One of the Best Historical Novels: Katherine by Anya Seton

In spite of my fiance calling them 'hysterical novels' I love to read good historical novels. I read that Alison Weir, the historian, was actually inspired by this one when she was young which justified my liking for them!

Anya Seton used to be one of my favourite authors and I read all of her books a long time ago. Katherine is one of her best and I still enjoyed it very much when I re-read it recently. Set in medieval times, it is a moving love story based on the true story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. It is thoroughly researched and well-written and although I am not a medieval history expert I couldn't find any glaring historical mistakes. The descriptions of the settings and clothes are incredibly detailed and Anya Seton's writing really does take the reader into the world of medieval England. The fact that Chaucer is one of the main characters makes the book more interesting. There are also no jarring modern expressions. (I read a historical novel once in which one character told another to 'get a grip!' This was set in the eighteenth century!)

There are a few flaws in this book for modern readers. The writing is fairly old-fashioned and the main characters, although well-drawn, are just a little bit too beautiful to be true! Feminists may also take issue with Katherine becoming John of Gaunt's mistress and passively waiting around for him to show up in much of the book!
This book created a scandal when it was written because it was thought to be promoting adultery. Katherine is a very likeable character, however, and she does have quite a lot of determination and inner strength which eventually helps her.

If you like historical novels set in England then this is well-worth reading.


Daphne said…
I read Katherine last year and loved it. It may be a little old-fashioned, but what's wrong with that? I look forward to reading it again in a few years.

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