Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier,Physician, Priest-Stephanie Cowell


I have read several of Cowell’s novels and have only now come to her first, Nicholas Cooke.  Cowell enters the Elizabethan world she knows so well from her studies and Renaissance festival experience to create Cooke, son of a hanged man and a prostitute, himself a refugee from the law fled from Canterbury to London and saved by Kit Morley, later apprenticed to John Heminges and friend to William Shagspere.  Nicholas becomes one of the actors with Heminges’ troop, later a star of the Globe, but is always troubled by a calling to the priesthood for which he no longer feels fit.  He runs away to war in Ireland with Essex and marries Heminges’ daughter and fathers several children , buys and tries to restore the chapel to which he fled as a young man, and then, finally, studies medicine and Oxford and receives ordination after befriending an ailing and aging bishop.

Cowell creates a complex and likeable protagonist and, in the process, made me fall further in love with Heminges, the man who seems to have kept so many geniuses together.

I regret that Nicholas is not a historical figure, but Cowell has made him so realistic that I’m sure somewhere there was a Nicholas Cooke, even if she did not find him exactly in the records.

Finished 6/23/12


The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare–Stephanie Cowell

I’ve always wondered how Shakespeare could write such beautiful love poetry and leave his wife and children in Stratford.  Cowell’s novel tries to give us that answer.  She begins with Shakespeare as a young man and traces his lusty relationship with Anne and follows him into London as he flees from that suffocating sense of the ordinary life sans passion that stretches out before him.  Cowell’s story argues that Shakespeare’s famous love sonnets were written for the Earl of Southampton, with whom she portrays Shakespeare as having a rapid and wild affair through their shared lover, Emilia.

As with her novel portraying the early life and loves of Mozart, Cowell manages to humanize the legend and rekindle my interest in his work.

Finished 5/22/12

Marrying Mozart-Stephanie Cowell

I knew I was going to love this book when it began with acknowledgments, one of which was to Cowell’s stepmother, who introduced her to the Weber family letters.

An aged Sophie Weber tells the story of her childhood, spent with her three sisters, Josefa, Aloysia, and Constanze, their moody mother and hard-working musician father.  As interesting as her family is, however, it is an outsider, Mozart, who draws a young Englishman to interview Sophie and provide the excuse for the story.

Salzburg, Munich, and Vienna provide rich backdrops to Sophie’s story.  Josefa and Aloysia have fabulous voices and help supplement the family’s meager income through singing for private parties.  Their mother keeps a secret book in which she plots their marriages to members of the nobility, who will rescue the family from their straightened financial circumstances.  Every Thursday the family apartment is enlivened by leading musicians who play, dance, and converse–and eat cake.

Enter Mozart, who falls in love with Aloysia, then is planned for Sophie, is secretly longed for by Josefa, and eventually falls in love with and marries Constanze.

Gender, music, and social class themes all swirl around the personalities of this story.  Cowell manages to make Mozart a secondary character.  It’s the Weber women who dominate this tale and who will, I suspect, prove unforgettable.

Part of the appeal of this book may have been reading it in May on my lawn swing, but it’s Cowell’s characters that are so remarkable.  I have another of Cowell’s books in my stacks and will grab some others on my next library trip.

Finished 5/11/2012