I received a free copy of The Dark Lady’s Mask for my honest review.
About the Book:
Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, eBook, Audio Book; 416 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.
London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.
Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.
The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.
About the Author:
MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.
I will admit to not being one who has strong feelings for Shakespeare one way or another. My knowledge of him is really limited but he lived in a time period I find fascinating. I went into this novel with no knowledge of this Dark Lady but a healthy curiosity of what she was all about. I did know that there were rumours about the possibility that Shakespeare had a collaborator or that he didn’t even write the plays attributed to him. I don’t know if this helped or hurt me going into this book.
Aemilia Bassano Lanier is remembered because she was the first woman who produced a printed book and proudly called herself poet in a time when many women could not even read. She was the child of a court musician and her family history is a bit muddled. Her father died when she was very young and she was fostered with a wealthy, noble woman and given a very diverse and extensive education.
The novel takes the reader through her life and purports that she meets Shakespeare and has an affair with him. They form a writing partnership and even with a limited knowledge of the great man’s works anyone reading will recognize the plays that the two supposedly work on together. Their relationship does not end well and Aemilia goes back to her husband but Shakespeare’s rancor comes back to haunt her life when his Dark Lady Sonnets are published and all who know of their relationship assume they are about her.
Aemilia’s life was never dull and Ms. Sharratt takes the tidbits left here and there to craft a fascinating tale about a rare woman. Other than her printed works there is not much else in the historical record but snippets and so much of the book is her supposition of what might have been. The author has a magical way with descriptions and I found myself feeling like I was existing within the story. I love when an author can do that with words. I have only one small complaint about the book and that involves the very beginning. It starts when Aemilia is 7 years old. This is something I see now and again in historical fiction and to me it is very jarring. The 7 year old Aemilia acts more like a teenager than a child. She is far too adult for her age. And it’s far more than the “times.” Once she left her childhood it was fine but a child is a child – not some deep thinking mini adult.
You can follow the tour schedule for The Dark Lady’s Mask
You can read an excerpt of The Dark Lady’s Mask