Friday, June 26, 2009

The Lady and The Poet

The story Of John Donne and Ann More by Maeve Haran

From the moment I opened the first page and read how Ann castigated her sister Bett for the disruption she had been put to in order to sweeten the house in preparation for Bett’s forthcoming wedding, I knew I was going to enjoy this book.

Ann More is the fourth of five daughters whose mother died when she was still a child. The More girls have been brought up at the manor of Loseley, near Guildford in Surrey, by their grandparents, Sir William and the Lady Margaret More. Their brother, Robert, lives with his pompous father and shrewish step-mother, Constance nearby.

Ann is fourteen when the story opens, and she asks God if her fate is to be the same as her sister’s who have been married to debtors and dolts by their father. She longs for more, possibly even a meeting of minds in a husband in late Elizabethan England, a time and place when women were property for their fathers to barter with into marriages to forge family alliances.

Ann doubts her courage in standing up for what she wants, but you know she is certainly going to give it all she has. Her wilfulness and intelligence are seen as barriers to her marriageability and her grandparents forbid her to study after three in the afternoon in case she becomes ‘too clever to be a wife’ when chastity, silence and obedience are what is asked for in a woman.

After Bett’s wedding, Ann hears that her father is planning on a marriage for her, but that in the meantime she is to be sent to London to learn to be a court lady in the dying years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. This must surely be a good thing, for Ann reads Ovid, and doesn’t the Virgin Queen do likewise?

She goes to live with her aunt and uncle, who is the Lord keeper of the Privy Seal at York House on The Strand. However, much to her aunt's agner, Ann rejects the suggestion she become a lady in waiting to the ageing Queen whose displays her jealousy of all younger women with staggering cruelly.

Despite that the man Sir George chooses for Ann, Mr Richard Manners is not unlikeable and seems bonded to Ann already, she has no wish to become betrothed to him. When her Aunt Elizabeth is ill with smallpox, Ann elects to stay and help nurse her. During these days when her movements are less restricted, she and John Donne meet in secret. Their love is strong, although at this stage still pure, but Sir George More, her father is incandescent with rage that a nobody like Donne should look at his daughter.

This story has all the elements of a doomed love, and with the might of Ann’s family ranged against her in her father and sisters, you wonder how this couple will ever be together. Ms Haran portrays the atmosphere and detailed elements of Elizabethan life wonderfully well with this book, reiterating the fact no one in Elizabethan England rose to any position without friends in high places, and could equally be brought down by those friends as well.

I am sure readers will suffer along with Ann as she is taken from her love and virtually incarcerated back at Loseley to be betrothed to Mr Manners. The fact this is a true story makes it all the more poignant as they are forced to enter into a secret marriage which spells the near ruin of both Ann and her intellectually superior husband.

John Donne, who went on to become Dean of St Pauls under the auspices of James I, summed up his personal situation in what, I hope, wasn’t a regretful phrase: "John Donne, Ann Donne, Undone."

1 comment:

Anne Whitfield - author said...

I'd like to read this book.
Sounds fascinating!
Thanks for the review.