Day 897: That Lady

Cover for That LadyThat Lady is another book I’ve read for my Classics Club list, and a good one it is, too. In the Preface to the novel, Kate O’Brien states that it is not a historical novel because, although all of the events are real, the scenes between characters are wholly imagined. But I would argue that this is the very definition of a historical novel, with the proviso that the author attempt to preserve the true nature of the peoples’ characters, if they are known. That Lady is based on a curious interaction between Philip II of Spain and Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli, that historians are still struggling to understand.

The novel begins in 1576, when Ana is a 36-year-old widow. Her husband was Ruy Gomez de Silva, Philip’s secretary of state. But Ruy has been dead for several years, and Ana has been living a retired life with her children on her country estate of Pastrana.

Philip comes to visit, however, and tells her he wishes her to return to Madrid. He and Ana have enjoyed friendship and a mild flirtation, and he misses her company.

Ana does not return to Madrid immediately, but she eventually does in the fall of 1577. There, she becomes reacquainted with Don Antonio Perez, her husband’s former protégé and friend, who is Philip’s current secretary of state.

Although Ana has heretofore been a virtuous woman, she begins an affair with Perez, partially because she realizes she has done nothing of her own volition for years. This relationship eventually becomes a complication in a political battle.

This novel is primarily a character study of a fascinating woman and to a lesser extent of Philip II, whose poor government of Spain has stricken with poverty the inhabitants of what was at the time the wealthiest country in the world. It is also a very interesting study of the politics of the region of Castille.

At first, I found it difficult to grasp Ana’s character, but the novel centers on her strong sense of principle and protection of her privacy. It is also about the tension between her religious beliefs and her principles. That is, having committed herself, she refuses to abandon her lover when he is in trouble, even to save her soul or her life.

That Lady is a powerful novel about an unusual, strong woman who struggles against the restrictions of her life based on sex and station. I highly recommend it. By the way, the picture on the cover above is of a painting of the actual lady.

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11 thoughts on “Day 897: That Lady

  1. Naomi May 9, 2016 / 4:19 pm

    This sounds interesting! Maybe I live under a rock, but I’ve never heard of her.

    • whatmeread May 10, 2016 / 10:03 am

      I think this is another one I read about in Classics Club.

  2. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review May 9, 2016 / 8:05 pm

    Sounds like the lady is as intriguing as her portrait. I wonder what O’Brien’s definition of historical fiction would be, if not this?

    • whatmeread May 10, 2016 / 10:05 am

      Some of the historical novelists from earlier times who write about actual people seem to be trying so hard to keep to what is known about those people that their fiction loses all its character. I’m thinking of Georgette Heyer, for example, whose historical novels based on real people are a little more lifeless than her historical fiction with made-up characters. Maybe she’s thinking of something like that, that it should only be based on known incidents.

      • Lory @ Emerald City Book Review May 10, 2016 / 6:26 pm

        Whereas these days, some people who are writing supposed “nonfiction” seem to have no problem inventing scenes and incidents involving real people. The lines do get blurry…

      • whatmeread May 11, 2016 / 7:36 am

        True. I think you have to invent scenes if you’re going to do effective historical fiction, but you need to make an effort to keep the characters of the actual people as close to what they were as possible, if it is known.

  3. Helen May 10, 2016 / 3:00 am

    This sounds like a historical novel to me, however the author might have described it! I don’t know anything about Ana de Mendoza so I’m definitely interested in reading this book.

    • whatmeread May 10, 2016 / 10:06 am

      Oh, yes, it definitely is. I just thought her comment was interesting. This is a great book.

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