Figures in Silk, by Vanora Bennett

figuresThis was an absolutely captivating historical novel, set in the Wars of the Roses era but featuring behind-the-scenes middle class characters rather than the royalty and nobility whose stories are so familiar from that era (although they do make a appearances as well).

The main character in Figures in Silk is Isabel Shore, sister of Edward IV’s mistress Jane Shore.  Like Jane, Isabel is a London girl who becomes entangled in the affairs (literally) of her betters through a chance encounter with Richard, Duke of Gloucester.  Dedicated Ricardians may be put off by the picture of Richard this novel paints, but he is a  much more complex character here than he usually is in the hands of either his admirers or his detractors.

The real heart of the novel, though, is the life of a working woman in London in those days. And by “working woman,” no, I don’t mean a woman of easy virtue — I mean a woman who worked for a living in one of the many trades practiced by women during the period.  Isabel works in what we would call today the textile industry — she is trained in silk embroidery, but her real interest is in helping establish silk-making as a trade in London. The involvement of Isabel, her mother-in-law, and the other women they work with, not just in the craft itself but in the business and politics surrounding it, gives us a fascinating glimpse into the lives of women in this era.

Unfortunately, Vanora Bennett did not do my favourite thing for a historical fiction author to do, which is to provide an Afterword explaining the historical basis for her fiction.  From the research I have been able to do on my own since putting down this completely engaging book, I gather that Isabel must be a fictional character, since very little is known about Jane Shore’s family.  But the depiction of London life at that time, and of the working lives of women in an era I know little about, was absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend this book (though uncritical admirers of Richard III should beware!)

5 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- historical

5 responses to “Figures in Silk, by Vanora Bennett

  1. This looks like it would be worth picking up. I agree with you on the author’s note…it’s almost madatory for any good historical fiction. But I like the fact that it seems to portray the characters as multi-dimensional…I can’t stand it when they’re written as entirely good or completely evil.

  2. Catherine

    Vanora Bennett has put the information that you would have liked to have seen in an Afterword on her website:

    http://www.vanorabennett.com/pages/books/figures_in_silk/inspiration.htm

    There’s lots there, including a long list of books and articles for further reading.

  3. Jolene

    I too loved this book–I “read” it on Audible, and that version did include the Afterword, which I agree, is one of my favorite parts of any historical!!

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