I picked up Emma by F. W. Kenyon at a yard sale back in July. It’s the hard cover 1955 version. Right away, I was surprised at the willingness and ease Emma, the main character only 17 years old in 1780, living in England, gave herself to Captain John Willet-Payne who offered to free her 14-year-old cousin from the Navy, having been forced into it by a press gang. ‘Gave herself’ as in a sexual favour exchanged for a personal favour. Oddly, it seems this wasn’t Emma’s first sexual experience.
No surprise, her stint at Uppark at South Harting in Sussex under Sir Henry Fetherstonhaugh’s protection ended within a year, Emma having become impregnated and showing. Offered protection by Charles Grevill, she eventually falls in love with him as he tutors her into being a refined lady.
In this novel, a man offering protection was not merely him putting a roof over her head and protecting her innocence; it was more often the woman doing the chores and offering her bed whenever her protector needed satisfying.
It was amusing to read how Emma grew plump from lack of activity and eating well, and Grevill had no problems referring to her growing size. He seemed hung up on her weight gain and mentioned it at least six times. Or maybe the author was hung up on it. This would not raise an eyebrow in 1955.
I judged this novel purely as a piece of fiction. While it was based on real events and real people, there’s no way anyone could recreate the thoughts and conversations held between Emma (the future Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson’s lover] and the many men and women she encountered. At times she seemed intelligent and genuine, and at other times, weak with emotion and flighty. Perhaps it was the male author’s perception of women of those times.
There were parts of the book that moved quickly, and then torturously slow due to the telling of a story rather than showing. After Emma arrived at Naples and the story became more of a detailed list of what country was doing what, and which county was at war with whom, it was boring. I trudged on, knowing it couldn’t last for long, but it did for a few chapters. Okay, I get it, Napoleon was causing havoc in the Mediterranean. I don’t need the politics and who did what.
Then Lord Nelson, who was only an admiral when he entered the novel, attempted to liven up the story. He did only after several chapters. Emma’s emotional state in several instances were questionable. Flighty. Even Ambassador William Hamilton had become wrought with emotions at times. I can’t image people in those positions being exhausted after a few hours of personal, self-inflicted emotional turmoil. How did they ever get their jobs done? I feel the writing was a little over the top.
The author, I believed, tried to cast Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton in a kind light, providing drawn-out scenes on how they tried with all their might and honour to keep their friendship platonic to justify their eventual affair. But what do I know? Maybe they suffered years of painful unattainable love only to be at the mercy of their desires. Or they hopped in the sack after a few short encounters, not giving thought to the mischief they caused by both being married.
I hadn’t read anything about Lady Hamilton or Lord Nelson and knew only a few details about Napoleon – that he met his Waterloo and it’s a three-flavoured ice cream. So it was easy for me to keep this in the fiction genre. The style of writing has passed out of fancy, but it’s better than some I’ve read that were published in the past 50 years.
If you know the history behind these characters, then you know the outcome. While tempted to know their fate, I did not google them to learn more before I finished the book.
This is a light read that provides a 1950s perspective on England’s high society in the late 1700s and early 1800s. While searching for information on this book, I found it being sold for outrageous prices. I picked it up for free. I was in the right place at the right time.
The Review I’ll Post to Goodreads and Amazon
Emma, the hardcover version of 1955, by F. W. Kenyon was a light read. It follows the life of widow Mrs. Emma Hart, who turned out not to be a widow. She had started creating her life at an early age, and this was one of the outcomes: a self-proclaimed widow without a marriage or a dead husband. Some might paint her as a scheming woman who used her beauty to climb the ranks of society; others might paint her as a victim of the times and of men who used women for their own purposes. I believe she was a little of both: a victim at first, then learning the hard lessons of life, a schemer who saw what her feminine persuasion could get her: a comfortable life.
It’s a good story that has somewhat withstood the test of time. Emma is the Lady Hamilton of history, the woman who bedded the married Lord Nelson. Given that she started as a simple street girl in old London and had become the prestigious woman she had, I’d say she did quite well for herself in a time when few escaped the poverty they were born into.
[This post was made using Block Editor. While there are many things I dislike about this editor, the on thing I do love is the ability to justify the paragraphs, even if I must do them individually.]