Katherine by Anya Seton

Genre: historical fiction

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Wanda McCaddon

Length: 23:44:00

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Katherine is the classic novel by Anya Seton that follows the life of Katherine Swynford, most famous as the long-time mistress of John of Gaunt. The novel begins as Katherine is heading to court after having lived for years at a convent. Naturally, she is young and beautiful and so must, therefore, get a husband. Some younger knights and squires turn her head but the intimidating Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, catches her eye more than others. She knows better, and he is married, but likes him anyway. Katherine is horrified, though, when one of Lancaster’s knights, Hugh Swynford, asks to marry her. It is an advantageous marriage and it is quickly arranged. She goes with her new husband to his home at Kettlethorpe and has two babies and that, she thinks, is that. But then Hugh gets sick in France while in service to Lancaster and sends for her, and dies soon after. Woo hoo! Now she and Lancaster can get it on if they want to, since his wife, too, had died. The rest, as they say, is history.

This novel was first written in 1954 and it shows in a lot of ways. Sometimes, the women seemed infantilized in ways that they are not in newer historical fiction. No, there was no such thing as feminism in the Middle Ages, and no, the women tended not to ever act or speak in terms like we would today. But they are not always depicted quite as the meek and submissive women that they often were in Seton’s novel. It felt very much like The Good Housewife’s Guide from, well, the 1950s. LOL gross. 

This was a very well researched book, though. It didn’t feature any battle scenes or gore, which makes sense since it was centered around Katherine. She wouldn’t have had first hand knowledge of anything like that. We got a lot of the day-to-day of women’s lives in this, which was interesting. The historical record doesn’t actually go into much detail about women’s lives since they weren’t the ones in power. There’s a lot about war and men and the church instead. I think the lack of actual record makes for a great way for a skilled author to bring to life aspects of a time that we may not know very much about. 

Though this wasn’t my favorite book I’ve ever read, it was enjoyable enough and the narrator, Wanda McCaddon, did a good job in her performance. Probably I would read or listen to other of Seton’s mediaeval books, though I’m not sure I liked this one well enough to branch out into her works set in later (i.e., less interesting to me) time periods.


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