Bookshots: 'Lady Bette and the Murder of Mr Thynn' by N.A. Pickford
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Lady Bette and the Murder of Mr Thynn
(FYI: The lack of a period after Mr is intentional...throughout the book the author attempts to stick with 17th century spellings where applicable. It's applicable to the title.)
Who wrote it:
N.A. Pickford, a maritime historian, documentarian, and all-around interesting fella.
Plot in a box:
This is a true story: back in 17th century England, heiresses were hot commodities. Rich men and their families (or men from noble families who needed an influx of cash) bargained for the right to marry an heiress and gain control of her fortune. Sometimes things worked out. Other times, they didn't. In the case of Lady Bette, a 14-year-old heiress widow, things most certainly did not work out. Her second marriage ended with a bang when her new and quickly-estranged husband was shot to death in a plot of epic proportions.
Invent a new title for this book:
Wretched People Being Wretched
Read this if you like:
History, particularly the history of Restoration England. Also, Downton Abbey.
Meet the book's Lead:
Lady Bette (pronounced Betty) Percy-Ogle-Thynn, a wealthy heiress in her early teens who finds herself the pawn in dozens of marriage plots...until her second marriage ends in murder.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Elle Fanning, but she'd have to dye her hair red.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
A place where women were either pawns or whores? Definitely not. Though, again, the world of the past holds a huge fascination for me, and it's sketched out in great detail throughout the book. I'd like to visit.
This isn't a sentence. Go ahead. Fuss. It is, though, an excerpt from a bawdy poem written in 1673 about the lives of men and women at court. Enjoy.
Nightly now beneath their shade
Are buggeries, rapes and incests made,
Unto this all sin sheltering Grove
Whores of the Bulk and the Alcove,
Great Laides, chamber maydes and Drudges,
The Ragg Picker, and Heiress Trudges,
Carmen, Divines, Great Lords, and Taylors,
Prentices, Poets, Pimps and gaolers,
Footmen, Fine Fopps, do here arrive
And here promiscuously they swive.
Lady Bette and the Murder of Mr Thynn is as wild a ride through Restoration England as one could hope to get in a non-fiction book. (Translation: no dialog, all telling-not-showing, and nothing too dirty. This isn't The Tudors or Game of Thrones.) Pickford pulls no punches in describing the cad-like ways of the foppish, arrogant upper class men. They reviled work. They frequented brothels. They drank. They partied. And then they all congregated in medical facilities to receive mercury treatments to keep their syphilis symptoms under control.
It's an ugly world, and a dangerous one for a girl like Lady Bette, who's little more than a bargaining chip. Used by her Dowager Countess (seriously!) grandmother to fund more gambling parties, her hand in marriage is given to the highest bidder. In the meantime, she's hounded by kidnapping plots and coerced into marriage with a total jerk. Reading Lady Bette is a lot like watching an episode of Jersey Shore: you hate to watch, but you can't seem to turn away.
The book is well-written and immersive. It's easy to lose yourself in the pages for hours on end, reading about this dandy's visit to a whorehouse and that one's visit to the country. Pickford painstakingly recreates a world based on letters, journals and memories, recording an intriguing, heartbreaking story set within an intriguing, heartbreaking world. If you're interested in the lives of British nobility in years past, you probably don't want to miss this book.
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