Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue by Susan Cooper-Bridgewater – Book Review
Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue by Susan Cooper-Bridgewater – Book Review
Lord Rochester, in Chains of Quicksilver
Publisher – Matador
Pages – 248
Release Date – 28th February 2016
Format – ebook, paperback
Reviewer – Stacey
I received a free copy of this book
Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue is a quirky historical fiction, weaving known facts in the life of one of England’s most notorious wastrels, wits, poets and libertines, John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), with invented episodes, both bizarre and plausible.
The book characterises the life of this infamous and fantastical man, and those of his meritorious wife and beloved children, his friends and his enemies. It also portrays his romantic infatuation and adoration for his mistress, the celebrated actress Mrs. Elizabeth Barry.
Rochester vividly narrates the intimate events of his odd and audacious life, in England and abroad. His story reveals his associations with all ranks of people and all manner of places and buildings, including London, the idyllic Cotswolds of his birth, Dorset and Somerset. Many of the locations in his story are still evident today, wherein his extraordinary spirit lives on.
Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue is a unique novel, recounted with candour, that invites the reader into Rochester’s inimitable life. It will appeal widely to anyone with either a passing or a keen interest in the infamous times of England’s seventeenth century and its people – as well as fans of historical fiction in general.
The Earl of Rochester was an eccentric man who had an eye for the ladies, amongst many other things. He lived a very lavish, self-indulgent lifestyle, especially for the period. This book is his life.
The book reads like a diary, told by the Earl himself, from the day he was born to the day he died and beyond. The book also weaves together facts with fiction. There are many tales about the Earl’s unconventional life that will have you dumbfounded, thinking that it most possibly couldn’t be true, only to google about the Earl himself, and find that he actually really was that ‘sort’ of man.
The author has clearly spent a good many years doing her research for this book, and I commend her for her excellent knowledge base, and being able to create such a detailed book about one mans life.
Whilst intrigued by the book, and quite a lot of Rochester’s life, I found I had a love-hate relationship with the man. He certainly gives us an entertaining story with his encounters and recklessness, whilst at the same time I found myself disgusted with his lifestyle, which even by today’s standards would be heavily frowned upon. I also couldn’t get that connection with him, like I do with the main character in most other books.
The book itself though is beautifully written, but I found it hard to read. There were a lot of the historical details that I struggled with, and I’m ashamed to say, that at times I did lose interest in the story, but this is down to me and not the great tale that the author has written. There are also a lot of secondary characters in the book. To help with remembering who is who, there is a list at the back of the book, along with a family tree.
Unfortunately I’m just not that interested in the history of that period, so I spent a long time reading it as I had to read small sections at a time.
If you love a good historical book, with an outlandish, yet fabulous character, then this is the book for you.
Book Reviewed by Stacey
CHAPTER THREE – RETURN HOME
Nearing London Bridge, acrid smoke bellowed incessantly from the chimneys. We drove past the tanneries with their stench of dog shit and urine and bore the overpowering smell of glue and soap rendered from the decaying animal carcasses. The noxious fumes of these trades conspired to make the passer-by feel overwhelmingly nauseous. We now at the foot of the bridge, I peered out at the Bear Tavern, renowned for its good food, excellent ales, fine wines and unsavoury whores from the nearby stews. This was a welcome sight indeed, though as we now neared the archway of the bridge, our eyes were drawn skyward to the tips of the many poles above the gates. At their pinnacles were impaled victims’ severed heads in various stages of decay, each of their expressions bearing witness to their intolerable sufferings. This was a grave reminder to all who entered London from Southwark Borough of the dreadful punishment meted out to past and would-be treasonable regicides and other villains. It was an intimidating sight to greet any traveller, but thoughts turned quickly to one’s own survival in the negotiating of this precariously narrow and busy thoroughfare. The bridge, whereupon are built many large and many humble dwellings, houses hundreds of citizens, some of whom live and work their whole lives there. The structures are three and four storeys high. Most are the shops and living quarters of merchants of all descriptions. The crossing of the bridge is a hazardous journey for animals and humans alike, yet far less fraught than crossing the river by boat, where the currents can seize the unwary to be dragged to a watery grave.
To our great relief, we crossed the bridge in safety and arrived at Fish Street Hill in this densely populated part of the city, with its dreary, crowded streets and alleys and the stench of open sewers and all sorts of putrid matter and filth rotting under the very feet of the throng. Added to this, the shouts of people selling their wares, the clatter of iron-shod horses’ hooves and the rumbling of coaches, wagons, hand barrows and all manner of conveyance shaped this city as a noisy, poisonous, polluted Bedlam.
The coach came to a respite halt outside The Sun Tavern, so allowing the rest of our party to alight at their destination. I was feeling not a little fatigued by now, so I stayed in the coach while Balfour entered the tavern for ale. I implored the landlord, who stood at his bar close by the door, to bring me claret wine and a small amount of beef. As I sat there delighting in my meat and drink, I spied a pretty young woman peering in at me. She smiled sweetly and I, beckoning her to join me, called the landlord again who summoned the potboy to the coach with another cup. I offered her a drink and, accepting, she asked my name and what business I had in London.
And I replied, “I madam, am John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and have recently returned from the continent.”
I enquired how this common wench earned her living.
“I am an orange seller, my Lord, at the Duke’s Theatre, and one day I will be a fine actress upon that very stage,” she haughtily replied.
Her aspirations were great and, like me, she had been seduced by the stage. She drank her fill and told me she must not be late for the selling of oranges. I bade her good day but requested a kiss before our parting. She eagerly obliged, neither trembling nor with shyness. I slipped my fingers down the front of her bodice and dropped a coin between her pretty breasts. She smiled, and left the coach as brazen as she had arrived.
Susan Cooper-Bridgewater is Leicestershire born and bred, and that shire is still her home. At the age of 15, on leaving school, she was employed as a legal secretary in the City of Leicester. After a gap year as a groom in her 20s, (she loves animals, especially equines), Susan then continued in the legal profession for most of her working life.
She has for many years held a curiosity for England’s colourful history, with particular emphasis on the Restoration period and its people. Her research into that era over many years culminated in her Lord Rochester novel, along with published articles. Her works appeared in 2011 and 2013 volumes of ‘Oxford University Press Notes and Queries Journal’, her subjects being the infamous Lord Rochester and the celebrated actress Anne Bracegirdle.
Susan also has unpublished pieces archived in Blenheim Palace at Woodstock, Magdalene College in Cambridge and in the Library Catalogue of Trinity College in Cambridge.