When I was 10 or 11, visiting my grandparents, I came across a copy of “Elizabeth the Great” by Elizabeth Jenkins. Since then I have, to varying degrees, been obsessed with the various versions of the Tudor story — mostly nonfiction, though more recently supplemented by fiction (I like to call this genre Tudor Trash) and movies. Antonia Fraser, David Starkey, Alison Weir — I’ve read them all. Obviously, from looking at the sales numbers for Philippa Gregory or the investment of the Showtime tv show “The Tudors,” I’m not alone. And why not? It’s an insanely dramatic story with so many elements: sex, politics, religion, birth, death. I’ve watched the old Glenda Jackson miniseries and I’m still bitter that Cate Blanchett was robbed of her richly deserved Oscar for “Elizabeth.”
But I’m afraid this 30-year affair may be over. “The Tudors” is enjoyable as camp, but I can’t really buy it. More worrisome, “The Other Boleyn Girl” left me cold. “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” didn’t live up to its predecessor and managed to sap the swagger (and acting ability) from Clive Owen. And now, Alison Weir’s second novel, “The Lady Elizabeth,” is … boring. Yep, that could well be due to the writing not the story. But what if it’s really over? What if I’m just sick of this story?
Well, there’s always the Stuarts and the drama of the English Civil War. But those Puritans just aren’t much fun. In the meantime, I’m going back into the archives to see if there’s any spark left. The college library has a pretty decent collection of movies on VHS, should you still have a working VCR, and I happened to bring home a 1940 swashbuckler called “The Sea Hawk.” Errol Flynn is Capt. Thorpe, a Sir Francis Drake-like privateer, and Flora Robson is Elizabeth. Next, I’ll have to check out “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,” with Flynn again and Bette Davis as Elizabeth. And, in an earlier wave of Tudor novelization mania, Jean Plaidy wrote a whole series that I’ve never read. Maybe they’ll renew my obsession.
Other reading? I finished Tony Horwitz’s new book, “A Voyage Long and Strange.” He’s in fine historical travelogue style — not as good as “Confederates in the Attic” but that’s a very high bar indeed and I like it better than “Blue Latitudes.” Look for a review in Solares Hill when I get to writing it. And I was inspired by an NPR piece on Kate Christensen winning the PEN/Faulkner award to see if the public library had any of her books. They have several and I just finished her first, “In the Drink,” which is very good. I read about 60 pages of the new Alison Weir (fulfilling the Nancy Pearl 100-minus-your-age-page-rule — minimum page number before abandoning a book) and turned to the “Unaccustomed Earth,” the new Jhumpa Lahiri story collection for relief.