As Simon Michael recently took us to London in the 1960’s, that gave me the
opportunity to share one of my favourite books with a London link. This time we’re going back in time to another London, in the 1660’s. It too was a place emerging from a time of austerity after the war (albeit Civil this time) and a period when the country was a Republic. It was a period that turned its back on the religious and moral puritanism of Cromwell and heralded in a time of immorality and licentiousness. It was the Restoration version of the swinging sixties. Like it’s modern counterpart, it saw new, sometimes shocking fashions, a resurgence in clubs and theatres and had a seedy and criminal underbelly.
My choice is Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, the only book I have ever read twice. Though if I’m being correct it should be books, as while the current edition is in one volume, my dated edition is in 2 vols. The cover was definitely of its time and each volume cost the princely sum of 50p.
Forever Amber was first published in the United States in 1944 to a mixed reception. Although it sold over 100,000 copies in its first week, it was banned in fourteen states for being pornographic. Given that background, you might be surprised to know that it was recommended to me by a teacher for historical background reading. At the time I was a teenager attending a not particularly high achieving, all girls, comprehensive in Hull in the 1970’s. I suspect our teachers were desperate to suggest anything that might interest us. I should say we were not exactly disinterested as we were studying A level history, but I think we could probably have been more engaged. So the answer to instilling some sense of interest in the Restoration period was Forever Amber. I have to say it worked, it was impossible not to be engaged, it was a real page turner.
Amber St. Clare was perhaps not the ideal role model for impressionable teenagers, but she was someone we could empathise with. Lets face it, we were the ideal audience for the lowly, naive, 16-year-old who was besotted with the handsome and unobtainable Lord Bruce Carlton. We’d just spent our formative teenage years pining after unobtainable males (yes you David Cassidy!). So I was with Amber from the beginning, she was strong, feisty, and did what she had to do to survive. Of course the enduring hope throughout was that she’d get her happy ending, if you haven’t read it, I’m not going to tell you!
The book though did transport me to Restoration London with all it sights, smells and sounds. It was peopled with real historical characters, governed by real historical events and the Restoration period came to life. In my early teens I’d devoured books by Jean Plaidy, partly due to the fact that she was one of the few adult authors you were allowed to borrow from the library without an adult ticket. But Ms Winsor had upped the stakes and thrown sex into the historical mix.
I read the book years later as an adult as I was curious to see whether it would have the same appeal. I’m delighted to say it did. I hope I appreciated the historical background more than when I first read it, but I was still Team Amber! Maybe it’s time for another airing – just for old times sake.
Available to buy in paperback from Amazon
Abandoned pregnant and penniless on the teeming streets of London, sixteen-year-old Amber St. Clare uses her wits, beauty and courage to climb to the highest position a woman could achieve in Restoration England – that of favourite mistress of the Merry Monarch himself, Charles II.
From whores and highwaymen to courtiers and noblemen, from the Great Plague and the Fire of London to the intimate passions of ordinary – and extraordinary – men and women, Amber experiences it all. But throughout her trials and escapades, she remains, in her heart, true to the one man she really loves, the one man she can never have …
Further reading re Forever Amber
More Restoration fiction – a personal selection
Restoration by Rose Tremain – a 5* read, I loved it.
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor – from my wishlist.
The Painted Lady by Maeve Haran – from my wishlist
The King’s Favorite by Susan Holloway Scott – recommended by the Historical Novel Society
The Thomas Chaloner Mysteries by Susanna Gregory
A Health Unto His Majesty by Jean Plaidy (The Stuarts vol 5) – just for the nostalgia
Here Lies Our Sovereign Lord by Jean Plaidy (The Stuarts vol 6)