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Book description
There is no truer Cinderella-story than Nell Gwynne (several spellings of her last name are used). Her life was a pure rags-to-riches story with a dose of romanticism rising from the slums to the bed of King Charles II. England’s favorite mistress (and mine too!) is portrayed in Derek Parker’s, “Nell Gwyn”.Sadly, “Nell Gwyn” is immediately spoiled with Parker’s firm conviction that Nell was basically a prostitute (with Parker even briefly mentioning the state of prostitution in England during her time). This is a negative foothold to both Nell the woman and “Nell Gwyn” the book. Parker doesn’t ever truly shake this boxed-in stereotype throughout the text which leaves those unfamiliar with Nell with a very one-dimensional viewpoint. Also odd (and creepy) is Parker’s tone when concerning Nell (and her female contemporaries) which is almost lecherous and makes the reader suspect that Parker was ‘turned-on’ when writing about these females. To say the least, this is a turn off to the reader. Despite these immediate complaints, “Nell Gwyn” is well-written in terms of language, pace, and accessibility. The book is easy-to-follow and understandable. However, the big – and I mean BIG – problem is that “Nell Gwyn” is barely about Nell. The text is more of a summary view of the social life of King Charles II: his queen, his mistresses, friends, etc. Parker strays on many tangents which is probably due to the lack of enough information regarding Nell. These topics are interesting; but don’t title a book “Nell Gwyn” if it is hardly about her. In line with this, “Nell Gwyn” is full of speculative statements and assumptions. Parker apparently knows what and how Nell felt/thought. This compounds the fact that “Nell Gwyn” is hardly a strong look into her life. The reader simply does not come away with any real insight into her psyche or character. Much of “Nell Gwyn” focuses on Nell’s theater career with snippets/quotes from her plays and a look at her colleagues. This will satisfy those readers seeking a look at Nell’s professional career which was somewhat sidelined during her role as the King’s mistress. It isn’t until the final quarter of “Nell Gwyn” that Parker begins to open the window a bit more on Nell. Even then, she is still background and not predominately displayed. The amount of her essence which comes through is almost mimicry. Parker strengthens “Nell Gwyn” in the concluding chapter with a more in-depth look surrounding Nell’s spending and death which flow into a sum-up of the other mistresses. This is not the most unique feature of the book, however. This is instead attributed to the appendices containing such features as Nell’s birth chart, a bill for her bedstead, and poems. These are unique to “Nell Gwyn” as I have not seen these included in other Nell books. “Nell Gwyn” also contains notes (mildly annotated) and a bibliography for those who seek to read further on the subject. Parker’s “Nell Gwyn” is a fast read and not terribly written; thus not being a poor choice if one seeks a thin volume on the subject. The problem is that Nell is barely highlighted within the text which instead is more of a recital of some well-known facts. Nell’s true self is not revealed and nothing new is learned. “Nell Gwyn” is only suggested for those brand-spanking new to Nell. If you know anything about her or of the mistresses of King Charles II- anything at all- then “Nell Gwyn” will waste your time.
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