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Book 2 for 2009: Katherine by Anya Seton

I had heard a lot of great things about Anya Seton's novel Katherine, which is about the famous medieval romance between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Having read it, I would suggest that if one is a voracious reader of historical pseudo-non-fiction (my term for books based on stories that happened so long ago, no one can ever truly know what was going through the characters' heads and therefore these books are merely BASED on reality, not a great picture of it), it's a good novel to experience. However, if you're not big on historical pseudo-non-fiction (or even historical fiction) in general...I probably wouldn't recommend it.

Overall, I would say this book rates 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was extremely well-researched and probably as historically accurate as Ms. Seton could possibly make it. That said--the author tends to go into excruciating detail about even the least important of things. Also, I was under the impression that Katherine Swynford was very influential politically when she was involved with John of Gaunt. Basically, that she was a woman far ahead of her time. If that was the case, Ms. Swynford does a terrible job of portraying Katherine's character. She does a much better job with other, more minor, characters, such as Geoffrey Chaucer and King Richard II.

I was also left feeling a little lost at the ending. The book really rushes through the beginning of Katherine's story, as she enters court and is married to Hugh Swynford, draws out her time as mistress to John of Gaunt and the story of what happens to her just after their separation, and then rushes to an ending. The little "epilogue" left much unsaid and I would rather have read 50 or even 100 more pages of an actual story than be left with such an unsatisfying ending.

This book did, however, produce some interesting quotes:

"No matter how dutiful one tried to feel, it was impossible to be sad at leaving this behind, not when the blood ran hot and rich in the veins, and when out in the world there were all the untried beckoning enchantments: dancing, sensuous music, merriment--and love."

"In the quiet dawn light after Katherine had been weeping for many hours, she heard the nightingales singing from a thicket behind the inn. She lay and listened to their carefree bubbling song and at first it seemed to her an unbearable mockery. She eased her bruised body into a new position as far on the straw from Hugh as possible. He lay on his back snoring heavily, the room stank of sour ale and sweat. But as she listened to the nightingales, her tears dried, some peace crept into her heart, with a tough strength. She thought that no matter how her body was violated, it could not affect her unless she let it. She was still Katherine, and she could withdraw with this knowledge inot the secret chamber wher eno one else might penetrate by violence. She could surround herself with an impregnable wall of hidden loathing and contempt."

"His gesture did not touch her, he was as alien to her now as had been the panting, heaving beast earlier. But she would never be afraid of him again, nothing that he did could touch her. She would be a dutiful wife, she would accept the hard lot that fate had given her, but yet she would be free. Because he loved and lusted and floundered, while she did not, she would be forever free."

"...he knew well how much maturity it took to withstand loneliness and boredom."

"Ever quick to catch human overtones, he heard the wistfulness in her voice, thought that she was more unhappy than she knew and bore herself with a rather touching gallantry."

"Katherine listened yet more eagerly, for it seemed to her that she might learn a little about this romantic love and its meanings...So I don't understand this sort of love, and never will, she thought sighing, and how foolish to think that it existed, since The Romance of the Rose was only a dream...Real life was here in this Hall and imbued with quite different qualities--such as duty and endurance. The poem was like the jewel-toned tapestries...that she had seen at Windsor, while life was like the rough gray yarn Philippa spun from the distaff. Yet--she thought suddenly, caught by a fleeting glimpse she could not quite perceive--the tapestry, too, exists. I saw it."

"Again as she had when they first met, the girl aroused in Hawise a tender feeling. Having no beauty herself she felt no envy, but only a desire to serve it, and she recognized as had no other person except Geoffrey a bitter loneliness in Katherine that muted her shining fairness as dust films a silver chalice."

"'There's a fire lit that's not so easy to put out.'"

"Some whoreson knight or squire had brought her to this, thought Hawise...had caught her fancy with wheedling talk and sugary smiles such as she'd never got from Sir Hugh, poor fair lady."

"...in her dream he told her that he loved her--each time as she wakened she saw only the coldness of his eyes before he turned from her at the end and remembered that from him there had been no talk of love, but only desire."

"He was ashamed of his longing, ashamed that he had not forgotten her as he had willed himself to do..."

"...the sudden violent constriction in her chest stopped her breath. Her first instinct was flight...She controlled herself and remained where she was. Sooner or later this moment must be met, and she armored herself with the certainty of his indifference to her."

"She roused herself and hearing hte shrill cry of a gull said, 'Are we near the sea, my lord?'
'Ay,' he said, 'we're in Les Landes...We go to the captal's Chateau la Teste. Do you know where that is?'
'No,' she said quietly. 'I only know that from wherever it is we're going, there can be no turning back.'"

"'I shall not always be gentle,' he said...'But...I shall love you until I die.'"

"The ecstasy of their union brought to each of them a wondering awe. Katherine had nothing but dreams with which to compare this sweet agony of passion, unslaked by even the bliss of fulfillment, and the final merging of herself into another, so that even for the moments they were away from each other's arms she felt him as much a part of her flesh as its throbbing veins.
John had known love before, but not like this. How palely gentle and courteous now seemed that far-off time with Blanche! Then there had been reticences and dignity, and quietly maternal indulgence, and always, on his part, gratitude.
Now there was no need for reticence or gratitude. Here in teh sea-scented bedchamber, there was a man and a woman who came together naked and unashamed, proudly bestowing on each other the beauty of their bodies and thereby finding ineffable joy."

"...their love deepened. No longer frenzied in its physical hunger but sustained and quietened by a spirit higher than themselves."

"She looked at him sadly, thinking that men saw only what they wished to see, and that it would be no easy thing to conceal their love or the fruit of it."

"When their bodies were close they often caught echoes from each other's minds, and John, seeing the faint shadow in her languorous eyes, said, 'Ay, darling, I never thoguth we'd be here like this, that other time when you ran from me.'"

"Dear Mary Mother, she thought...The Duchess was small and young. She was not ugly as they had said.
Katherine, liek one who cannot cease from pressing on an aching tooth, strained her eyes down the hall. Young."

"He had no thought for her, he had forgotten the sweetness of last night, of this very day in the barge. She drank more of the vernage, and her bitterness grew close to hatred. Ah, Katherine, where can you run to now, as once you ran from him? Where in the whole of England could you hide from him now, he who pretends to love you?"

"Oh, God, I wish I hadn't seen her, she thought, yet he doesn't love her. I know that...it's me that he loves...Yet, Blessed Virgin, I wish I had not seen her."

"She would be invulnerable again and alone, with this wicked unwanted love walled out of her heart."

"Am I then nothing of MYSELF? she thought with anguish. Can I not live apart from memories of him--"

"Since Sunday she had not been to Mass, nor partaken of the Blessed Sacrament in weeks, for it no longer gave her comfort; things of the spirit had grown as empty and cold as her love must grow."

"Wine makes a window for the truth"

"'If you did not welcome his kisses, why did you babble that folderol to protect him, and thrust Isabella at him?' he cried. 'And why didn't you strike his foul slobbering face?'
Why not? she thoguht. Why, because she liked Robin and love is not so plentiful in this world that one should receve it anywhere with odium. But this she could not say, so she told part of the truth."

"'You must believe that all sorrows pass, and what you feel today you won't in a year.'"

"Here had been the beginning of two long roads, both now ended. Yet were they not the same road after all?"

"She had listened to Cob's talk of Kettlethorpe with the old shrinking distaste, a revulsion that had spread to include all the scenes of her past life. The taint of corruption had spoiled every memory...Self-loathing filled her, of the fleshly beauty she had fostered, fo the sinful thoughts that she had refused to recognize. The past was evil, the future blank and menacing."

""'Accuse not thyself overdone much, deeming that they tribulation and thy woe is all thy fault; for I will not that thou be heavy or sorrowful indiscreetly." Then I understood that it was great disobedience to blame or wonder on God for my sin, since He blamed me not for it.'"

"He made me see that from failure of love on our part, therefore is all our travail, and naught else."

"Then Katherine cried out that if God had no rath, why should she fear sin?
And Julian answered ever patiently, 'Because as long as we be meddling with what we know is sin, we shall never see clearly the blissful countenance of Our Lord.'"

"The confusions, the gropings, the struggles for escape were all dissolved in that light. In their place came certainty--the answer so simple, so right and invitable, and so hard."

"And after winter, followeth green may. -Troilus and Criseyde"

"'Tis not so bad, she thought. He smelt of pomade and cloves, the feel of male strength and of desire, after so long a chastity, was not disagreeable. As he kissed her, her pulses quickened a little. Ay, I might learn to love him, at least enough--she thought. I shall try."

"Far better to keep the memory of a great love--as it had once been--than have it cheapened forever by disillusionment."

"'It's not like Chateau la Teste,' he said, 'that it can't be--there's not youth--nor the fierce heat of passion--'
'Thank God, it's not Chateau la Teste,' she whispered. 'We paid for that, John--both of us--and others--'
'Yet I believe you were no less my wife then, than you are tonight, Katrine,' he said in a wondering voice."

"'I've been very proud of you and of the way you ignore malice and slander.'
She blushed and said quietly, 'Malice and slander are accustomed things to both of us, arling. One learns to live without their hurting overmuch.'"



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