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Andrea Chapin – The Tutor

August 17, 2015

42. The Tutor by Andrea Chapin (2015)

Length: 272 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 16 July 2015
Finished: 19 July 2015

Where did it come from? Book Depository.
Why do I have it? Book club pick.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 09 June 2015.

Can Kate trust her heart
to a man who bandies with
words for a living?

Summary: Katherine De L’isle is a young widow who has lived with her Uncle Edward’s family since she was orphaned at a young age, and returned there after the death of her elderly husband. Katherine’s well-educated, spirited, and free to spend her time caring for her younger cousins or engaging in her favorite past-time, reading. But in 1590, the world at Lufanwal Hall is turned upside down. The family, whose Catholicism has been outlawed by Queen Elizabeth, is forced to send Sir Edward abroad for his own safety, and without his calming presence, things start to disintegrate. However, Katherine only barely notices; she’s become enamored of the new tutor, a glove-maker’s son from Stratford, relatively uneducated but with a quick wit and a ready pen from which pours forth some of the most engaging poetry she’s ever heard. Will seems drawn to her as much as she is drawn to him, calling her his muse as they work together on a poem of Venus and Adonis, but how much can she trust this relative stranger in their midst, and how well does his honeyed tongue match what’s actually in his heart?

Review: I consider myself a bit of a Shakespeare buff – I love his plays, and I love reading about him and his works, both fiction and non-fiction. So when the front cover of this book has the blurb “To write about love, first Shakespeare must fall in love…”, I figured I would love this book. Unfortunately, though, I wound up being somewhat disappointed, primarily because I don’t think that blurb at all describes what the book’s about. Shakespeare’s works still resonate today because of his powerful understanding of human behavior and emotion, as much as because of the poetry of his writing, so I was hoping this book would provide a depiction of how an otherwise average young man came by such extraordinary insight. But it doesn’t, and so I was left feeling a pretty strong disconnect, and not feeling as though this depiction of Shakespeare could have possibly written the plays that convey such a depth of feeling. (I’d like to note that this is not just a case of hero-worship being slighted – or at least I don’t think it is. I don’t mind the portrayal of Shakespeare as less-than-perfect, and I’d argue that this version of his character is actually quite believable. What bothered me was the whole “Shakespeare in Love” romance vibe the book’s marketing tries to give off, when that was not at all what was delivered by the story itself.)

Kate’s story is an interesting one, and I’m glad she was the primary focus of the book. However, the writing style didn’t always work in its favor. There were a number of sub-plots and themes that are brought up, forgot entirely while Kate moons over Will for the bulk of the book, and then either never come up again or are resolved so quickly as to feel like afterthoughts. The book starts out with the murder of the family priest, there’s the whole Catholic vs. Protestant angle, there’s some poisonings, there’s household and family drama, there’s a profusion of secondary and tertiary characters that are mostly underdeveloped, there’s a strange scene featuring two unnamed men kissing on a rooftop, there’s a prodigal son who returns late in the book to much fanfare but relatively little effect, and quite a lot of it is left unresolved, or at best, hastily wrapped up. The writing also didn’t feel entirely smooth – largely it was fine, but there were some passages that felt like they were only there to show off some detail that Chapin had learned about life in the late sixteenth century, rather than being organically incorporated into the story.

I know that I sound like I’m coming down hard on this book, but the truth is, I did enjoy reading it. Katherine’s a good protagonist, the story moves along briskly, and it served very well for engaging escapist vacation reading. It’s just that I was hoping to be wowed by it, so when it turned out to only be good, not great, it was kind of a let down. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It’s certainly a different take on Shakespeare than I’d read before, so for that reason it might be worth checking out for other Shakespeare fans. If what you’re after is Shakespeare in Love, however, I’d recommend something more along the lines of Mistress Shakespeare (or re-watching the movie, which is what I intend to do.)

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Other Reviews: The Inconvenient Past, She Reads Novels, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
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First Line: Flies were at him, but the larger animals hadn’t gotten there yet.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 2: “Now she wished that weeks ago the young man with the chiseled chin had burned the forbidden chasuble and fled – that he’d gone to France, Italy, Spain or the Low Countries on the North Sea.” – A long sleeveless vestment worn over the alb by a priest during services.
  • p. 24: ““The barber in our town drue teeth, bound wounds, let blood, cut hair, trimmed, washed and shaved, but a lute and a cittern hung on his walls and virginals stood in the corner of his shop.”” – A 16th-century guitar with a flat, pear-shaped body; A small, legless rectangular harpsichord popular in the 1500s and 1600s.
  • p. 56-57: “In the last fortnight, three leas of wheat, ready for reaping, had been swallowed by fires.” – A grassland; a meadow.
  • p. 76: ““He’s never been a king, but he’s been a trader of corn, wool, malt, meat, skins and leather, a glover, yes, a husbandman, a butcher, a plaintiff and a defendant in suits, a creditor, a debtor, a debtee, an ale-taster, a bread-taster, a burgess, a petty constable, an affeeror, a borough chamberlain, an alderman, a baliff, a chief alderman, an overseer, a litigator, ah, and yes, a father.”” – A member of the English Parliament who once represented a town, borough, or university; From the 15th to the 18th century, an affeeror was an English civil servant who could reduce arbitrary fines or amercements to a reasonable level.
  • p. 78: ““And you may call me Katherine. Will you are dressed very . . .” she began. “Taffety?” he said.” – Variant of “taffeta”, so as an adjective it probably means fancy/shiny.
  • p. 84: “She wore no partlet, no ruff or collar, but a cross with emeralds rested just above her breasts.” – A collared, usually ruffled covering for the neck and shoulders, popular in Europe in the 1500s and worn especially by women.
  • p. 85: “The eel, pike, brill and turbot arrived from the kitchens, followed by pigeons, larks and quail.” – An edible flatfish (Scophthalmus rhombus) of the eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea.
  • p. 87: “Katherine glanced at Matilda to see what her reaction was to the doeskin soles of Ursula’s velvet pantofles stepping and stumbling upon Edward’s newly upholstered chair.” – any light, low-cut shoe into which the foot may be easily slipped, for wear in the home, for dancing, etc.
  • p. 126: “The queen’s injunctions and liturgy in 1559, the same year of Katherine’s birth, tried to put an end to official ceremonies for the dead, but in Lancashire tindles were still lit…”” – A name given locally to small fires lighted out of doors at the beginning of May and November.
  • p. 134: “At the center of this boisterous group was a woman locked onto a cucking stool – a wooden chair constructed to look like the chamber pot it was named after.” – A chair formerly used to punish offenders, in which a person was tied and exposed to public derision or ducked in water. (“Cucking” on its own is apparently related to the term “cuckold.”)
  • p. 214: “The last time Lufanwal was raided, the pursuivants took two days to search every nook and cranny, slighting furniture and any object, be it lantern or painting or looking glass, that stood in their way.” – a heraldic officer of the lowest class, ranking below a herald.
  • p. 256: “_______ did not wear a chasuble or a black cope.” – A long ecclesiastical vestment worn over an alb or surplice.
  • p. 274: “Katherine continued the pleasant persiflage with the earl and Ferdinando, yet her eyes searched the tables below for Will among the rows of merrymakers.” – Light good-natured talk; banter.
  • p. 283: “Katharine danced with Ferdinando, who was easy to spot because his only change in garb was the addition of a jewel-encrusted vizard from the Orient.” – a means of disguise; mask; visor.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Maya Panika permalink
    August 17, 2015 9:00 am

    Sounds very intriguing. I’m not so interested in Shakey in love as I am about his history as a (supposed) tutor at Houghton Tower (which is right on my own doorstep, I know it well – and wonder why Andrea Chapin chose to change it?) and I love a little historical domestic detail so this sounds right up my street. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention.

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