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by Andrea Chapin
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
I would first like to thank Penguin and their First To Read great program, which allowed me to read The Tutor, a fascinating historical novel focusing on Shakespeare during some of his obscure years where we don’t much of what he was up to. In 1593, an outbreak of the plague in London caused the city authorities to close all the public playhouses. Shakespeare had by this time written perhaps the first five or six of his plays, but he was also working on poetry, and he may have focused on this aspect of his literary career during this in between time.
Katharine lost both her parents in a tragic fire and was raised by her aunt and uncle. The latter taught her English, Latin, Greek, and the classics. She is 30, a very learned and well read widow, when a new tutor arrives in her village. His name is William Shakespeare. This young man is trying his pen at poetry, a long poem called Venus and Adonis, with a plot based on passages from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book 10). Better at Greek than him, she spends lots of hours with him, talking books, giving him advice, and editing his verses.
Reading was something besides stitching she could do: she would make it her vocation.
She does not hesitate to put him back in place. Spending so much time together, with a common passion for literature, they end up talking about themselves through talking about Venus and Adonis. And Katharine feels gradually like she’s becoming the Venus of the story herself. Will Shakespeare be her Adonis?
I will let you discover by yourself. Even though the ending was very predictable, I knew already by chapter 5 actually, I thought it touched on a very interesting theme about the connection between fiction and reality. What if fiction takes over reality? Where does it leave you? Is it a source of freedom or slavery?
The book was excellent with its use of the historical background: Queen Elizabeth has brought back Protestantism, and it’s a time of persecution for Catholics, deeply affecting Katharine and her family, and leading to major tragedies happening during the course of the novel.
I also enjoyed all the details about the literature and music (W. Byrd, virginals), clothes, and food of the time.
The dialogs are great, full of references to the works of William Shakespeare (including the family being requested to shelter three witches for a night, on their way to their trial!) and the Roman and Greek classics.
Shakespeare’s portrait is actually ambivalent: he appears as a great artist, but rather despicable as a human.
The reason I gave only 4/5 Eiffel Towers is that the general ambiance felt more like historical romance than historical fiction to me, and I am not too much into romance.
VERDICT: Rich with an excellent historical background and multiple literary references, The Tutor presents a romantic encounter between a young Shakespeare and a very learned woman, as he practices the art of poetry. Recommended for all lovers of the Bard, historical fiction and historical romance.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
A bold and captivating novel about love, passion, and ambition that imagines the muse of William Shakespeare and the tumultuous year they spend together.
The year is 1590, and Queen Elizabeth’s Spanish Armada victory has done nothing to quell her brutal persecution of the English Catholics. Katharine de L’Isle is living at Lufanwal Hall, the manor of her uncle, Sir Edward. Taught by her cherished uncle to read when a child, Katharine is now a thirty-one-year-old widow. She has resigned herself to a life of reading and keeping company with her cousins and their children. But all that changes when the family’s priest, who had been performing Catholic services in secret, is found murdered. Faced with threats of imprisonment and death, Sir Edward is forced to flee the country, leaving Katharine adrift in a household rife with turmoil.
At this time of unrest, a new schoolmaster arrives from Stratford, a man named William Shakespeare. Coarse, quick-witted, and brazenly flirtatious, Shakespeare swiftly disrupts what fragile peace there is left at Lufanwal. Katharine is at first appalled by the boldness of this new tutor, but when she learns he is a poet, and one of talent, things between them begin to shift, and soon Katharine finds herself drawn into Shakespeare’s verse, and his life, in ways that will change her forever.
Inventive and absorbing, The Tutor is a masterful work of historical fiction, casting Shakespeare in a light we’ve never seen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea Chapin is the author of The Tutor.
She has been an editor at art, movie, theater, and literary magazines, including The Paris Review, Conjunctions, and The Lincoln Center Theater Review.
She has written for such publications as More, Redbook, Town & Country, Self, Martha Stewart Living, and others.
Chapin lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
Have you read any other historical fiction focusing on Shakespeare?
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