..divorced beheaded died...divorced beheaded survived...
    have you read the bolyn sister?...Anne Bolyn's sister was Henry's mistress before he married Anne and had his bastard child which he couldn't acknowledge, because of his marriage to Anne..I always thought Anne got a bad rap..
    never was into sherlock holmes..but will look for the books at the library..

  2. Antonia Fraser says that what did it with the Holbein painting was it showed Ann of Cleves looking straight at the artist, no profile at all. Other portraits indicate she had a rather large nose. Still, going by the surviving portraits of the various wives, she was actually better looking than Ann Boleyn -- Boleyn had gorgeous eyes but was otherwise not that pretty -- but was a lot taller than Henry's other wives, and her personality was way different. She'd grown up in a very somber court, did not know how to flirt, play a musical instrument, or even speak English. She was really lucky she was smart enough to say no problem, if the king wants out, fine with me, so she survived.

    After reading this book, I got the distinct impression Henry's idea of the ideal woman was someone who resembled his first wife the way she looked and acted when he first met her -- petite, totally feminine, literate (Catherine was multi-lingual, well read, could discuss philosophy and music), and preferably blonde.

    One thing I learned that I'd probably read before but it hadn't registered was the first child Catherine and Henry had was a boy, also named Henry, who died at the age of 7 weeks. How's that for the basis possible alternate history plot? If that kid had lived, Elizabeth I would never have been born.

    I also learned that two of Henry's wives died from childbed fever -- Jane Seymour, of course, while married to him, and then Catherine Parr (wife #6) after Henry died and she remarried. It was her 4th marriage, first pregnancy, and she died a few days after the baby was born.

  3. I just dropped by to say I'm thinking of taking a break to get back to my other writing. I will go visiting--otherwise how will I know what all of you blogging friends are up to. I do hope Dolly wasn't too awful for you and yours.

    I'm going to get back to the writing of fiction. I will keep the blogs alive and open, but I think I have devolved into the old lady who wants to hang with the cool kids. I still have some short stories, a bit of poetry, and I really need to turn that novel into something that grabs and holds the reader--otherwise how am I ever going to find a publisher?

  4. petite, totally feminine, literate (Catherine was multi-lingual, well read, could discuss philosophy and music), and preferably blonde.

    And this bothers or surprizes you why? That sounds about what I'm looking for as well. 320 pound women with 5 kids, three ex-husbands, and a two page rap sheet sure isn't it.

    And by the way, get off my lawn.

  5. Henry's preference neither bothers nor surprises me, except in the sense that until I read this particular book I hadn't realized that he was basically chasing after his first love. Wife #1 is usually given short shrift in films -- the story always seems to start up around the time he gets the hots for Ann Boleyn, and by then there's no sense of what the young Catherine was like. So the viewer (and I include myself, obviously) forgets Henry and Catherine first met when she was in her teens, she was beautiful as a young woman, and they were happily married for many years. If their son hadn't died at 7 weeks, Henry would no doubt have had multiple mistresses (one of the perks of being king), but only one wife.

  6. Don't mind me, Nan. I'm just projecting -- and possibly a bit paranoid. I've recently recieved a degree of guff due to the fact that I'm drawn more to younger women than the average aging right-wing Cobb county nut-jobs I am surrounded by. Even though appearing far younger than my actual age, I fear that the women I would consider marrying harbor the same thoughts you incessantly hammer at here: "that whole May-December romance thing"; "in hot pursuit of a nubile bride, someone who could give him sons, is enough to evoke shudders in any reader"; "thoroughly creeped out at the moment by the age thing"; and finally, that "older men are looking very creepy indeed." While more of an August than December, where were these petite, intellegent, nubile waifs when I was 25? They sure weren't in my neighborhood, and I preferred to do without than to live a lie. So in some respects, I am their life's experience equivalent. And yet your implications evoke within me the same creepy reservations.

    As for the "perks of being king", my housemate claims that her current beau harbors a desire to participate in a menage a trois. My comment was that since he can't satisfy one woman, what would he do with two? She now has a snappy comeback -- one she should have thought of herself.

    What does this have to do with Sherlock Holmes and King Henry VIII? Not a damned thing probably; sorry for the digression. ;-)

  7. oh cool, another henry viii and wives buff...henry used the fact that catherine was married to his brother as an out of the marriage..all anyof them had to do was have a boy...and when he did, he was sickly and used as a pawn in the struggle for regency...great history..


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