I really liked The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell. I am no expert on the Restoration period, but I read my first book about Charles II and Nell Gwynn when I was a teenager, and Ill admit it I had a bit of a crush on him. I have read many books about the Restoration since that time, so I know the facts. Nell has been portrayed in so many ways. Ms. Bagwell has portrayed her not differently, but more completely.
Sure Nell was a prostitute at a young age Bagwell doesnt gloss over it. She has thoughtfully researched this unfortunate state through modern eyes but it is the worlds oldest profession, unfortunately little has changed. Becoming a prostitute is rarely a first choice, now or in 1660. People are driven to it for same reasons. In her version Bagwells Nell Gwynns reasons are as old as the profession. A fathers absence (through death), an alcoholic abusive mother, poverty and hunger, with no other choices open to her. She has Nell working alongside her elder sister Mary who does her best to guide and protect Nell. But Nell has dreams of escaping this life for something better.
In the brothel Nell meets the actors of the Kings Theater Company, and sees her first plays. When she gets the chance to work as an Orange Girl she jumps at it. This leads her to the first significant love of her life Charles Hart. Bagwell comes from the theater and that back ground is evident. She is knowledgeable and imparts this aspect of Nells life beautifully.
Much Ado About Nothing. I have heard so much about the sex! Yes there is sex, not a peek at it but sex in full and graphic detail. Which would have been natural for this time period, and true to the story. The Restoration was a bawdy hedonistic time. Also true to the time period is the often crude language, people spoke this way then, especially these people. It was the swinging 60′s the roaring 20′s rolled into one. It was a a time of lush excess and decadence, and on the other hand epic tragedy. Her scene set after the fire brought tears to my eyes. In fact I was touched deeply more than once.
If I have any complaints it is with a few modernism that pop into the dialogue, but they were very few, and not so bad as to be jarring and slow down the story. So I give 4 stars to this wonderful story about Nell Gwynn and Charles Stuart, I call him that instead of Charles II for I truly believe that Nell came to love the man not the King. Solid 4 stars I highly recommend it.
As appears on PBS blog. 7-31-11