A Woman of Passion

Virginia Henley, Author Delacorte Press $21.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-385-31820-4
Veteran romance writer Henley (A Year and a Day) would have readers believe that sexual liaisons were the primary focus of society in 16th-century England. Based on the life of Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick, the determined commoner who served Elizabeth I as a lady-in-waiting and later became the Countess of Shrewsbury, the book's formidable heroine is unfortunately stifled here by the confines of the romantic fiction genre. Haunted by the nightmare of being ruthlessly thrust out of her beloved home during childhood, Bess decides early on to raise her station in life, vowing to become a lady of position and wealth, and to win back her beloved Hardwick Manor. The exuberant Bess makes speedy progress toward the elevated noble status to which she devotes single-minded energy. Circumstances lead her to wed four husbands, including royal financial adviser William Cavendish (whom she loves) and Sir William St. Loe (whom she doesn't). Henley fixates on her heroine's numerous sexual experiences--from a fumbling, unconsummated first marriage to the many passionate encounters that result in six children by the time she is 28. The amply researched tale aims to delve into the notorious court life celebrated by Henry VIII and later, his daughter Elizabeth I, but much of the period detail and dialogue stray into a jarringly modern-day sensibility (""we are two oversexed people who can't keep their hands off each other!""). The complex politics of the day persistently take a backseat to the licentious habits of royals and upper-classes. While the scintillating sex passages may please some readers, others may feel that Henley skirts the challenge of fully exploring the spirit of this indomitable English woman whose remarkable legacy remains in historic sites such as Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/28/1999
Release date: 07/01/1999
Open Ebook - 323 pages - 978-0-307-56855-7
Hardcover - 605 pages - 978-1-56895-762-3
Mass Market Paperbound - 544 pages - 978-0-440-22208-8
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