C.'s Reviews > The Darling Strumpet

The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell
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Sep 23, 11

bookshelves: historical, historical-restoration
Read from September 20 to 23, 2011 — I own a copy

Now this was the novel about Nell Gwyn I was waiting for!

The Darling Strumpet is definitely a gritty, unapologetic version of the story, with no prettying up or trying to reinvent history. She is, no question, a whore. And, while Bagwell doesn’t flinch away from some of the nastier elements of the profession (including disease, alcoholism, beatings, and rape), Nell comes to quite enjoy aspects of her life between the sheets — particularly once she’s servicing delightfully decadent noblemen rather than common folk. The line between prostitute and mistress is drawn in silk, but it also comes with a lot more security, both physical and financial. Bagwell presents Nell’s sex life vividly and without judgment, and I loved that Bagwell was willing to go to some saucier places, to indulge so fully in the libidinous excesses of the time period. The morals (or, perhaps, lack thereof) embraced and celebrated in the wake of the Protectorate were not nearly so straight-laced as we tend to think of English history (nor, come to it, as our own). Bagwell presents the world of Restoration London in all its dubious glory: gilt-edged and soot-stained at the same time.

My major criticism of this book is that Bagwell doesn’t quite seem know what to do with action sequences. Her sections on the plague and the Great Fire lack some punch, which is a shame, because those are two major events in this time period, and they have a lot of dramatic potential. Bagwell sort of rushes through them. There are also places where the story feels a bit disjointed. She’s much better with character than with plot, and the personal bits — the interactions between characters, the internal contemplations — are where this story shines. She also includes a great many of the popular anecdotes and witty quips attributed to Nell, but they don’t always fit in neatly with the narrative. Sometimes it feels like she was shoehorning them in, either because she liked them too much to leave them out or because she thought they were expected.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed The Darling Strumpet. It’s refreshingly honest about both history and human sexuality, and it covers its topic quite nicely.

Full review at the Incurable Bluestocking.
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09/20/2011 page 52
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