The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Katherine, by Anya Seton

Anya Seton was the Philippa Gregory of her day, and vice versa. We know Gregory as the author of The Other Boleyn Girl and similar historical fiction told from the female point of view. In acknowledgement of her predecessor, Gregory has used her success as an author to promote Seton’s books, written in the 1940s and 1950s. As a result, some of Seton’s works have been reissued, with forewords by Gregory.

While there is a dated quality about Katherine, I think Gregory has done the right thing in trying to get it and other Seton books back into circulation. Aside from some relatively chaste bodice-ripping, along with a bit of overwrought yearning, Seton has written a well-crafted history of Medieval England. In Katherine, she tells the story of Katherine Swynford, third wife of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster during the reigns of Edward III and Richard II. Although they married late in life, Katherine and Lancaster became lovers shortly after the death of his first wife, Blanche, to whom Katherine was also devoted. (Why didn’t they marry sooner? This was the 14th century, when royal marriages were based on political alliances.)

Seton takes us through wars, rebellions, and the plague, deftly using her characters to show us life at all levels, from the poorest serfs up to the most self-centered kings. I finished this book feeling as if I knew more about what it was to be alive then, regarding the customs, the clothing, the values, etc.

I know of John of Gaunt primarily through Shakespeare plays and the odd bit of history. Seton’s portrayal of him as politically astute and mostly benign — except for one vengeful period following a questioning of his legitimacy — is echoed in Wikipedia which, while not being the ultimate authority, backs up Seton’s take on the man. His vengeance, however, led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and the destruction of his luxurious Savoy Palace. In one of her most harrowing and strongest chapters, Seton shows Katherine and a daughter trapped in the palace at the time of the attack.

So I definitely recommend this book, if you will keep in mind that it’s long, and writing styles have changed over the decades. Neither of those facts should put you off, however.

As for animal lovers, this book is set in the Middle Ages. They did things differently back then. Bull-baiting was considered fun, and other activities we wouldn’t tolerate were routine. But really, this book is MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. There’s the occasional beast of burden that needs more rest than it’s had; Katherine feels affection for her horse, Doucette; a dog is kicked; royalty fuss over their falcons; and children play with kittens. I didn’t come across any especially gruesome or sad scenes that couldn’t be ignored.

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March 25, 2009 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, historical fiction, history | , , , , , ,

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