Nell Gwynn is one of the most likable figures in British history. “Pretty witty Nell” went from poverty and prostitution to the grand stages of London theatre, and then to a king’s bed and his heart. It is rare that there is a mistress of a king who is so likable, root-worthy, and kind. Nell was all those things. Nell had more class in her finger than many of the more well-bred mistresses throughout British history. She charmed England and charmed King Charles II. In “The Darling Strumpet”, the debut novel by Gillian Bagwell, readers go along Nell’s journey from hardship to fame and witness that our plucky heroine never loses what made her so captivating to begin with, her big heart and soul.
“The Darling Strumpet” is the story of Nell Gwynn’s life. Her childhood was full of poverty with an abusive and alcoholic mother and having to sell oysters on the street. There is one shining moment in her childhood though. King Charles II returns to the throne and captivates the young Nell with his handsome unconventional looks and charm. The newly returned king and the hard-luck girl share a sweet moment upon King Charles’s return to London. Nell begins to realize at a young age that she has a raw and powerful sexuality and tries to use that to her advantage. Eventually Nell becomes a prostitute alongside her sister, but she has bigger dreams. Theatre has returned to London and Nell becomes fascinated by the plays and the actors that so beautifully bring them to life. She secures herself a job as an orange-girl in the Theatre Royal and eventually achieves her dream. Nell with much practice, determination, and force becomes an actress at the Theatre Royal charming everyone on stage with her witty barbs, delightful dances, and strong presence. Nell charms many men during her days as an actress ranging from Charles Hart, her co-star who trained her in acting, the handsome and powerful, Earl of Dorset, and the wild and sexual, Earl of Rochester, but there is very important man that becomes enamored with her, the handsome and charming face from her childhood, King Charles II. Nell becomes the mistress of King Charles II and soars to new heights with dresses, furs, jewels, and homes. She gives the king two sons, passionate encounters in the bedroom, but most importantly brings him comfort and a place to feel at ease. Nell serves as one of the mistresses of King Charles II until his death while dealing with heartbreak and loss in her life, rival mistresses such as Louise de Kerouaille, the Duchess of Portsmouth, and religious turmoil in England. Throughout it all, Nell had the heart of not only the King of England, but of London. The saucy and delightful Nell is a true rags to riches story.
“The Darling Strumpet” is an absolute triumph as a debut novel for Bagwell. Nell Gwynn’s story has been told before in historical fiction, but Bagwell’s story truly captivates as she makes Nell’s story come to life. Readers will be drawn to Nell because of her unfortunate childhood, her friendships and relationships with so many people, her witty barbs, but most importantly, her heart. When Nell loved, she loved with her whole heart and soul. Nell used her power as the king’s mistress to help others whether it be her fellow actor friends or a struggling clergyman. She is one of those rare historical figures that didn’t let success and being a royal favorite go to her head. Bagwell’s portrait of Nell is beautiful as readers see her go from a little girl lost to a strong and vivacious woman.
Bagwell also presents a collection of other interesting historical figures ranging from the magnetic King Charles II, the ambitious Duke of Buckingham, the shocking and unexpected Earl of Rochester, the talented Charles Hart, and the seemingly fragile, but power hungry Duchess of Portsmouth. All the characters are well-rounded and a delightful to read.
Bagwell shows such expert knowledge, research, and passion of the time period. What is most interesting in her novel is Bagwell’s knowledge of the city of London. Bagwell describes all the various places in London that Nell experienced every day whether it be Covent Garden or Pall Mall. Also interesting is the knowledge and detail that went in to portraying Nell’s life in the theater. Bagwell has a background in acting and theater and it shows with her knowledge of Nell’s days on stage.
“The Darling Strumpet” is an absolutely brilliant addition to the historical fiction genre and might be the best novel on Nell Gwynn ever. Bagwell’s portrayal of the spirited and vibrant Nell is a wonderful tribute to the woman. Nell would have applauded in approval and probably done a little jig to celebrate her tribute.
To purchase “The Darling Strumpet”: http://www.amazon.com/Darling-Strumpet-Captured-England-Charles/dp/0425238598
For more information on Gillian Bagwell: www.gillianbagwell.com/