by A. N. Wilson
London: Hutchinnson, 2011
Wilson’s endeavor was extensive; he covered personages from Leicester and Essex; Cecil and Walsingham to Sidney and Shakespeare. To read or not to read? I say, read with a couple of caveats.
One miss was the chapter on Elizabethan women. It contained a few pages on Bess of Hardwick (she should have been included) and that was it. Although I appreciated the use of the examples of learned women, some pages could have been devoted to formidable and influential women such as of Margaret Douglas, Frances Brandon, Lettice Knollys, Frances Walsingham and Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk.
Another criticism was the absence of any discussion of portraiture during the time period. Obviously, that could take up an entire book on its own, but with the in-depth coverage of the literature of the time, something could have been included on portraiture.
It took some getting used to Wilson’s rather flippant comments and flowery narrative, which were much more palatable in the second half of the book as it covered the literature and social elements rather than the more ‘explosive’ topics of Ireland and New World settlements which were covered early in the text.
Felt perhaps too much time was spent on the maritime adventurers—not my preference as these tales are well-documented elsewhere.
Even though this review sounds very negative, the reviewer was impressed with several elements including how Wilson revealed the way the literature of the age shaped England’s “collective national identity.”