Sunday, December 05, 2010

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

My interest in Jane Grey was sparked by a painting I saw at the National Gallery in London.  She was queen for nine days and eventually beheaded for being queen.  Also, I really love the name, "Jane Grey" but that's probably because it makes me think of Jean Grey, one of my favorite X-Men.

In the bookstore of the National Gallery, there were several books and videos about the painting and about Jane Grey.  I bought a DVD, and considered buying a book, but couldn't decide which one I wanted.  There were several by Weir.

When I returned home from my trip, I looked up the author at the library.  She's a historian and has written quite a few non-fiction books, but this was her first novelization.  Seemed like a good place to start reading about the Tudors.

I found the story interesting.  But I found the style a bit odd.  It's written in first person, but every few pages, the narrator changes.  Seems like there could have been a better way to tell the story.  I guess I find it especially bothersome because so much effort is put into trying to figure out what is going on in the minds of each of these people.  I realize it's historical fiction, and a novel, not factual, but it does involve events that really happened.  In the beginning Jane's mother despises her and in the end she's distraught over what happens to her.  Then we have Jane's husband who rapes her in the beginning of the marriage and is extremely cruel to her, but later adores her and misses her so much he carves her name in the wall.  None of that made sense to me.

The story is about Jane, who has very ambitious parents.  When they fail to get her married to the king, they make arrangements to involve her in a plot that will eventually make her queen.  Jane is, as the title indicates, innocent in all of this.  She doesn't want to be queen, she doesn't want to be married, she just wants to be left alone with her books.  That's what makes this so tragic.  She was punished for things that were entirely beyond her control.

What I most get out of books about this time period is the horror and destruction caused by people's beliefs in God.  This all takes place around the time of the Protestant uprising.  People are executed for having Protestant beliefs, and then another king is in place and suddenly people are punished for being Catholic.  Jane was very much part of the Protestant movement.  According to this book, she held her beliefs so strongly that even in the end when she was told she could live if she would convert to Catholicism and she wouldn't.  That seems absurd, because it isn't as if the two religions are that different.  Same God, same Bible, same characters in the book, just different ways of worship.  She was sixteen and willing to die for a fairly new form of a religion rather than go back to the form that had been around for centuries?  I'm not saying that Catholics are the one true way, but still.  That's extreme.
More than anything though, it makes me very glad I don't participate in any sort of organized religion.  Knowing the bloodshed these religions, all of them, have, it makes it very difficult for me to view them as organizations with which I would want to affiliate myself.  They were really just businesses, all about power and control.  Whoever was in power had no issues with crushing those who were not in power.  It's all very disturbing.  Very harsh times.

Back to the book though, I liked it enough that I plan to read more books by Weir.  I've already checked out Lady Elizabeth.  I did feel that reading the book taught me a lot about the time period that I didn't know, and I find this an easier way to learn than from a history book, even if the novel isn't completely accurate.  As far as we know, the history books aren't any more accurate.

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