Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Question from Nikki - Weir's "The Lady Elizabeth"

I just read the first few pages of Alison Weir's, "The Lady Elizabeth." I just picked up the book in a store and assumed it would be a true account of Elizabeth. I didn't realize it was fictional until I started reading!

I'm only 12 pages in and Weir has Mary telling Elizabeth of her mother's death. Who really told Elizabeth?

Has anyone read this, and what are your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

I thought the book was kinda odd. It was really historically incurate, which is strange because it was written by a historian! Also, I didn't like the diolouge between the characters, it sounded so modern! (Ex, Henry VIII tells Elizabeth she's "a chip off the old block") Then again, it would be hard to write a novel and make the characters speak in a manner true of the sixteenth century. What do you think? Have you ever read a (modern) novel where characters speak in like authentic sixteenth century citzens?

Bladerunner said...

I didn't care for the book for the same reasons. I feel that Weir had a unique opportunity and really blew it. She wrote as if she'd had done little research. But not as bad as "The Other Boleyn Girl".

Anonymous said...

Another thing that bothered me was that in both The Lady Elizabeth and Inoccent Traitor, Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) is described as having frizzy hair. But, in historical accounts, it is said that Mary had "glorious long red hair, 'as beautiful as
ever seen on human head." And this quote I got from Weir's own work!

Ok, so how you describe someone's hair is really no big deal, but wasn't Mary's life tragic enough without having to have bad hair on top of everything else?

Elizabeth M. said...

No one knows for sure who told Elizabeth what happened to her mother.

Bladerunner said...

Is it possible that Weir had "help" a ghost writer, writing the fiction books. And put her name on it for profit? It really is put together badly. And it has been done before. Its not right, but its not illegal.

DeclareJeNos said...

Having attempted (and failed) to read Weir's book I highly doubt a ghost-writer has been employed. It's simply not good enough! I know several ghostwriters (of both fact and fiction) and if any of them took that content to an editor/editorial team they'd get the sack!

She’s only got away with it because she’s famous/has a good brand[name] and has a large and loyal readership. It is unfortunate that being good at writing 'fact' doesn't automatically make you good at writing fiction.

Does anyone know whether there was any stylistic improvement in the second fiction attempt?

Ps. Anon: Remember Henry's woe over Anne of Cleves...

Also, when I perform on stage my hair is perfectly styled (and hopefully glorious!), however, when I go to the gym or meet friends down the pub, it's normally a frizzy mess!

DeclareJeNos said...

Trouble is always abound when the worlds of fact and fiction collide... A few general rant points on historical fiction in print and on screen:

1) A lot depends on how much 'dramatic license' the author is willing to take for a good yarn.

2) I have a bit of experience of the ghost writing/proof-reading side of the publishing industry... Generally, however legitimate the intentions of the author, it is the editor who calls the shots (although see point 1 too), especially with an inexperienced [fiction] author. Editors tend to be ruthless and the "the general public won't notice so it doesn’t matter" attitude is rife. After all, these are the people who put 'story' into 'history'. (I have always wanted to say that!)

3) In fiction but even more importantly in TV/film, the modern audience expects to be constantly entertained. We have come to expect high production values, slick scripts and sequences of shots where a lot of action happens in a short space of time (or risk the audience channel flicking out of boredom). On top of this, the script will have been heavily edited over and over again by several people (not all of which will have any historical knowledge) to squeeze the most out of it due to the headache of severely limited time, sets, production costs on a tight budget, shooting locations etc In a time when funding is tight, audience figures and ratings become even more important and what keeps the majority* of the audience who will watch historical fiction happy? Drama Eg. In interviews, the director of The Tudors has shamelessly proclaimed to all and sundry that he is more than happy to sacrifice historical accuracy for the sake of an even more juicy storyline.

3) To use a notable example: Phillippa Gregory’s readers are generally more interested in bodice ripping than historical accuracy... Same goes for The Tudors. We, the interested and educated to be found on sites like this, promoting fact, are in the minority.

*Sorry to be blunt, but especially with TV, the vast majority of people watching are not going to know exactly which century the action is set in (without prompting), left alone what decade/individual year it is! The people found on this forum are sadly a minority. For more panic-inducing history hysteria, see the DailyMail:

Kathy said...

Somebody asked Alison Weir about her fiction books at the program she gave at the Smithsonian earlier this year.

She replied that she came across a lot of unverified material and legends while she was doing research for her history books. As they were unverified, she could not in good conscience include the material in the non-fiction books and used the fiction books for that as she wasn't held to strict standards on those. She didn't say anything about a ghost writer, and I'd really be surprised if she had one, because she seems to really enjoy doing the fiction books. (I have to add that I have a copy of The Lady Elizabeth but I haven't had time to read it yet.)

PhD Historian said...

Ok, I've held off and tried to stay out of this one, but now I have to weigh in.....

I have to agree with DeclareJeNos 110%. Yes, editors are sometimes responsible for the inaccuracy of historical fictional novels. The editor's goal is to sell books. His/her job literally depends on it. So he/she will often encourage a writer to "spice up" a novel and add the sorts of prurient, fictional material (the "bodice-ripping" stuff) that seems to sell best.

And yes, the "average" reader or viewer, especially American reader or viewer, is exceedingly unlikely to be able to identify the century in which a piece of historical fiction is set, unless dates are repeated over and over in the text. In my own experience as a historian, I find that the overwhelming majority of even supposedly "educated" Americans cannot name even one "Tudor" monarch ... unless they happen to have seen Showtime's "The Tudors." You'd be amazed at how very few Americans realize that Elizabeth I was a Tudor.

As for Alison Weir ... I know that many will accuse me of snobbery on this point, but I do not consider her a "historian." She is a "writer of history." The difference? She relies heavily on work done by actual historians to create an account written specifically for the general reading, less-well-educated public. Her source material is largely secondary. Her primary source research is exceedingly limited. Her writing style is entirely "storytelling" with no "what does it all mean" content at all.

Dont get me wrong, though ... as I have said before on this site and elsewhere, I do admire Weir's work, given her purpose and audience. But just as you would not call a dental hygenist a "dentist," let's not call a historical writer a historian.

DeclareJeNos said...

Well said PhD Historian!

Anonymous said...

In answer to the first comment, I have read a book where the characters speak like authentic 16th century citizens. Jean Plaidy's Murder Most Royal makes the characters speak a bit like they would have really, but without making it difficult to understand. You have to read it; it's really good, although some points are slightly historically inaccurate, but that's because it was written in the 1940's when the historical records weren't so good.