Thursday, 8 March 2012

"She-Wolves" - Helen Castor

Since finishing the first of Anita Roddick's autobiographies, I've made my way through a piece of fiction (One Day by David Nicholls) and am back on the biographies with an account of George Mueller's life - "All Things Are Possible" by A.T. Pierson, first published in 1901. I'm not a very faithful reader: I oscillate between not reading anything to having multiple non-fiction books on the go. In addition to the Mueller biography (which I started in around spring 2010), I'm also enjoying the book pictured above.

"She-Wolves: the Women who Ruled England Before Elizabeth" by Helen Castor fascinates me on a number of levels. First, it's just miraculous that Castor has managed to write about distant history in a way that captures my attention. Despite being a believer in the value of the past, I've often struggled with historical accounts, getting bogged down in the dates and details, losing the humanity. With Helen Castor's writing, that's not remotely possible: she weaves names and events into a seamless narrative, making for an easy read without abandoning intellect. 

The second fascinating thing for me about this book is that it gives centre stage to lives that were seen as sub-plots and anomalies by chroniclers at the time. Reading it makes me feel something like archeologists must feel when they unearth new evidence to support old hunches about an ancient civilisation. In this case, my hunch has always been that mainstream history is, at best, only half the story. This book proves that, shedding light on areas that have previously been overshadowed.

And the other striking thing about "She-Wolves" is just how current these stories from the 1100s onwards are. From coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee to the reoccurring discussions surrounding female leadership in the corporate sphere, the themes of this book are entirely relevant to modern dialogue. Maybe that's why the BBC have decided to make a series of the same title, presented by Helen Castor and based on the book. It's definitely part of the reason why I'm watching it.

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