Elevate Difference

Eleanor the Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

I have to say... I feel a little duped. There is nothing in the book's presentation to suggest that Eleanor the Queen is a reprint of a 1950s novel by Norah Lofts. Apparently Lofts was a prolific and best-selling author known for her "authentic use of period detail." I hadn’t heard of her, but I don’t follow the historical novel market, I just read them. I did not, however, finish reading this. I forced myself to finish Part One of four, but I just could not go on.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was a remarkable woman. She was born in approximately 1122, and became the sole heir to her father’s vast property when he died in 1137. To protect her and her land, she was married to Prince Louis VII of France, who soon became king. When he rode to the Crusades, Eleanor went with him, bringing a coterie of other women with her. She was admired and compared to the Amazons. But the marriage became strained and ultimately ended. (And that’s just Part One—Eleanor went on to do a lot.)

Research tells me that Eleanor was intelligent, strategic, and ambitious. Norah Lofts tells me that Eleanor sat around waiting for things to change, twiddling her thumbs. She tells me Eleanor is intelligent, but somehow this "politically savvy" young woman didn’t know how big her land was until her uncle showed her on a map. Like in so much mediocre fiction, the writer makes statements about the character, setting her up to be admired, only to have the character's actions completely undermine those statements.

People always argue about historical fiction’s (lack of) accuracy. A scenario set in the tenth century is patchy enough that it’s possible to build an excellent story while sticking to the few known facts. Either Lofts did not have good information, or she ignored the facts completely.

Worst of all, the book is incredibly poorly written. The dialogue is hackneyed, the characters are just names and voices, downright boring passages drag on forever, and interesting events aren’t developed. The style is reminiscent of books written between 1700 and 1900, but it rings false, and is just an irritant. The narrative is aware of its own grandeur, wallowing in description without letting people or their actions speak for themselves.

I was so astounded by how poorly written Eleanor the Queen is that I began doing more research into the book and its writer. It was confirmed that Norah Lofts still has a devoted fan base. It was also confirmed that her facts are just wrong, totally contradicting that line on the back cover about her use of period detail. When I discovered that Lofts was born in 1904, I forced myself to rein in a bit. Older books do have a different style. That style doesn’t always appeal to modern readers, including me. But then I saw that Eleanor the Queen was written in the 1950s. It ain’t that old.

Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind in 1936 and it blew my socks off; there’s no excuse for Norah Lofts.

This book would never make it out of a writing workshop.

Written by: Richenda Gould, June 22nd 2010

I read one or two of Lofts' other historical novels as a teenager and thoroughly enjoyed them. I agree the quality of the writing could be higher, but I appreciated that she brought to light parts of history that are often glossed over or forgotten. It sounds like "Eleanor the Queen" left much to be desired, but I give Lofts credit for at least daring to write about an important woman at a time when women were largely relegated to the home.

If it's as really bad as you say it is, I'm glad I requested the other Eleanor novel, Captive Queen, the review of which should be out in mid-July. It's really sad that some writers don't (or can't?) do justice to their historical subjects.

Ouch.

How disappointing! I love a good Eleanor novel.

I don't think age can quite be an excuse, either. A good comparison might be Seton's Katherine, which I though stood up quite well. (Though maybe you disagree?)And is older than this one, I believe.

What do you think of Sharon K Penman's novels that feature Eleanor of Aquitaine?

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