What am I reading?
I am currently reading Cavalier: The Story of a Seventeenth-Century Playboy (London, 2007) by HRP head curator and hair slide and vintage coat aficionado Dr Lucy Worsley.
Filled with the anecdotal evidence and detail that can only come from extensive research (as her source list evidences) this is no dry piece of non-fiction but instead a beautifully crafted narrative. Worsley’s text so far is hi-story; history told in a prose that should the footnotes be removed could pass for a novel. In Lucy’s eye for detail she not only recreates the key events, intrigues and politics of Sir William Cavendish’s life but also the very fabric of his world from the daily routines and machinations of his household to the detailed descriptions of the trinkets, jewels and combs he would later send his daughters.
In the 50 pages I have read so far I have hurried along the halls of Wellbeck abbey to the scene of the painstakingly described deathbed of Sir Charles Cavendish (our protagonist’s father) then out through the green hills and valleys of the Midlands to the ramshackle workshops of the rough-handed masons hewing rock for the property mad family’s next grand design. It is a remarkably innovative and imaginative book!
It is a style of writing that I know will divide the ‘Old Guard’ of academic historians in its defection from the pure cut-and-dry factualism of academic writing, yet it is in this that the text finds its strength. Immersive, engaging and well-written it is entertaining without scrimping upon good historical research. It bridges the gap between the academic historian and the interested public (it is the perfect kind of history for the fried brain of a post-final exam graduate like myself for example.) Finally, it is the sort of book I know that myself and my untrained Grandmother alike will enjoy, it is exactly the type of text that I myself would like to write one day.
Next on the list:
Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York, 2000)
- Lucy Worsley on Britain’s best historic houses (telegraph.co.uk)
- Lucy Worsley: My family values (guardian.co.uk)
- Fit to Rule: How Royal Illness Changed History, BBC Two, review (historychannelfromthewar.wordpress.com)