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Marie Powell is 16 when her father marries her to the poet John Milton in payment of a debt. They move to a pretty garden-house in London, but she struggles to adjust to her new life. Her husband is high-minded and unyielding, and only makes Marie long for the man she really loves. As Civil War sweeps across England and the King is killed, a battle starts to rage between husband and wife - one that only the powerful can win.
Told through the fictional journals of Milton's wife, Robert Graves's sympathetic and sensitive reconstruction of her tragic life is a convincing, linguistically rich portrait of 17th-century England, ravaged by war. Robert von Ranke Graves (24 July 1895 - 7 December 1985) was an English poet and novelist, scholar, translator, and writer of antiquity, specialising in Classical Greece and Rome. During his long life he produced more than 140 works. Graves's translations and innovative analysis and interpretations of the Greek myths, the memoir of his early life, Good-bye To All That, and his speculative study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess, have never been out of print. Graves earned his living by writing popular historical novels, including I, Claudius(for which he was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize), King Jesus, The Golden Fleece and Count Belasarius.
He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961 and made an honorary fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, in 1971.
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- Gail N.
A Marvelous book, complex, riveting
Robert Graves has written a masterpiece here. This novel features a woman as the main character, his portrayal of the feisty and intelligent Marie Powell, who became the wife of John Milton, is a multi-dimensional delight. The reader perfectly complements the prose and, because of the complexity of the language, that is no small accomplishment. Graves has truly captured the style prevalent among written works dating from the mid-17th century but not to the extent that it is difficult to follow, as indeed is some of the pedantic blather of John Milton quoted in the novel.
The novel is written in chapters, following the life of Marie Powell, and in the form of entries in her personal and private diary. It gives us a window on what upper middle class life of this time was like. There are many wonderful characters we meet along the way.Marie was wed to John Milton, in fact sold to him, by her heavily indebted, ne're-do-well father, and her overwhelmed mother at the age of 16. But there are many twists and turns before and after that fateful day.
Briefly, Graves mocks the pompous, priggish, bore John Milton to perfection. Today, Milton would qualify as an evangelical, right down to believing his maleness gave him superiority over his wife and all women. He describes the idyllic childhood of Marie and also the devastation of the English civil war, including the murder of King Charles I by the Roundheads, whose membership was primarily made up of Puritans and Presbyterians, and led by Oliver Cromwell.
It is interesting that democracies do not always act in their own best interests or in the best interests of the common people. We can look at this example in British history as well as the disastrous campaign Athens launched against Syracuse and which led to its utter defeat 50 years later. This book shows the horrors of this civil war and some descriptions are not for the faint of heart. It is worthwhile reading especially today.
There are some sections which drag a bit but they are few in number. I highly recommend this book.
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