This time it's 17th-century England for versatile historical-novelist Wright. And the closely worked narration molds...



This time it's 17th-century England for versatile historical-novelist Wright. And the closely worked narration molds fictional curlicues around an obscure factual incident: the savage execution of Harry Cornish, a leader of London's merchant community opposing the authoritarian measures of James II. The bulk of the tale, however, concerns Harry's beloved Arabella, daughter of goldsmith Robert Sterling--whose Cheapside shop abuts that of goldsmith/banker/alderman Cornish. Cornish's son Harry has been wooing prideful, independent Arabella since her childhood, and eventually the two will have nights of love which will result in Arabella's pregnancy. But when Arabella is orphaned by plague and her property is razed by the great London fire, she becomes determined to climb upwards from Cheapside and restore her family's business. She bargains a marriage with that cool, wily ""pander"" to King Charles, Lord Wexworth. And once she recovers from the birth of baby Adam (whom she coolly boards out of sight), she sleeps around Court as a pillow spy. There's certainly plenty to spy on--especially the anti-Catholic, anti-Stuart forces, brilliantly led by Lord Shaftesbury, Arabella's sometime lover and friend. But after Wexworth's death, Arabella settles down with a soldier lover and even takes in young Adam, a pinched, undersized youngster with a quick intelligence. And it's then that the historical Harry re-enters the picture: he and Arabella become lovers again, while Harry is in the forefront of the merchants' battle against James II (who would rescind their centuries-old Charter). Harry will be persecuted, tried, and savagely killed. . . while son Adam, half-mad with grief and bitter toward a neglectful mother, scrabbles away alone until he gains respectability, wealth, and a lovely wife. Wright has carefully chronicled the fortunes of London's guilds and merchants under the Stuarts, and in an afterword she speculates on Cornish's possible links with Monmouth's rebellion. All in all, it doesn't exactly sing--but there's a worthy rumble of authenticity.

Pub Date: June 5, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1981