Author: Grace Tiffany
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bagwyn Books
Publication Date: 2013
Reviewed by: Cybelle Greenlaw
Available for purchase in Kindle or paperback from: Amazon
Emilia Bassano is only a teenager when she's pitched among the poets, politicians, and painted women of the Elizabethan court. Withdrawn and pensive by nature, she devises a remarkable strategy to preserve her own solitude. At first it works. But she's soon shocked to find that, so far from truly hiding, she's attracted the gaze of every courtier and aspiring poet on the scene, including the canniest, hungriest, and strangest one of them all.
Good evening, Everyone! Cybelle here again with the belated Wednesday review. This week, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Paint, by Grace Tiffany. It is a remarkably engaging fictionalized account of the life of the Elizabethan poet, Emilia Lanier. Tiffany, a Renaissance scholar at Western Michigan University, develops her story, in a comically literal sense, around the suggestion that Lanier was Shakespeare's Dark Lady. As the young Emilia struggles to survive in the treacherous court of Elizabeth I, she is inspired to turn herself into a mysterious Italian with the aid of natural dyes and pigments. Her accent changes with her appearance, and at first, the deception works to her advantage. At court, those with the quickest wit are most likely to succeed, but Emila is shy by nature and hesitant to speak. As a foreigner, she is exempt from word play and allowed to think before she speaks. However, her beauty attracts unwanted attention, and she soon finds herself the victim of a powerful nobleman's lust. Always resourceful, she finds a way to turn her personal grief to an advantage.
In Tiffany's novel, Shakespeare is the great love of Emilia's life. She meets him in her Italian disguise and becomes his muse, but to her chagrin, he does not return her extreme passion. Indeed, subsequent events lead her to feel slighted by him. Only after his death does she come to forgive him and realize that she did not understand him any more than he understood her. Of course, as a mysterious beauty, she attracts many other lovers and admirers, including Ben Johnson, who becomes a close friend.
Throughout Emilia's life, she is also helped and encouraged by a number of female friends and relatives. As she ages and abandons her disguise, these bonds grow in importance. Without male benefactors, Emilia is forced to support herself. Her endeavors include the foundation of a girls' school and the eventual publication of her own poetry.
The Renaissance characters Tiffany depicts are complex, witty, and often devious. Their dialogue is enhanced by the careful use of archaic expressions and well-loved Shakespearean lines. It's a clever work that makes good use of a number of Shakespearean tropes, intrigues, and questions of identity. It has also made me want to read the poems of the real Emilia Lanier, and I applaud the author for creating such a captivating novel.