Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Vizard Mask

It took me months to finish The Vizard Mask by Diana Norman. I found the first chapters quite hard to digest. I read several sentences, was lost, and had to re-read them again. So slow I was in my progress that at least twice I put this aside to read another novel. Thankfully, the last chapters were interesting. I determined to finish this, as the price of this book was quite expensive, especially for a used book.

the cover by Bill Gregory

The story is set in the 17th century. Penitence Hurd, a Puritan from Massachusetts arrives in London to find her aunt and ends up living in a brothel. She tries to stay pure, but her belief is shaken by the hard life. First, there is the plague and she watches her friends die one by one. Second, the man she loves leaves without knowing that she is pregnant. After meeting female playwright Aphra Bern, Penitence learns how to survive in the world where men look down on women. The stuttering Penitence becomes a great actress - the first woman to play Desdemona on stage - and Prince Rupert's mistress.

The details on how they lived under the reign of King Charles II, King James, and King William of Orange are quite vivid. The most interesting part for me is the Monmouth Rebellion and the aftermath. [This was where I read quicker.] The Lord Chief Justice decides to burn an old noble lady for helping rebels, and according to the author, "Judge Jeffrey's treatment of the rebels is true to the record". It's horrible. I think most of the rebels didn't care who sat on the throne, probably they only wanted to have a king whose religion was the same as theirs, but was it worth it? Why could not they live in peace side by side?

As for Penitence, when she arrives in London for the first time, she is a true Puritan. She holds a Bible in her hand and she can quotes many verses by heart. She knows what is right and what is wrong. However in the end of the book, she concludes what true sin is: "She was a sinner not because she had whored to stay alive but because she hadn't pursued her lover [...] and not only forced him to see her as she was but open his eyes to the fact that he loved her as much as she loved him." To waste life - that is true sin.

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