The Dark Lady's Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare's Muse by Mary Sharratt
Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, eBook, Audio Book; 416 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.
London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.
Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.
The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.
This was a first of Mary Sharratt's books that I've read, and I can say quite enthusiastically that I am now a fan. The narrative language in the book was beautiful and poetic -- not to mention that there are actual poem's throughout. The banter witty, the storyline entertaining. There was a good mix of emotions throughout. Sadness, anger, laughter, love, and Ms. Sharratt did an excellent job of eliciting those emotions from me.
We first meet Aemilia as a young girl, trying to figure out where she belongs in her world (an ironic that later on she finds the place she thought she belonged the most is actually the place she feels most out of place). Her relationship with her father is loving and warm, as it appears at first to be with her mother and sister. When her sister marries, and the events that follow, sets a precedent for Aemilia on what a relationship should and shouldn't be, and it has a profound impact on many of the decisions that she makes. If not for her cousin Jasper sneaking her out of the house, dressed as a boy, to see her father perform in a play, and her father introducing her to the famous female poet at court, I don't think Aemilia would have felt empowered enough to go about her journey and reach for her dreams. She was hiding behind a mask long before she ever met Shakespeare. She's a woman not only trying to live in a man's world, but trying to break into a man's profession. It is not enough to be a famous poet, she wants to be a playwright, and luckily, her friendship with Shakespeare, initially, helps get her what she want, even if it is a veiled execution. (And I have to add, but the way, that I thought it quite hilarious Shakepeare's border in the beginning calls him Master Shakestaff. If that isn't an insult! There are so many little funny quips in this book!). But not all good things last... Fortunately for us, Aemilia is a driven, determined and risk taking woman. She was a feminist before her time--although I can't say she's the first, as for the years of her formative life she was exposed to one of the most powerful feminists of all time--Elizabeth I.
I was impressed with how smoothly and seamlessly Ms. Sharratt brought all the players into each other's world. About 1/3 of the way into the book, I was skipping to the back to read the author's note, because I was convinced that this was a true story, and I so very much wanted it to be. Her grasp of language, scenery, history, was amazing. I can't say enough good things about this book.
I highly recommend you add it to your TO BE READ list, because it was fantastic. It was a fast-paced read that I couldn't put down.
**Leave a comment for your chance to win a paperback copy of this book! Open to US residents only.**
“An exquisite portrait of a Renaissance woman pursuing her artistic destiny in England and Italy, who may — or may not — be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.”— MARGARET GEORGE, internationally bestselling author of Elizabeth I
“Perfectly chosen details and masterful characterization bring to life this swiftly moving, elegant story. As atmospheric and compelling as it is wise, The Dark Lady’s Mask is a gem not to be missed.”— LYNN CULLEN, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain’s End
“Mary Sharratt’s enchanting new novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask, is a richly imagined, intensely romantic and meticulously researched homage to lauded poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, an accomplished woman of letters who many believe to be Shakespeare’s Eternal Muse. Sharratt unfolds a captivating tale, a compelling ‘what if ’ scenario, of a secret union that fed the creative fires of England’s greatest poet and playwright.”— KATHLEEN KENT, bestselling author of The Heretic’s Daughter
“Mary Sharratt is a magician. This novel transports the reader to Elizabethan England with a tale of the bard and his love that is nothing short of amazing. Absorbing, emotional, historically fascinating. A work of marvelous ingenuity!”— M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of The Witch of Painted
“I enjoyed this exciting fantasy of Shakespeare’s ‘dark lady.’ There was adventure, betrayal, resilience, and above all, the fun notion that Shakespeare might have had far more than a muse to help him create his wonderful plays.”—KARLEEN KOEN, bestselling author of Dark Angels and Before Versailles
“Through the story of Aemilia Bassano, a talented musician and poet, Mary Sharratt deftly tackles issues of religious and gender inequality in a time of brutal conformity. The Dark Lady’s Mask beautifully depicts the exhilaration and pitfalls of subterfuge, a gifted woman’s precarious reliance on the desires of powerful men, and the toll paid by unrecognized artistic collaborators. Resonant and moving.”—MITCHELL JAMES KAPLAN, author of By Fire, By Water
“In The Dark Lady’s Mask, Mary Sharratt seduces us with a most tantalizing scenario —that the bold, cross-dressing poet and feminist writer Aemilia Bassano is Shakespeare’s mysterious muse, the Dark Lady. Romantic, heart-breaking, and rich in vivid historical detail and teeming Elizabethan life, the novel forms an elegant tapestry of the complexities, joys, and sorrows of being both a female and an artist.”—KAREN ESSEX, author of Leonardo’s Swans and Dracula in Love
“Mary Sharratt has created an enchanting Elizabethan heroine, a musician, the orphaned daughter of a Jewish Italian refugee who must hide her heritage for her safety. Taken up by powerful men for her beauty, Amelia has wit and daring and poetry inside her that will make her a match for young Will Shakespeare himself and yet she must hide behind many masks to survive in a world where women have as much talent as men but little power.”— STEPHANIE COWELL, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet
“Prepare to be swept away by Mary Sharratt’s latest foray into historical fiction. Inspired by the true story of poet, Aemilia Bassano, THE DARK LADY’S MASK explores her relationship with William Shakespeare. Richly detailed and well researched, this lush tale brings Aemilia out of the shadows of history and let’s her emerge as one of the founding mothers of literature. Drama, intrigue, and romance will have readers racing through this brilliant celebration of the muse.”— PAMELA KLINGER-HORN, Sales & Outreach Coordinator, Excelsior Bay Books
About the AuthorMARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.
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