Historical Fiction: Plain Jane, by Laurien Gardner

Plain Jane

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jane Seymour was the third wife of Henry VIII, and the one most ignored by historical fiction writers. In Plain Jane, Laurien Gardner rectifies that situation. The result is a rather simplistic picture of Jane’s time at court as lady in waiting to Henry’s first and second wives, and of her brief marriage during which she gave birth to the long awaited heir. Because Jane died shortly after producing the prince, we’ll never know how this third marriage would have fared.

Gardner does a creditable job trying to fill in the blanks that comprise Jane’s personal history, and the basic facts in her telling of events seem accurate. The plot is straightforward, and dialogue is realistic and free from glaring anachronism. Where this book falls short is in its characterizations of the main players. Anne Boleyn is the consummate other woman, selfish, arrogant, and demanding, with no redeeming features. Henry is an overgrown child, selfish, judgmental and petulant. As for Jane, it’s difficult to believe she could have risen so far had she been as simple and insecure as portrayed; hardly a page can be turned without her constant ruminations on her “plainness”, and she spends a full two thirds of the story huddling in one corner or another, embroidering, while all the other courtiers make merry around her. The exception to this pattern occurs after the royal marriage, when Jane begins to wonder whether she will be able to escape the fates of her predecessors, because although Henry proclaims his devotion to her, he his vindictive side begins to emerge. Toward the end, she feels a sense of sisterhood with Katherine and Anne.

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