Review Blog

May 12 2011

Just a Girl by Jane Caro

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University of Quensland Press, 2011. ISBN 9780702238802.
(Ages 11+) Historical. Highly recommended. Elizabeth, daughter of Ann Boleyn and Henry V111, sits in the Tower of London on the eve of her coronation and recalls her turbulent life. Caro is able to tell her story simply but is also able to include the reader in the terrible intrigue and power struggles that were the hallmarks of the Tudor dynasty.
The major players in this struggle are very familiar to an older audience, but not so to the younger readership and Caro is able to introduce the characters without a hint of condesention. We are able to understand the underlying reasons behind behaviors, though they seem outragous to us now. The desire to have an heir to safely and smoothly continue the government and dynasty of the Tudors is uppermost in Henry's mind and it is this which puts his children in conflict with one another as well as their father.
Elizabeth's relationship with her father is explained in a way which gives insight to the behaviors of both. Her relationship with her sister Mary Tudor is as unpredictable as any of those at court who may be in favour at one time but will find themselves in the Tower the next. Elizabeth learns quickly not to trust anyone completely and decides, according to Caro, that she will not marry. She is wary of the great families who would try to use her to gain power, as they did with her cousin Lady Jane Grey. She is also welll aware of the perils that marriage brings. Any future husband would use her postion to gain power for himself and establish a dynasty for his own family. Elizabeth has also seen the dangers inherent in childbirth especially with the example of Jane Seymour.
Elizabeth came to understand the problems that occured when the succession to the throne was disputed or subject to regency, such as that of her young half brother Edward V1. She could also see the problem from the other side, where the succession was crystal clear and gave the plotters and power seekers someone to focus their attention on.
Caro certainly leaves no question that Elizabeth was lucky to inheret the throne. Her times in and out of favour; labelled as a bastard, imprisoned in the Tower or Woodstock, or at court having to watch every word and action in case it gave courtiers or the monarch reason to doubt her loyalty, would have broken most in her position. Just a Girl is a very readable historical fiction even though you know the outcomes. We are given an insight into Elizabeth that provides empathy and understanding.
Mark Knight

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