When authors use real people as characters in their historical fiction, it matters how they treat those people.
author Susanna Kearsley agrees, and states it this way:
"It's one of my personal quirks that I can't make a person a felon unless I'm convinced, from the records available, that's what he was. However long dead these people might be, they were – and remain – people first and as such they deserve to be written about with respect."
In her research for this book, she was unable to determine from the available materials whether one of the players was, in fact, a felon or not. In order to not defame his name, she created a sidekick for him -- one who was decidedly felonious.
How can you not care for an author who is so solicitous of humans who've been dead for over two centuries? You have to believe she has at least equal respect for her readers.
This was my fourth Kearsley, and she hasn't let me down yet. I've said it before, but I need to remind myself: I must read everything she's written. I now think I need to do it faster. For one thing, her books are not a series, but in her Afterword she just informed me that if I'd been paying attention, there are tie-ins. Some of her characters are making cameo appearances in her other books. If I hadn't waited for months to read the next one, I might have actually recognized that it had happened.
[In fact, excuse me for a moment to make this note to myself: Find hard bound copies for my personal library of: The Winter Sea; The Firebird; The Splendour Falls; A Desperate Fortune. There are more, but I probably need to pace myself.]
So, sorry about that -- why I like this book so much: Mary has a great love for books and I could easily identify with her. In this scene, she is in the library of a recent acquaintance who invites her to borrow anything she likes:
"And there are some writ by various ladies, although my husband does think them all frivolous and less important." . . . .
. . . "In truth, so few women write anything, that when they do it can never be deemed unimportant." . . .
While the other women turned back to their talk . . . , she took the opportunity to curl into her chair again and read, and so remove herself from all her greater cares and all the people causing them. At suppertime, her thoughts remained within the novel, and she held herself aloof from conversation, eating all in silence and excusing herself afterwards to seek the solitary peace of sitting in the drawing room and reading, which if only temporarily allowed her to escape.
The book is full of scenes that make you feel as if you are there with the characters and could jump right into the conversations. Here are two more excerpts I shared as I was reading: http://redthaws.booklikes.com/post/1196883/ooh-touche; http://redthaws.booklikes.com/post/1196816/shelter-dogs-and-second-chances.
In the beginning, Mary had spent her whole life in one town, living with her aunt and uncle in a small place, and growing up with her cousins. She is thrown into an adventure, and although there are dangers and hardships, she steps into the role and nails it. Reflecting back:
"She found that she liked this woman she had chosen now to be – – this Mary Dundas who had traveled and seen trouble and been changed by it; who had no longer any need to feign or borrow confidence but only sprinkle water on her own and pull the weeds that have been choking it and watch it grow every day a little more towards the sun."
She's such a good heroine.
This is a dual-time story. In the present day, Sara finds work with a historian who needs her to break a cipher in a coded diary, written by Mary in the eighteenth century. Mary is weaving her story of adventure and threading it through with fairy tales. In this conversation, Sara is discussing the diary with her agent:
"Mary's fairytales aren't really meant to standalone, though. . . back in those days women's fairytales were woven into novels, so you're not supposed to read them on their own – – you have to read them in the context of the narrative around them. That's why this one makes more sense when you know what's going on in Mary's diary, . . . "
And then Kearsley gives us a delightful summary of the inception and history of fairy tales and of 18th century feminism and sexism.
It's wonderful. Her next book is out in October. Fortunately, I have several to read in her previously published works.
I'd like to leave you with Ms. Kearsley's own words, as a conclusion.
"So let me finish where I started.
Once upon a time, a baby girl was born at Saint-Germaine-en-Laye.
Her name was Marie Anne Therese Dundas.
Her baptism, on July 25, 1710, was written down into the parish register… as was, in the very next entry, the note of her death, on the fourth of September that year. She had lived only six short weeks.
She wasn't given a chance at a life. So I gave her one.
Writers can't really change history, but we can decide, as I said, where a story should end.
Not being fond of the ending of Mary's tale, I wrote a different one.
I wrote a better one."
And I agree whole-heartedly with that pronouncement.