Saturday, 28 February 2009

Piers in fiction

Finally got around to including a review on fictional Piers Gaveston. Bit surprised at my first choice, but as I’ve just finished reading it, and enjoyed the interpretation, somewhat, I’ve settled on ‘Where Nobles Tread’ by Janet Kilbourne, a novel published in the early 1970’s. You can tell it’s from the 1970’s, just by it’s cover – featuring a colourful picture of the heroine, Eleanor Stanton – an entirely fictional character – and a man in the background who is either Piers or one William Darcy, as both figure equally in the novel. If it is meant to be Piers, he isn’t very well dressed – as inside his clothes are always described as beautiful and richly embroidered and decorated. The man on the cover is in a rather dull green – dull green would never do for Piers!

Piers is dark-haired in this novel, with piercing blue eyes. There are plenty of references to his good looks, and dark hair, and those piercing blue eyes are much in evidence. The author tends to use plenty of ‘romantic’ 1970’s clichés in her descriptions. Piers’ blue eyes are always raking over everyone at court – and particularly the ladies, whom he seems to ‘strip naked’ with those raking eyes. For the men, they tend to be full of mockery. Clearly this is Kilbourne’s favourite adjective for Piers – every time he appears in the novel, he’s always being ‘mocking’ – and it doesn’t matter what his mood is – whether he’s bating the nobles, trying to seduce Eleanor, fighting with William Darcy or drinking with the king, he’s always ‘mocking’.

Piers is very much a 1970’s man as well. He has his shirt and doublet open, often slashed to the waist to show off his manly chest – and he also wears that 1970’s classic – a medallion! Yes, Piers is a medallion man! Reminded me of Tom Jones or Oliver Tobias (if you know the latter, you remember the 1970’s well! :> ). Naturally, he constantly fiddles with the medallion, and poor Eleanor is practically swooning when he does it.

As for the plot – well, it concerns Eleanor Stanton, a country baron’s daughter, who has come to court to attend Queen Isabella. She makes friends with a French girl Jeanne, who fills her in on all the court gossip. Piers is the no.1 topic of conversation – plenty of swooning adjectives, mockery, and yes, Jeanne identifies him as the King’s lover but with a lust for the ladies. Edward doesn’t appear to mind, as Piers tires of them rather quickly and only the king holds his attention. Naturally, Isabella hates him. Then there is Sir William Darcy, a mysterious knight who, although he doesn’t know Eleanor, has fallen in love with her and wants to protect her from the carnal Piers. Eleanor has other ideas – and decides it would be rather useful for her to become Piers’ mistress so she can reap the rewards. She realises this is rather sinful, but can’t help herself. Initially, she decides she will hate Piers, attract him by rebuffing him (of course, Piers has raked her already an decided she’s his next conquest) in order to make him desire her more and in that way, hold his attention. However, she can’t help falling in love with Piers, and embarks on a love affair with him. Piers can read her character well, and knows she is looking to advance herself, and keeps telling her how awful he is and what a bad influence he is on the king and kingdom, all with mockery and thoroughly enjoying himself. All the time, William Darcy smoulders with indignation.

Won’t give away the ending for Eleanor, but poor Piers meets his fate. We only hear about it second hand, when it is reported to the king. We have Piers leaving court with a sense of doom, but for no particular reason, and then hearing he’s been murdered with a rusty sword and that it was painful, taking several attempts – damn that rusty sword:> Naturally, Eleanor faints.

As much as I may display some of Piers mockery, I actually liked the portrayal of Piers. This Piers has charisma, he holds the attention of all at court, and there’s no doubt who rules this court. He dominates the novel whenever he appears. He may be promiscuous with the ladies, but the love between him and Edward appears to be genuine. He knows he’s a ‘bad boy’ and a bad influence on the king, but he doesn’t think much of the morals of anyone else, and maybe part of the charm of this fictional Piers is his honesty. He has nothing but contempt for Lancaster, Warwick and Isabella, realising they seek to rule. It’s a case of him and Edward against the world.

The portrayal of Edward is disappointing. The relationship between him and Piers seems genuine and touching. However, Edward is seen as an indolent, childlike, weak king. He always seems to be drinking, and when he can’t have Piers, whom he almost seems to worship, he’s surrounded by young boys fawning all over him. Lancaster and Warwick talk to him as if he were a naughty, peevish child whom they can bully easily. Only when Piers is around to protect him, can Edward stand up to them – and yet he tells Piers he is his protector and must stay at court to be safe. There’s no sign of that terrible Plantagenet temper. After Piers’ death, Edward seems to accept that Lancaster and Warwick rule the kingdom now, and he must do their bidding. There’s no sign of any fightback by him. Isabella is equally contemptuous to him – getting pregnant by him but enjoying the young knights of the court. I would have liked to have read a scene between Edward and Eleanor, but they never exchange a word.

As for historical accuracy – well, allowing for interpretation of character – there is no sign of Piers’ wife Margaret, banishment by the nobles, sieges at Tyneside, Scarborough etc.

If you can stand the clichés, - ladies swooning, fainting, scorching tears running down cheeks, hearts burning with desire – this novel is definitely worth a read.


Susan Higginbotham said...

I have this one too. Haven't read straight through it, but it does look entertaining. The author was only a teenager when she published it--she also wrote one about Richard III when she was an adolescent. Wonder what ever became of her?

Alianore said...

Great review, Anerje! I found Piers really sexy and charismatic in this one (at least, when he's not 'gritting'...;) but like you, I disliked the portrayal of Edward. I usually do in fiction, to be honest - Susan's novel is a rare and cherished exception, but normally portrayals of him are cliched and stereotyped to the point of being ludicrous. And I wonder what happened to Margaret in the novel??

It's been ages since I read Nobles - must pick it up again soon. Though to be honest, thinking about the portrayal of Ed puts me off, so I might have to skip a few parts!

Anerje said...

hi Susan - I gather Kilbourne had her first novel published at 14. And 'Nobles' is the type of book I would have loved as a teenager. Now, I just like it - cliches and all.

Alianore - odd how Piers usualy gets a better write-up in novels than Ed. It is usually the stereo-typed weakling. Been reflecting on this lately. And yes, Susan is to be congratulated on her portrayal - of both Ed and Piers.

Lady D. said...

I haven't read the book but I loved your review! As for the cover - I have a theory that publishers never actualy read the book before they have the cover designed!

I think that this would have been the sort of book I would have devoured when I was a teenager - wish they'd had it at my library.