When I was a kid in northeastern Ohio, the local library on Second Street was like another home to me. Every week my friend and I walked the few blocks to that old red brick building where we scooped up armloads of books to borrow. Treasure. There was no other word for it. I became an avid reader then, and the adventure in a good novel is just as much a pleasure today.
My favorite activity on hot August afternoons was to take a glass of lemonade, curl up on the glider on the front porch in the shade of a maple tree, and Read. Read. Read. I'm sure that glider would be really uncomfortable now, but then--with my younger bones--it felt cozy and cool.
Lying right there I was introduced to Katherine by Anya Seton. I must be on a historical kick, or something, because "Gone With the Wind" was the favorite movie I wrote about last time. But there's a common theme too, a special quality to those sagas of another era that calls to me, even though I write contemporaries. Katherine entertained me and taught me, and she still stands out as my favorite written heroine.
The book is a novel about real people in history, but boy, there's nothing dry or dull about this story. It's a true page-turner all the way. It opens with an intriguing line: "In the tender green time of April, Katherine set forth at last upon her journey with the two nuns and the royal messenger." From there, I was riding right along with her from the convent where she'd been schooled as a girl to the royal court at Windsor.
The story begins with Katherine at fifteen, the innocent daughter of a minor knight and whose older sister is married to Geoffrey Chaucer. Her first night at court, Katherine meets the handsome Duke of Lancaster, the third son of King Edward III--and his is a grand entrance, the stuff of pure romance. John of Gaunt is tall, lean, broad-shouldered, blond and blue-eyed. Sigh. Be still, my heart. Too bad for young Katherine that he's twenty-six (pretty mature in the Middle Ages) and already married.
That doesn't last long. This is a big story with intimate characterizations, and in nearly 600 pages, Katherine is first a virgin, then the wife of another knight (an arranged marriage), eventually John's reluctant mistress and the mother of their children, and finally, after a lot of heartbreak (here comes the HEA), his wife and duchess. What a journey!
I've wallowed in this book, over and over, at most stages of my own life, and from a different perspective each time I learn something new. You should see my old copy! The pages are yellowed now, the red cover has long since faded, even the type isn't as dark as it used to be--and still, I want to read it again.
In her time Katherine experiences romance, love, danger, tragedy, sorrow, loss and triumph. There's a dash of mystery too--a beloved, missing daughter. Katherine not only survives all that, and The Black Plague, but flourishes. From that young girl riding toward court on a soft spring day, she grows into this amazing person. A strong yet vulnerable, entirely admirable woman who has been tested but never overwhelmed.
I love strong heroines. Hey, who doesn't? I love to laugh with them, and cry with them. And learn from them. I love their journeys from potential to fulfillment, which I also write about.
It's a pretty hot, humid day here in Tennessee, and although it's still June, not August, I just may take that tattered copy of Katherine out on my deck. Pour a tall glass of ice-cold lemonade. Curl up on the lounge.
And learn something new, again, from her.