Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Darling Strumpet-Gillian Bagwell

The Darling Strumpet
Gillian Bagwell
Berkley, Jan 4 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 97804252388592

In 1660 following a decade of bleak Cromwell gray, thirty year old Charles II is crowned king. In London as the monarchy returns, young Nell Gwynn was beaten by her partially intoxicated mother Eleanor for losing her oyster barrow when the girl was caught up in the royal festivities. She vowed no more beatings and she will find a way to escape from the smell and oil of oysters that Nell believes has penetrated her brain. She flees to her sister Rose the whore who advises her to leave their termagant mother and the Golden Fleece tavern but must get the money first.

Nell turns to whoring working for Rose’s employer Madam Ross though she only recently started her courses. The patrons love her deprecating cheeky humor. She goes to watch the return of The King’s Company performing Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth after years of being shut down. There she meets Robbie Duncan who takes her away from the brothel. Soon her bawdy commentary leads to her performing on the stage. When King Charles II sees her act, he makes her his favorite courtesan. Nell understands that she is the Protestant whore of the king, but also is fond of her kind lover while maneuvering the deadly royal courtesan court. She “captures the heart of England and Charles II” as even when he is dying, the monarch wants his beloved taken care of after he is gone.

This historical biography of Nell Gwynn is a terrific tale from the invigorating bur different perspective of a courtesan who rose from abject poverty and family abuse to become the nation’s Darling Strumpet. Decades before Fielding’s “lewd” classic Tom Jones, Nell’s real life witty ribald comments about herself and the life in the men (paraphrasing Mae West) wanting her make for a fun look at the Restoration.

Harriet Klausner

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