Monday, September 7, 2009

The Prince and the Quakeress by Jean Plaidy

Whew! I have finally finished The Prince and the Quakeress by Jean Plaidy, the fourth book in her Georgian Saga. What a slog! I struggled with it for weeks. It didn't hold my attention for more than a chapter or two at a time. All of Plaidy's strengths -- easy-to-read prose, brisk pacing, and a knack for helping readers understand her characters -- seemed to desert her in this novel. At the same time, her weaknesses -- repetitive scenes, cursory treatment of important events and "tell-not-show" writing -- were very much in evidence.

The Prince and the Quakeress covers the life of George III as Prince of Wales and focuses mainly on his alleged first love affair with Hannah Lightfoot, a Quaker woman and niece of a linen draper. Historians disagree on whether the two ever were involved and whether George might have secretly married her or had children by her.

At 12, George becomes Prince of Wales, when his father Frederick dies soon after being struck in the head by a tennis ball. His mother, the Dowager Princess Augusta, takes a lover, Lord Bute, and together the two scheme to keep the future king dependent on them. At first their task is not difficult, as George is docile, easily manipulated and none too bright. But the young prince soon shows his stubbornness when it comes to matters of the heart.

He arranges to secretly meet Hannah Lightfoot after seeing her several times sitting in the window of her uncle's shop. When her family discovers their clandestine affair, they quickly marry her off to a grocer. However, George arranges to have her spirited from her family's home the day of the wedding to a grand townhouse, where the two continue their affair for years.

And ... that's really all there is to the story. Hannah is kept a virtual prisoner in the townhouse, afraid if she ever ventures out, her family will find her. Plaidy never fleshed out Hannah's character, and I never understood why she would give up her freedom for George, or even why she loved him, as she was quite a few years older than he.
Most of the book's scenes from this point on concerned one of the following events:
  • George and Hannah proclaim their undying love for one another while experiencing crippling guilt over their adulterous union.
  • Lord Bute and the Princess Augusta bemoan George's devotion to Hannah and scheme about how to bring him back under their control.
  • The king, George II, becomes angry with a family member or one of his ministers and gives a speech on the perfection of his late, lamented queen.
Plaidy barely mentioned William Pitt, the Great Commoner, who at this time was setting England on its course toward becoming a world power.

Finally, Lord Bute brings an end to George's affair with Hannah, determined the Prince will wed a German princess who cannot speak English and who would be unable to wrest control of George from himself and Princess Augusta. After George II obliges his family by finally succumbing to a stroke, young George briefly asserts he will marry Sarah Lennox, a vibrant, frivolous girl he has become infatuated with. But Lord Bute soon brings him to heel.

I really think Plaidy could have handled Hannah Lightfoot's story in a few chapters of a longer novel on George III, rather than basing nearly an entire book on it. Although The Prince and the Quakeress is my least favorite novel so far in the Georgian Saga, Plaidy did succeed in making me sympathize with young George. He really had no chance with all the wolves of court ringed around him. Essentially an honest, simple, loyal young man, he implicitly trusted those trying to manipulate him. He might have been much happier as a gentleman farmer, devoted to his wife and children, than as a prince and king.

My grade: D


Arleigh said...

Interesting! I experienced a similar dislike for The Murder in the Tower, on the court of James I and his favorites. I've been dying to read her novel on George III because I absolutely loved Indiscretions of the Queen and his role in it.

Felicia J. said...

Arleigh, I'm reading "The Third George" now and so far it's much better. I'm looking forward to getting to the books focusing on the Prince Regent.