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Dark Lady: A Novel of Emilia Bassano Lanyer by Charlene Ball

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Paperback, 300 pgs.
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Dark Lady by Charlene Ball is a fictional account of Emilia Bassano’s life in the late 1500s. She is rumored to be the “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets and is considered the first professional female poet. Ball has taken a format that resembles journal entries in that they jump forward in time, but the narrative is not told in the first person. She was a young woman who was sent to live with the Countess of Kent at a young age and much of her family were musicians at court. She often felt held back by the social norms in which women were passed about as property and often judged as fallen or bad women just based on appearances. Many of her actions seem haphazard and naive, which is to be expected for a girl sent away from her home at a young age.

“It was a day of sun and white waves on the water that curled around the prow of the boat. Emilia moved closer to Lord Hunsdon, wrapped in his cloak against the chill of the morning. Earlier the sky had been soft pearl gray, and now it was streaked with scarlet, purple, and deep crimson.” (pg. 13)

“Emilia made a face. ‘Don’t bring raw noses into my parlor, I beg you.’

‘And should I leave my poor nose at the door waiting in the cold? Shivering, dripping, unkerchiefed?'” (pg. 87)

Ball infuses Bassano’s tale with beauty and darkness, but there also is humor. Despite the tragedies in her life, Bassano strives to take her fate in her own hands. She meets a young playwright named Shakespeare, a man who wants to be a professional poet with a patron, but his works and his carefree attitude capture her attention away from a lord who has protected her when she needed it most. She is torn between her gratitude for the man who has protected her all this time, despite his own marriage and family, and the passion she knows lies beneath the disguises of a married player. The interactions between Bassano and Shakespeare are eerily familiar to those in the movie “Shakespeare in Love,” at least in terms of the cross-dressing and cloak-and-dagger tactics Bassano and Shakespeare engage in.

Dark Lady by Charlene Ball looks at the life of one female artist in a time when men dominated society and women were pawns. While she was strong in many ways, it was clear that she was still a victim of her own naivete and her inability to protect herself from situations that could harm her. Readers may find that the format and style keeps them at a distance from the main character as the story unfolds, but she certainly led an interesting life full of colorful people.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Charlene Ball holds a PhD in comparative literature and has taught English and women’s studies at colleges and universities. Although she has written nonfiction, reviews, and academic articles, writing fiction has always been her first love. She has published fiction and nonfiction in The North Atlantic Review, Concho River Review, The NWSA Journal, and other journals. She has reviewed theater and written articles on the arts for Atlanta papers. She is a Fellow of the Hambidge Center for the Arts and held a residency at the Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. She attends fiction workshops by Carol Lee Lorenzo, and she belongs to a writers’ group that she helped found. She retired from the Women’s Studies Institute (now the Institute for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) at Georgia State University in 2009 and has been busier than ever with writing and bookselling. She also volunteers with her congregation and other social justice groups. She and her wife, Libby Ware, an author and bookseller, were married in May 2016.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

  • Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    This does sound interesting, but I’m not a big fan of that era.

    • Serena Agusto-Cox

      I’m not either, but there was some shakespeare in it. lol

  • I like the sounds of this one.

    • Serena Agusto-Cox

      It was definitely interesting

  • bermudaonion(Kathy)

    I don’t love that time period so this is probably a skip for me.