Dirty, hungry and bruised, 10-year-old Nell Glynn awakes in an alleyway following another one of her mother’s violent beatings. But this is no ordinary day, for today is May 29, 1660 – the day the King returns and Nell’s world will never be the same again.
From days of abject poverty peddling oysters on the streets of London, to the high-staked arms of Charles II. The popularly dubbed ‘darling of the people’ must first win her audience, as star of The King’s Playhouse, before she can conquer the man himself.
The Darling Strumpet was author Gillian Bagwell’s first novel and since then she has gone on to published a further two works of fiction – newly released Venus in Winter and The King’s Mistress (U.S title The September Queen).
All three stories are set within sixteenth and seventeenth century England and feature the extraordinary heroines of the time.
The Darling Strumpet focuses on a pivotal moment of English history, after years of bloody Civil War and a further eleven under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, a king once again sits upon the throne.
But Charles knows the monarchy sits on a knife edge and this is no less evident in his strained, childless marriage nor his troubled relationship with his outwardly Catholic brother, James.
Nell Glynn is a popular heroine of English Reconstruction novels, with her quick wit and phenomenal rags to riches story.
So why choose this version of the tale?
The author’s nine years of running the Pasadena Shakespeare Company are very apparent in her handling of Nell’s stage career. Her acting and directing experience allow her to reconstruct rehearsal and backstage scenes that are immensely detailed and thorough.
As for the heroine herself – I felt at times her personality could get lost among some of other the larger characters in the book, especially some of the nobles and courtiers.
Nevertheless, Bagwell’s Nell makes for a likeable character, naïvely portrayed perhaps, but certainly a survivor adept to change.
There is an ‘everyman’ persona which commends Nell to the reader, and whilst you may not always agree with the choices she makes, her flaws simply make her human. In terms of that, if nothing else, it makes her an easily relatable character.
The Darling Strumpet is a good, smooth read, though at times it may not be particularly ground breaking, it is nonetheless enjoyable and easy to get into.
The novel’s stand out quality is in the storyline. Nell’s life makes for a rather touching and ultimately tragic tale and I can honestly say I’ve never cried more times reading a novel than during this one, so readers I’d have your tissues at the ready!
Published by AVON, The Darling Strumpet retails at £7.99.