Many of the most famous love poems were inspired by a real life love story. This is certainly the case with John Donne, whose romance with Lady Ann More led to some of the most beautiful, and sometimes risque, poetry in the English language. Though living in relatively stringent Elizabethan England, where societal rules and status were carefully enforced, the relatively high-born Ann falls deeply in love with John, a man who could not properly support a wife at the time. Free-spirited, devoted Ann isn’t willing to let that stand in the way; this is a story of courtship, of frustration, and of literary genius.
I can’t remember where I got this book; I think it got sent to me for review a while ago, and ultimately that was the reason I finally gave in and picked it up. I haven’t been properly in the mood for historical fiction for some time now, but The Lady and the Poet is such a beautiful, deep, provoking book that it held and indeed rewarded my attention once I finally began reading it.
First of all, let me say that this particular book truly feels historic. It doesn’t just throw relatively modern characters into a setting with fancy dresses, but instead has characters who fit seamlessly into their environment and give us a thorough idea of what an Elizabethan couple might have had to deal with. Ann and John’s love story is actually documented, and the sacrifices they made for one another are firmly rooted in history, which makes this book all the more enchanting, at least for someone like me. I loved the re-imagining of the lives of these two people. The Lady and the Poet reminded me why I enjoy historical fiction so much in the first place.
Secondly, the literary appeal can’t be overstated. Donne wrote a lot of poetry; I even managed to study some of it during my English major days. Haran doesn’t let all that richness fall to the wayside, instead incorporating Donne’s work into the plot, into the love story, and strengthening the story as a whole by using what probably was inspired by Ann in the first place within the book. Much of his work rings true, and knowing that it was written by the man himself adds that extra layer of authenticity and emotion to the book which just doesn’t exist otherwise.
Finally, the book is both gorgeously written and seamlessly plotted, stringing the reader’s attention along the years and the struggles, providing details and descriptions enough but never overwhelming the reader with useless historical detail (although I’ll be the first to admit that I would be happy with more than most). We feel as though we’re in Tudor England, but we’re in the expert hands of a guide we can trust.
The Lady and the Poet is a quiet book, a love story, but one that will worm its way into your mind and heart and refuse to leave. An exceptional choice for those who love historical fiction.