Monday, September 2, 2013

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Lady and the Poet by Maeve Haran

I accomplished one thing this week, I finished another book from my TBR pile challenge. I don’t remember when I acquired The Lady and the Poet by Maeve Haran, but it has been on my shelf for a few years. The lady of the story is Ann More. The poet is John Donne. Although it’s really the lady’s story, told in first person from her POV, it’s the poet who caught my attention and made me buy the book.

I like to think that I like Donne, but in fact, we read a couple of his poems in a survey course in high school and I liked those poems. Even more, I thought the snippet of Donne’s accompanying biography made him interesting. So when I saw a novel that fictionalized the love story that changed his life, I wanted to read that novel.

I wanted to read it, but not all that urgently. The book sat on my shelf. I’d consider it every once in a while, but there was always something I wanted to read more. I finally put it on my challenge list to give it some priority.

In all honesty, the first couple of chapters didn’t particularly captivate me, and if it weren’t for the TBR-pile challenge, I might have been tempted to give it up and turn to something else. Ann’s voice was a bit overly romantic for my taste and the story seemed like just another tale of lovers kept apart by families and societal conventions. But once I got farther in to the story, I grew used to Ann’s voice and wanted to see how she and Donne managed to find each other.

Ann More is one of four daughters of Sir George More, a gentleman of Queen Elizabeth’s court who has high ambitions for himself and his family. His daughters must serve the family by marrying well. He expects complete obedience from them. However, he has left them to be brought up by his own parents, and Ann has spent a good deal of time in her grandfather’s library. She is extremely well educated; she can read Latin and Greek. She’s also much too outspoken for a well-bred girl of her time. Her father despairs of her; nevertheless, he has found a man willing, in fact eager, to marry her. Mr. Manners is handsome and will one day be wealthy, but in the meantime his father controls the purse-strings and the older Mr. Manners will not agree to the betrothal until dowry conditions are ironed out.

With negotiations in flux, Ann is sent to London to live with her aunt. Her uncle is Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, and it is expected that Ann will find a place at court serving the queen. But while at her aunt’s, Ann meets her uncle’s secretary, John Donne.

Donne has a horrible reputation as a womanizer and a writer of licentious verse. Ann sees the bad side and some surprising good sides of the poet during the course of her stay. She falls in love despite her better judgment. Donne falls in love as well.

This is not a match that Ann’s father would ever approve of. Donne is not a gentleman. His reputation is scandalous. And the fact that the two of them have been living in the same house means that Ann’s reputation would also be ruined if any hint of an attachment got out.

The obstacles to their ultimate happiness are plentiful and would seem insurmountable. But Ann is stubborn and courageous. Donne is determined and, despite accusations leveled against him, he is no fortune hunter. He truly loves Ann. He’s also an enormously talented poet.

In the end, I enjoyed this book and its interpretation of the love story and the struggles these two went through. Haran did a good job placing the story in its historical context, but the focus was very squarely on Ann. I’m not sure, though, that I ever really felt emotionally caught up in the tale. I found myself wanting, curiously, to hear the story from the poet’s POV rather than the lady’s.

This is my ninth book for the TBR pile challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader and the twenty-fourth for the Historical Fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.