Bitchin' Blog Posts
Title: The Darling Strumpet
Author: Gillian Bagwell
Publication Info: Berkley 2011
Genre: Historical: European
From London's slums to its bawdy playhouses, The Darling Strumpet transports the reader to the tumultuous world of seventeenth-century England, charting the meteoric rise of the dazzling Nell Gwynn, who captivates the heart of King Charles II-and becomes one of the century's most famous courtesans.
Witty and beautiful, Nell was born into poverty but is drawn into the enthralling world of the theater, where her saucy humor and sensuous charm earn her a place in the King's Company. As one of the first actresses in the newly-opened playhouses, she catapults to fame, winning the affection of legions of fans-and the heart of the most powerful man in all of England, the King himself.
Surrendering herself to Charles, Nell will be forced to maneuver the ruthless and shifting allegiances of the royal court-and discover a world of decadence and passion she never imagined possible.
And here is Jamarleo's review:
Please bear with me for a moment while I throw in some metaphor magic your way.
Let’s suppose that we all come to this website because we love chocolate. Some of us are fond of the classic milk chocolate yum, others appreciate the whimsy of a white marble with cookie crumbs, and an interesting by no means small faction of chocolate lovers are only truly satisfied if their chocolate is a raw hunk of bittersweet that you have to gnaw on to get a full flavor. Whatever our particular tastes are, there is no arguing that we are eating these particular books- um, sorry this particular candy because, we appreciate chocolate.
Now suppose I have a magic delivery system - no, don’t scroll down to the next review yet- I swear I’m going somewhere with this- that gives each and every one of you a piece of candy. To be polite, because chocolate lovers are nothing if not a polite a supportive community, everyone eats it. It soon becomes apparent that the confection- a melding of green tea, hot ginger, delicate layers of candied lime and perhaps just the smallest most infinitesimal trace of unprocessed cocoa- may be considered delicious in many respects but, cocoa or no, it is definitely not chocolate...
Do you see where I’m going with this? No? Alrighty then, metaphor time over.
The Darling Strumpet is a fantastic historical novel. It would make anyone with even an ounce of history major geek in them to want to do a dance. Following the life of Nell Gwynn, a real life woman who rose up from her childhood in a brothel to go to be one of the first female stage actresses in London and later a mistress to King Charles II, the author Gillian Bagwell enriches the world of late 17th century Restoration England with such evocative detail that, if you read the book long enough, it will take you far more than few minutes to shake yourself back into the real world. It’s an almost perfect combination of research and fictional imagination.
But it isn’t a romance, at least not from what I have every considered romance to be.
Nell Gwyn, in history and in the life of the novel, identifies herself as a whore. Although there is some historical debate as to whether the actual Nell Gwyn was a child whore in her mother’s own bawdy house, Darling Strumpet has her starting off at age twelve by joining her sister to work in one of the better whorehouses.
See how many times I wrote ‘whore’? There’s no prettying it up; it’s an ugly word and this is an ugly world that Nell is forced to live in.
From her first attempt at exchanging sex for the promise of some food and on through to the gang rape(s), the endless quest to please whatever man who can offer her safety from such real fears as disease or death, Nell fiercely defends her “whoredom” as a necessity to survive. And the awful truth in the world of the book is that Nell is right.
So, can you find romance in a woman’s life long quest for a man best suited to provide not love but protection? When the only commitment is one of temporary fidelity to whomever Nell assigns herself to be “for him alone”? When almost every sex scene—and there are a lot of them with heaps of full on explicit bits—seems like a business negotiation for Nell?
I would say no. What is apparent from early on in The Darling Strumpet is that there is very little by way of love in Nell’s story. Nell may feel affection to a few of her men , even attraction in some instances, but the simple joy of love rarely makes an appearance in this novel, and when it does, it never fails to leave Nell—or a reader looking solely for a romance—disappointed.
(Word of warning- these are not sex scenes for titillation and/or enjoyment on the part of the reader. As awesomely acrobatic as some might be, there is always an under- current of Nell’s never-ending desperation. It’s a testament to how skilled a writer Bagwell is that, after one particularly nauseating bout with the Earl of Rochester and a few of his buddies, I wanted to take a shower. And, no, it didn’t help thinking about when Johnny Depp played him in a movie.)
NOVEL: A- ROMANCE: D
SB Sarah: Jamarleo offered two grades for this book, as seen above: an A- for the novel but a D as a romance. Because this book is nominated for 'Best First Book' for the RITA, which awards the best in the romance genre, and because this award is supposed to be for romance, I'm listing this book under the "D" grade. This happens once or twice each year with the RITA, and it's difficult to come up with a standard method to make it clear to readers that this may be a great book, but it's Not a Romance, despite its presence as a RITA finalist.