Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"I Left My Heart In San Franscisco . . ." or So the Song Goes . . .

First, many thanks to Tracy for the invitation to be a guest blogger today. I am enroute from San Francisco where I and the hubby and one of our granddaughters spent a couple of days. I knew this day was coming up, but Tracy knows that I never travel without my laptop and I rarely if ever stay at a motel without WiFi. So I am sharing this as a "wandering one."

While we were moving across San Fransciso Bay on one of the bay cruisers, I was think about what I might write what could possibly of any interest to blog enthusiasts at DIK. As we were circling Alcatraz, believe it or not I was thinking about the hundreds of inmates that had resided there during its heydey and what it must have been like. I think often that being in any kind of confinement must be made so much worse because of the lack of -- get this -- books. I know we live in an electronic age with our TV's and Wii's and such, but I am delighted to see what I believe is a resurgence of interest in reading. For lots of us it is delight in all kinds of books. I am a romance and mystery story junkie -- have been for years. I thought back over the hundreds of books I have read through my life and as always, I come up with a few that really got me "hooked" on romance all those decades ago.

Anya Seton was an author of a number of books, a few of which were made into very successful movies in the 50's and 60's. A number of her novels are classified at "gothic." Dragonwyk is one that was made during what is now called the Golden Age of Hollywood. But the novel that hooked me and still resides on my shelf and which calls out to me every few years is a HUGE historical romance entitled Katherine. Now one aspect of historical fiction where Seton excelled is research, and she has pulled it off in spades in this work. It is the true story of John, Duke of Lancaster, the favorite son of his father the King of England, and his mistress of 10 years, Katherine de Roet Swynford. They lived in the 14th & 15th centuries and it is John's son Henry, battling with his cousins over the throne of England, who in later years were responsible for that dastardly event known as the War of the Roses (a real war between the Lancaster branch and the York branch of the English royalty, not the movie about a divorcing couple. The Lancasters always wore red roses while the York branch favored white roses).

John & Katherine's love story is the kind that lights up the skies with its breadth and intensity. It is marked with the darkness of murder -- one of the duke's retainers, knowing that Katherine would not come to the duke's bed because she was married to one of the duke's knights, Sir Hugh Swynford, managed to secretly cause Sir Hugh's death in such a way that it was believed that Sir Hugh died of his wounds in a local conflict in France. Thus Katherine was free to be wooed and won by the Duke who was himself married, but on his side of things, what did that matter? In fact, over the years that they were together, the duke was married twice due to the death of his first wife.

Katherine bore four children to Lord John as well as bearing two children who were born before her affair. It seems almost a cliche to say that she was a person of conscience -- very religious in her own way -- and her relationship with the duke never ceased to rankle in her deepest being. When the Savoy Palace, her residence when with the duke, burned to the ground and her oldest legitimate child was missing, she took it as God's judgment for the 10 years she had lived "in sin" and left the duke's side and his bed. She searched for her daughter for years, even after returning to her husband's holdings and his castle which she was holding in trust for his son which she bore prior to her affair. The duke went on to father a daughter with his second duchess, a princess of Spain, but this spouse also died, leaving the duke a widower once more.

Out of the blue, Katherine received a messenger from John of Lancaster, requesting that he be allowed to visit her. They had not spoken or communicated for over 20 years at this point. His request upended her, upset her, overwhelmed her, and caused her no small amount of resentment that her hard-won tranquility and her now-calm life were once again in turmoil because of this "invasion" from the past. This upset was, in large part, due to her realization that she still loved him. After a great deal of thought and conferring with her confessor, she agreed to see John. He shocked her by informing her that he had been a busy guy. Having never stopped loving her and desiring to be with her now that his second wife was gone, he proposed marriage to her. She was shocked and almost beyond knowing what to say until he shared with her the news that he had done what all royals knew how to do in those days: he pulled lots of strings to the end that all four of their children -- three sons and a daughter -- were to be declared legitimate, thus being acknowledged by him, and given new opportunities for futures of their choice and certainly good marriages. As an additional gift, her oldest daughter, the one she believed had perished in the Savoy fire, was found to have run from that horror at the age of 14, been found by a group of Cistercian nuns, and had taken her in as an orphan. She was unable to speak and had lost her hearing because of some injuries in that fire. So she had not indicated her relationship to Katherine until she learned of her mother's marriage to the duke. She then realized that her mother's relationship had been legitimatized, her half siblings were now acknowledged, and she felt that she could reveal her relationship to her Mother Superior. Because of this she was able to spend an entire day with her mother. It seems that Katherine's "cup" was running over.

History tells us that John and Katherine married and reclaimed their love. They were together for the final four years of John's life. Their passion was still there, but it was no longer the hectic, frantic passion that was enacted in secret places. Rather, it was the joyous reunion of two people whose lives had been brutalized by the times and the politics of royalty, but whose love had endured. It was now the generous sharing of hours and days that each had never thought would be theirs. Surrounded by their children and those of Sir Hugh, they formed a truly loving family right up until the end of John's life and the years beyond. Katherine could look back on a life that had finally been graced with the best that love can bring.

I have to re-read this story every so often. It is the kind of story that never seems to lose its hold on my imagination and my heart. Seton's writing is so "above and beyond" that just her telling of this magnificent love story makes me wish that there was an Epilogue, and an Epilogue to the Epilogue, and so forth. So a keep it around so that every couple of years, I revisit those wonderful places and that distant time just to remind myself that love is love and people need it, no matter their station in life, their financial or social prominence, or their relationship to powerful people. In a world where love is so often trivialized and where abuse and obsession are often substituted for true affection and regard, it is good to know that in the morass of human history, in the mess people make of personal lives and political alliances, people can love and be loved from the depth where only true love can reside.

Many thanks for allowing me to share this remarkable story. And by the way, I really didn't leave my heart in San Francisco -- althought I love that city to distraction! It is a great place to visit and I wouldn't really mind living there. But my heart is already given away -- to my hubby of many years, my three gorgeous daughters and son, and of course, those six great grandkids who keep on bringing delight and showers of hugs and kisses into my life.

My best to you all . . . Dr. J.

(You can read more from Judith at Dr J's Book Place)

3 comments:

Tracy said...

Those are six "fabulous" grandkids...just to specify. You don't have any great grandkids yet! lol

I know I've had this book on my shelf for forever and I really need to read it. Thanks for the review - it was a good one.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Have you ever read Green Darkness by Seton? I read that book when I was a teen. Very emotional tale.

Mame Burkett said...

I absolutely Love Katherine! It was that book that set my reading tastes for the rest of my life. I have read every Anya Seton book! Great review.
Green Darkness was ahead of it's time. Paranormal suspenseful romance. I recommend it highly!

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