Saturday, November 04, 2006

Book Review : Elizabeth the Great by Elizabeth Jenkins (Victor Gollancz 1958)

It is quite an achievement to summarise the life of Elizabeth in 300 pages, but Elizabeth Jenkins succeeds by sacrificing the politics - great events are passed over in a sentence or two - but focussing on Elizabeth the woman, her foibles, her weaknesses, her favourites, but above all on what made Elizabeth great.

The portrait is not always flattering. Elizabeth was highly strung, living on her nerves almost to the point of hysteria. Her mood swings were violent and unpredictable, her vaccillations over the making of difficult decisions were interminable. However, despite that, the love she bore her subjects and which they largely reciprocated shines through, and this is what made Elizabeth "the Great".

One gets the impression that in places in Jenkins' book the editorial knife has been wielded too freely - references are unexplained, temporal coherence not always maintained. Jenkins herself writes with an ornate prose verging on the archaic, but with passages of beauty befitting a novelist. This she brings to bear in her description of how a woman became England's greatest monarch.

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