Book Review of The Duchess by Susan Holloway Scott

The Duchess

The Duchess

I love good historical fiction.  But writing one is a delicate balance.  Too much history and you might as well read a biography.  Not enough history and it’s basically a romance.  But Scott found a perfect balance with The Duchess.  She did her research well and correctly follows the history of the day without much embroidering for literary merit. Instead of piling on pages of historical background, she skillfully weaves it in between narrative and story line.

I enjoyed this book very much.  She captured the fiery and feminist Sarah Churchill’s temperament and made her character come to life for me.  She skillfully takes us through four different monarchs with colorful details that make the world of Restoration England tangible.

While many know the story of Charles II and the Restoration, then later the ousting of James II by his own daughter, Mary Stuart and her husband the Dutch William of Orange; less is known about Sarah Churchill and her ascent from a penniless child to Duchess of Marlborough and the richest woman in Europe.  Despite her sex and rank, Churchill was able to skillfully maneuver herself and her husband into two of the most coveted spots in England, Captain General of England and Mistress of the Robes.  They also received many other titles, high annual incomes, multiple homes, and honors. As favorite of the Princess Anne, later Queen, Sarah was able to have a voice in the government, though unofficial, in a time when women’s opinions counted for less than nothing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Scott and immediately purchased her next, The Royal Harlot, staring Barbara Castlemaine, another strong minded Restoration woman.  Susan Holloway Scott also writes under the names Isabelle Bradford, and in addition to her books, co-blogs Two Nerdy History Girls along with Loretta Chase.  Check out her books and her blog.  You won’t be disappointed!!

Gorgeously Flawed

What a phrase: so much more poetic then categorically perfect. Flaws tell a story. Flaws show me life well lived, well loved. These hands featured below tell me a story.  They belong to an artist, a woman who worked hard her whole life.  She was a woman who cried and laughed without hesitation; and let herself be vulnerable to all the hurts that are out there for us to feel.

Louise Bourgeois, 2010

Louise Bourgeois 2010

These hands, these vein ridden, arthritic, sun spotted hands belong to French artist Louise Bourgeois. Born in 1913, Louise was the daughter of Parisians couple Josephine and Louis. Together they ran a tapestry restoration workshop. Early on, Louise showed great promise in the workshop and was utilized to help draw missing elements depicted by the tapestries. Louise was a gifted student, but her art was greatly affected by her father’s affair with the family governess. This deeply troubling and ultimately defining betrayal remained a vivid memory for the rest of her life. Coupled with abuse from an indifferent father, she learned quickly to keep her own counsel.

She began to study Math at the Sorbonne at a young age, but upon losing her mother young, switched her field of study to art. Her father was outraged and refused to finance her education, forcing her to seek scholarship elsewhere and take classes only when she could afford them.

If her early work shows a focus on painting and print work, the 1940s show a shift towards sculpture. Marrying American art historian, Robert Goldwater, provided her with a reason to move to New York. A gap in 1950s and 1960s show a break from art where Bourgeois immersed herself for a time in psychoanalysis and she came back in 1964 with a new aesthetic. Instead of the wooden totems from earlier exhibitions, she presented strange, organically plastic sculptures.

By alternating between forms, materials, and scales and veering between figuring and abstraction became a bigger part of Bourgeois’s vision, even as she probed the same theme: loneliness, jealousy, anger, and fear. In 1982 Bourgeois took center stage at MOMA.

Louise Bourgeois died in her home in 2010 at the age of 98. She said, “Art in a guarantee of sanity.” Bourgeois used her art to work through her abusive childhood. She looked deep inside and found her story.  Credited with founding the so-called confessional art.  Louise lived her life and her art through a lifetime in introspection and vulnerability.  Louise lived a genuine and gorgeously flawed life. Her hands tell her story.

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Working on Sleep II

Working on Sleep II

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois