today it’s all about history. Up for review are two historical novels, one about Anna Storace and the other about Elizabeth Boleyn née Howard, and an essay about the relationship between England and Germany before World War I. Enjoy!
Englanders And Huns: How Five Decades of Enmity Led to the First World War by James Hawes
World War I was one of the most bloody, most devastating wars ever fought. No one wanted it, and yet it broke out over an event that should have concerned only the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Bosnia. The blame falls on either the Germans, their emperor Wilhelm II, Gavrilo Princip, or a bunch of inept and weak politicians and sovereigns, depending on whom you ask. All these answers are true to an extent, but also incomplete. The missing factor, according to James Hawes, author of Englanders And Huns, is the enmity between England and Germany. Only it wasn’t so much the governments of these nations, and their politicians, that hated each other, but their voters, the “common people”.
Hawes points out how democracy, particularly in Germany, was in its infancy, and most of the voters in both countries were young men. Young men who, for decades, had been fed lies and propaganda about their enemies, ie the opposing country. By 1914, there was so much distrust and hate between the two countries, each of which represented a different idea of government and state, that many had come to believe that confrontation was the only answer.
Hawes, drawing mainly from newspapers of the time, traces the history of this enmity, from the beginning of Anglophobia in Germany, which is connected with modern Antisemitism, and the origin of the abhorrent opinion the English had about everything German, till the outbreak of war. The book covers well-known topics like colonial clashes and the navy race, as well as forgotten anecdotes such as the murder of Queen Victoria’s cook in Bohn, explaining how they affected public opinion, and, in turn, the politicians (a few of whom had fanned the flames of hatred for political reasons) who counted on their votes to retain their positions.
The book is illustrated with cartoons and satirical prints, as well as images of newspaper snippets, of the times. Because of this, I highly recommend you pick up a physical copy of this book. I read the Kindle edition, and I really had to strain my eyes to read some of these snippets. And you have to read them. They’re part of the book, not a simple pictorial ornament. Most of the snippets are in English, although there’s also the occasional German one. Thankfully, these are translated into English or they would be impossible to read even by those who know German. Back then, their newspapers were printed in the Gothic character, which is not very easy to decipher.
The book is not always an easy read either. Some passages are quite dry, but overall, the topic is quite engaging and the author provides a fascinating insight into an often-forgotten aspect of English/German history that had, however, a huge, devastating impact on the world. It is also a must read because it teaches us an important lesson that, if forgotten, we are bound to repeat, with terrible consequences for everyone.
Available at: amazon
Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell
Vienna Nocturne tells the story of Anna Storace, the celebrated 18th century English soprano and Mozart’s muse. We first meet her in London, where she’s having her first singing lessons with the famous Castrato Venanzio Rauzzini. Anna is very talented, but, to succeed in the musical world of her time, she needs to establish herself in Italy. So, at 15, she moves there with her family, and soon, her career flourishes. The same can’t be said for her personal life. Anna has to deal with the jealousies of her rivals, gets entangled, with disastrous consequences, in a love affair with the wrong man, and ends up marrying an Irish violinist who abuses her. And then there’s her relationship with Mozart. You just can’t help root for them, even though you know that there won’t be a happy ending for this couple. But it’s all her sufferings and troubles that make her grow up and turn her from a naive young girl into a confident woman.
Vienna Nocturne failed to capture my attention straight away. At first, the book is very slow, even boring, and the writing style more suitable for a young adult novel. But after about 1/3, the writing improves and the book picks up speed. Anna, and the rest of the characters, are vividly brought to life. Unfortunately, the same cannot be sad for Vienna, and the many other places the novel is set in. There are very few descriptions here. While it is clear that the author loves music and opera (that are many citations in the book that music lovers will quickly grasp, enhancing their pleasure in the novel), it doesn’t seem like she researched everyday life in the 18th century in depth. This is a more a matter-of-fact account of Storace’s life, which omit all the little details that make the past come to life. But it is a very enjoyable and touching read all the same.
If you’re a fan of Anna Storace, Mozart, or opera music, I think you may really enjoy this novel.
Available at: amazon
The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy
The Boleyn family is as fascinating as it is elusive. There’s so little we know about them, even of Anne. But the most elusive of all, the one who is barely mentioned in books or seen in movies, is her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, née Howard. This book, written as a memoir, tells her story. I was instantly drawn to it, eager to get a new perspective on Elizabeth and her family, but all I got was a rant. Yep, Elizabeth, one of the most unpleasant characters I have ever come across, pretty much rants from beginning to end.
It is impossible to like Elizabeth. She’s a shallow, selfish, proud, spiteful, sex-obsessed woman who only thinks about herself. And she’ full of contradictions. She hates her husband Thomas from the start, thinking it is beneath the daughter of a great Duke, like she is, to marry the grandson of a merchant, yet she doesn’t hesitate to jump into bed with merchants, artisans, or servants. I just did not find this believable. If you think that marriage to a rising courtier of low origins is demeaning, surely you will find having one night stands or affairs with those below your rank even more demeaning? Apparently, not. Instead, her contradicting relationship with her children is more credible. She couldn’t care less about them when they were young, but she deeply suffers when they die, or, like Mary, simply become estranged from her. Elizabeth reminded me a lot of Beatrice Lacey, of Wideacre, by Philippa Gregory, another book I really dislike. Elizabeth is just as unpleasant as Beatrice, but at least admits all her faults and takes the blame for her behavior. Unfortunately for her, she learned her lessons when it was too late.
The second problem I had with the book was the repetition of pretty much every Tudor/Boleyn myth. Thomas is an ambitious courtier who doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice his children’s lives to keep the King’s favour; George a promiscuous man who hates his wife; Jane, his wife, is the traitor who provides Cromwell with the evidence he needs to get rid of her husband and her sister-in-law; Mary, the “infamous whore” who slept with both the French and English kings; and more. While I understand that this is a work of fiction, Elizabeth’s life, of which we know so little, is pretty much a blank canvas that can be filled with all kinds of adventures, dreams, or mysteries. Instead, it’s the same old record. The only new event is Elizabeth’s affair with Remi, a doll-maker (and the only decent character in the book).
Finally, the writing style is so convoluted! The sentences are really long and I often had to re-read them two or three times. I suppose that, this being a memoir, the author was trying to recreate the way Elizabeth would have written in the Tudor era. But it is just confusing and hard to follow for modern readers. Oh, and there are quite a few repetitions too, which doesn’t help.
Having said all this, if you don’t mind the complex writing style and heroines with hardly any redeeming qualities, you may enjoy The Boleyn Bride.
Available at: amazon
Are you planning to read these books? Or, maybe, you have already?
Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.