“I only know that from wherever it is that we’re going, there can be no turning back”
Katherine by Anya Seton
This is my week to realize that in the past few years or so, my reading taste has changed so much.
I re-read Anya Seton’s Katherine this week.
Why? I know it’s very strange behavior for a book reviewer who is so behind on her TBR list but I was studying a British royalty linage chart, and I happened to recognize the name Katherine. Katherine is the very scandalous “lady” who was once John of Gaunt’s mistress and then his third wife. Her once illegitimate children are the direct ancestors of today’s British royalty. I did a quick re-read of Katherine; it’s more of a romance than actual history since so little is known about her, but I was very impressed with Katherine as a character.
Though this book was published over half a century ago, Katherine is almost as strong as a modern-day “girl power” character. True, she’s not as out-spoken and brash. Also, most of her power over other people comes about from the men in her life, but she really does the best she can with the resources offered to her. Over the course of a book, she does develop to a wily source of courage and a self-sufficency that teenage girls will always find empowering. Additionally, this is a rag-to-riches in the truest sense of the phrase. In the book, Katherine was the orphaned daughter of a Knight but eventually, she becomes the mother of the King of England. Additionally, I wouldn’t hesitate before putting it on my list of the Greatest Lovers of Literature. John of Gaunt and Katherine would definitely be above Romeo and Juliet (not saying much), Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester (which is saying something), Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (which is saying quite a bit).
When I last read this book, I was put off by how the harsh, gritty realities of the 14th century (complete with the Black Death and Peasant revolt) were described vividly, in poetic and flowery detail. I found the book distressing, and I was taken aback by the treatment of women at the time. Katherine is a powerful piece, but I was not equipped to handle it at 14.
I hesitate to say that I am fully equipped now at 16 to appreciate what a thrilling and beautiful book Katherine was. Anya Seton is insanely talented, and I am willing to bet that there are several subtle nuances and details that I haven’t yet caught. Maybe, two and a half years down the line, I’ll pick up this book again.
I’d definitely recommend this book for a read (and a re-read).