Portrait of an Unknown Woman

  • by Vanora Bennett
  • Narrated by Josephine Bailey
  • 14 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Set against the turmoil, intrigue and, tragedy of Henry VIII's court, Portrait of an Unknown Woman vividly evokes 16th-century England on the verge of enormous change. As the Protestant Reformation sweeps across Europe to lap at England's shores, relations between her king and the Catholic Church begin to plummet, driven by Henry VIII's insatiable need for a male heir and the urgings of his cunning mistress, Anne Boleyn. And heresy begins to take hold. As tensions rise, Henry VIII turns to his most trusted servant and defender of Catholic orthodoxy, Sir Thomas More, to keep peace in England. But soon the entire More family find their own lives at risk. At the center of Portrait of an Unknown Woman is Meg Giggs, Sir Thomas More's 23-year-old adopted daughter. Intelligent, headstrong, and tender-hearted, Meg has been schooled in the healing arts. And though she is devoted to her family, events conspire that will cause Meg to question everything she thought she knew, including the desires of her own heart. As the danger to More and his family increases, two men will vie for Meg's affections: John Clement, her former tutor and More's protégé, who shares Meg's passion for medicine but whose true identity will become unclear, and the great Holbein, whose artistic vision will forever alter her understanding of the world.
With a striking sense of period detail, Portrait of an Unknown Woman is an unforgettable story of sin and religion, desire and deception. It is the story of a young woman on the brink of sensual awakening and of a country on the edge of mayhem.

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What the Critics Say

"Bennett...luminously shades in an ambiguous period with lavish strokes of humanity, unbridled passion, and mystery." (Publishers Weekly)
"An engrossing, quietly impassioned historical that blends some big ideas into the love story and ends with a touching burst of emotional insight." (Kirkus Reviews)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Revisionist History

I'll start off by saying that the narration and sound quality of this recording are excellent. Ms Bailey is a highly talented narrator. Each character has a distinguishable voice, and the accents are well mimicked.

However I was deeply disappointed by the book itself for the following reasons:

1. Thomas Moore, Meg Giggs adoptive father, is portrayed as half monster, half loving parent. It is hard to believe, but the author goes so far as to portray Moore as a man who, among other things, personally tortured heretics in his out-buildings. There is no historical evidence to even slightly support this scandalous representation. The author's note at the end doesn't even endeavor to claim historical accuracy on this point. Saying Abraham Lincoln was a pedophile wouldn't make it true... it seems wrong to make up something so damaging and unfounded.

2. One of the characters turns out to be a prince in disguise. I felt intellectually insulted. The cliche fitted into the story, but that didn't make me any happier about it.

3. The author did not do her linguistic research very carefully. The dialogue didn't need to be archaic, but sometimes the sentence construction or words used were so blatantly modern I felt myself wincing. I expected someone to exclaim 'cool' or 'shut up.'

4. The characters did not feel like they belonged in that era either. Meg Giggs, the main character, thought and acted like a modern woman. That irked me. It was incongruous.

5. The story changes perspective all the time. Sometimes it is in the third person, and sometimes it is Meg's, Hans', or another character's perspective. Sometimes the perspective even changes mid paragraph (seriously!) Nice try at creativity, but it didn't work for me.

On the other hand the author has a good turn for description, a clever eye for the dramatic, and reasonable talent for keeping you interested. At best I'd call this book 'sensational historical fiction.'
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- Stephanie "There is no frigate like a book ~ E. Dickinson"

loved it!

I enjoyed this book from the first paragraph. As is pointed out by the other reviewer, Meg is portrayed quite modern - and independent. I enjoyed how the author maneuvered these qualities in a much different time period. The narrator is wonderful! - very easy to listen to. I will come back to this book and read it again.
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- Karen

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-06-2007
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio