Week 24–Virgin Earth

Friends! This is my first blog coming to you from my new computer! After three years of my Toshiba screen going black for no reason, it finally just up and died. Therefore (logically) I have treated myself to a MacBook Pro. Congratulations to me 🙂

Back to what you’re reading for: books.  Virgin Earth is another novel by one of my favorite authors, Phillipa Gregory. It’s one of the better novels I’ve read by her. Recently, I haven’t been impressed, but I found myself drawn into this novel and deeply moved by the characters.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0743272536&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrMuch of her focus is on the characters, rather than plot. Obviously, plot is always what happens to the characters in a novel, but Gregory’s emphasis typically seems to be on people on the edge of big events–rather than on those at the center–and their thoughts and feelings about what happens to them.  The common person’s perspective is emphasized while the great historical figures are merely supporting characters.  For instance, this novel follows the life of John Tredascant the younger, who is the gardener to the king of England.  It opens with John sailing to the English colony of Virginia, where he is on assignment to collect new species of plants and bring them back to England.  John spends a month in the wilds of Virginia with a Powhatan girl named Suckahanna, and in the course of this month he falls deeply in love with her.  As he is leaving he makes her a promise to come back to Virginia and marry her as soon as he has deposited his plants in English soil.  However, when he gets home, he finds that his father is dead, and there is a woman waiting for him–chosen by his father to marry John and care for his children.  He marries this woman and does not return to Virginia for years–until civil war in England drives him back.

The main focus, rather than being on plot, is the reaction of the characters to things that are happening in their lives.  John is torn between his duty to his wife in England, and his deep passion for the Powhatan woman he leaves in England.  He is torn between his default loyalties to the crown, and his instinct to self-preservation with the monarchy falls.  He is torn between whether he should stay in England and do his duty in the war, or run away in fear to Virginia and leave his family behind. He occasionally has brushes with great men, but is not one himself.  The internal conflict is what makes reading this novel a pleasure, as it’s something we have all dealt with at one point or another, and can relate to.

The introspection and conflict that John experiences, the exultations, humiliations, failures and tragedies, form a lovely web of life. It is not happy to the point of being unbelievable, but the reader cannot help but revel in the joy that John manages to find with his wife, despite all the struggles, both from within their relationship and from the forces without.  And of course, I do adore the time period.  Gregory is adept at bringing history to life, using language and dialog to evoke a certain feeling.  Though I love the novels she writes about the Tudors, this was interesting because it shows her perspective on colonial America.  John’s feelings about the Native Americans reflects a very pessimistic view of the way the colonists behaved towards the natives; he is centuries ahead of his time in thought and attitude about the equality of all people.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0743272528&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrIf you’re a fan of historical fiction or of Phillipa Gregory (or both), I definitely think that this is one of her better novels.  It’s attached to Earthly Joys, but is not a sequel, so it’s not necessary to read Earthly Joys (which wasn’t as good, if you ask me).  Still, if you’d like to, here’s the link 🙂 Enjoy!

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