Read Crown of Aloes by Norah Lofts Free Online
Book Title: Crown of Aloes|
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Reader ratings: 3.6
The author of the book: Norah Lofts
Edition: Doubleday Books
Date of issue: December 31st 1974
ISBN 13: 9780385032209
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 9.98 MB
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Veteran historical novelist Lofts here turns her hand to retelling the life story of Queen Isabella of Castile (ca. 1451-1504), in a novel cast as the first-person narration of the dying queen as she looks back on her life --and it was, in real-life, one filled with the kind of drama that can easily make the stuff of exciting fiction. Born to a king's second wife, she was only third in line for the throne, behind a half brother and a younger brother, and spent her formative years in virtual exile. The family dynamics were spectacularly dysfunctional; the succession to the throne was disputed in a long civil war, her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon was not sanctioned by her half brother, and much of her early reign was taken up by wars and civil unrest, in which she had her share of danger. Her married life wasn't always smooth sailing, and the relationships in the family they produced could easily have been compared to those dramatized in modern-day soap operas. All of the facts of the story are real, and exhaustively researched from documented history (the Author's Note credits Frieda Lund with the actual research, which included not only secondary sources but three Spanish-language primary accounts, by Isabella's personal secretary and other household officials). Loft's own contribution is the reconstruction of unrecorded private conversations and scenes, and the attribution of inner thoughts and motives; but even here, the speculation is plausibly extrapolated from fact, and the view of the Queen and other characters is consistent with the way they were regarded by their contemporaries. (The narrative voice is so deft that the reader tends to slip into the assumption that it actually IS Isabella's, rather than the author's.)
Though I'm a history major, I'm an American reader with no particular knowledge of Spanish history; most of this story was new to me, and I learned more about the history of the period than I ever did in my college classes. Going into the book, I had a rather unfavorable impression of Isabella as a bigoted Catholic zealot who was responsible for the particular savagery of the Spanish Inquisition and for expelling the Jews and Moslems from Spain. Based on her knowledge of the available facts, Lofts makes a very plausible case that the real principal responsibility for these outrages rests with others, particularly Father Torquemada who served as the queen's confessor before he was put in charge of the Inquisition (just as other writers have convincingly argued that the real architect of the religious persecutions under her unfairly-nicknamed granddaughter "Bloody" Mary was the latter's Lord Chancellor, Bishop Gardiner). Isabella's faith comes across here as very constructive and genuine (and like any other believer's, severely tried in the crucible by her own experience of family tragedy). Overall, my regard and respect for her has increased enormously, in light of her documented consideration for others, efforts to improve the lot of the weak and unfortunate, and demonstrated striving to rule wisely and justly. Personally, I'd now rank her as one of the best of Europe's medieval monarchs.
American readers' principal impression of Isabella is usually her association with the first voyage of Christopher Columbus, which is invariably depicted as being preceded by intense debate in the royal court (usually fictitiously pictured as between benighted medieval louts who insisted the world is flat vs. the genius Columbus, who alone realized that it's round), with the balance dramatically tilted by Isabella's famous offer to pawn her jewels to finance the voyage. IF there was any debate, it would not have been over the roundness of the earth, which all educated people had recognized since antiquity; it would have been over the SIZE of the earth, which was also known since antiquity, but which Columbus stubbornly insisted was only about half what it actually is. (Wooden ships can't carry enough water to sustain a crew long enough to sail by wind power in a straight line from Spain to Asia; the crew would die of thirst about halfway over!) But in Lofts' portrayal --which, be it noted, is based on the actual historical records-- there's no indication of any serious debate at all, except over the question of whether or not Spain could afford the three ships. (And there's no mention of the offer to pawn the jewels, which suggests that this tale is probably about as "historical" as the anecdote about Washington and the cherry tree!)
All in all, this is another excellent piece of historical fiction from an able artist in the genre. I've sometimes said that I don't like historical fiction about real people as much as I do fiction about invented characters set in the past. Or perhaps I just think that's the case. But in any event, this novel was an exception to that dictum, and I highly recommend it to genre fans.
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Read information about the authorAlso published using the pseudonyms Juliet Astley and Peter Curtis
Norah Lofts, née Norah Robinson, (27 August 1904–10 September 1983) was a 20th century best-selling British author. She wrote over fifty books specialising in historical fiction, but she also wrote non-fiction and short stories. Many of her novels, including her Suffolk Trilogy, follow the history of a specific house and the residents that lived in it.
Lofts was born in Shipdham, Norfolk in England. She also wrote under the pen names Peter Curtis and Juliet Astley. Norah Lofts chose to release her murder-mystery novels under the pen name Peter Curtis because she did not want the readers of her historic fiction to pick up a murder-mystery novel and expect classic Norah Lofts historical fiction. However, the murders still show characteristic Norah Lofts elements. Most of her historical novels fall into two general categories: biographical novels about queens, among them Anne Boleyn, Isabella of Castile, and Catherine of Aragon; and novels set in East Anglia centered around the fictitious town of Baildon (patterned largely on Bury St. Edmunds). Her creation of this fictitious area of England is reminiscent of Thomas Hardy's creation of "Wessex"; and her use of recurring characters such that the protagonist of one novel appears as a secondary character in others is even more reminiscent of William Faulkner's work set in "Yoknapatawpha County," Mississippi. Norah Lofts' work set in East Anglia in the 1930s and 1940s shows great concern with the very poor in society and their inability to change their conditions. Her approach suggests an interest in the social reformism that became a feature of British post-war society.
Several of her novels were turned into films. Jassy was filmed as Jassy (1947) starring Margaret Lockwood and Dennis Price. You're Best Alone was filmed as Guilt is My Shadow (1950). The Devil's Own (also known as The Little Wax Doll and Catch As Catch Can) was filmed as The Witches (1966). The film 7 Women was directed by John Ford and based on the story Chinese Finale by Norah Lofts.
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