Saturday, April 13, 2013

Magic Optional: Medieval Women and the War of Roses

When I was in college, I took a class on medieval women, the first of two classes I took on the topic (the other one was in grad school) and the first of two that I hated. I hated the one in grad school because the professor was demanding without explaining her expectations and lowered your grade drastically for what most professors see as minor offenses, such as not always following consistent citation styles in weekly short responses. It wasn't just me, either. 90% of the class hated it, and nearly everyone had at least one come-to-Jesus meeting with the professor.

The one in undergrad, though, I hated for the exact opposite reasons. It was a 300-level class that was a partnership between the English department and, I think, history, which means that people in there knew how to write. Despite this, our professor treated us like high schoolers. Before our first paper was due, we had a session on the structure of a paragraph, and how to write a basic thesis statement. I wanted to die of boredom, and quickly losing all respect for her and her teaching, began to half-ass that class like I had no other.

The worst example of this was my paper on Margaret d'Anjou. I did all of my research for the paper as I was writing it the day it was due (it was due by midnight). I remember sitting there, books in my lap, frantically looking for quotes and facts to include in the paper. By 8:30, I was on page 8, and it was supposed to be a 5-7 page paper. I was halfway through the war, and I was worried about when the building where my professor's office was would close. So I rewrote the intro, whipped up a conclusion, and just stopped. Still got an A-, with the only criticism being "I don't understand why you stopped where you did."

Given this utter lack of effort, it's not surprising that I remembered very little of the history described in Philippa Gregory's The Lady of the Rivers. The plot revolves around Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, Margaret's close friend and handmaid to the queen. To be honest, the plot was interesting, and I respect Gregory's research into Jacquetta (she was a real person who was in the center of the action, but has rarely been written about. At least according to the addendum at the end of the novel), but the characters themselves were a little flat. Jacquetta was too good, seemingly never conflicted or tempted to truly do anything wrong. The closest she comes is when she thinks she is responsible for a curse on the king, but that is glossed over. She dabbles in magic, which mainly seems to allow her to see minor bits of the future and predict if she is having a boy or a girl, but as soon as her husband asks her to stop, she does. Margaret is petty and strong and whiney, seemingly only driven by a need for revenge against those she thinks have done her wrong. She never seems to advance beyond the political understanding of a 15 year old, which I think does her a bit of an injustice. The king is watery, and nothing else.

I know I've read other books by Philippa Gregory, but I'm honestly have a hard time remembering those, making me suspect that this book, like the facts from my oh-so-hurried paper, will quickly vanish into the depths of my memory.

No comments: