At last Kenilworth came to an end. And never before have I felt so cheated by the end of a book. You could argue that I only have myself to blame for my disappointment, given that I am aware of what happened historically with Robert Dudley and his wife, but in my defence, I thought that as Scott had rewritten so much of the history in this book and turned it into fiction, he might have done the same with the ending. Particularly as he puts his reader through agony to get there.
I can’t really write about this book properly without spoiling the ending, so if you are planning on reading this and don’t want to know how it ends you need to skip the next couple of paragraphs.
The real history is that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester is married to Amy Robsart. But he spends much of his life hoping to marry Queen Elizabeth I. Amy Robsart mysteriously dies and there’s suspicion that she was murdered so that Dudley can marry the Queen.
In Sir Walter Scott’s version Dudley has secretly married Amy Robsart and is trying to keep it secret from the Queen so that he can get more power etc. But he is frustrated that his secret marriage means that he won’t be able to marry the Queen. Dudley’s servant, Varney, is trying to help Dudley rise in favour with the Queen, and tries to smooth the way by getting rid of Amy. And so the book ends the same way as history did, with Amy’s death. But as reader’s we go through so much angst because Dudley can’t make up his mind and the other characters inadvertently make things worse, so that by the end the least Scott could have done would be to let us have a happy ending.
I wasn’t far through the book when I realised that the best way to deal with all the angst was to work out what was the worst possible decision a character could make, and then try to guess how long it would be before it happened. Because it did happen. Most of the time.
But I also learned some really valuable life lessons along the way:
Get married secretly and run away from your friends and family.
It’s not really described how Dudley convinced Amy to marry him but she ended up leaving her father and the man she was engaged to, Tressilian (who was a bit of a wet lettuce), behind with no idea where she was. Also it made her father really ill, because he was a nice man who happened to love his daughter. Great idea.
2 It’s ok to live hidden away with a creepy guy and his daughter as long as your husband has promised that one day you will live with him as a countess.
Yep. Amy lives with some random guy and his daughter, who behave more like jailors, while Dudley keeps his position at court. Oh and she can’t get in touch with her sick father. Who does that?
3 When you can’t take it any more run off with a complete stranger who only days before had pretended to be a salesman so that he could talk to you.
In fairness she did think she was about to be murdered and she didn’t really have a lot of options. But still. Thankfully as readers we know that this one is alright, even if he does act a bit suspiciously.
4 If it looks like the Queen is about to find out about your wife just pretend that actually she married your servant.
Again in fairness if you think you might be executed you’re probably going to say, or as in this case, go along with whatever lie comes along first that might save your skin. But really how did Dudley think it would help matters later on when it comes out that not only as he secretly married but he has also lied to the Queen?
5 Fight and try to kill the person who would help you if you only talked to him.
So yes, you might think you’ve got it all worked out and you need to kill this person, but surely it is always better to speak first and then stab with sword?
As you can probably tell I think that this is a very silly book. But don’t be put off, if you want a laugh and would enjoy some angst and drama, then please go for it. And let me know which character you like the best.