This week’s eleventh assignment is about the wonderful world of prose. Historians fall all along the perspective when it comes to style. Some have the ability to elevate a moment to the sublime. While others have the unfortunate ability to make even the most sublime moment seem deadly dull. Our assignment this week is to analyze and slavishly imitate another historian’s style. To this end, I have chosen David Starkey, a British Monarchy historian and author of Elizabeth: The Struggle to the Throne.
Starkey employs two distinct modes of language in this book. One is bold, sweeping language of empire, littered with recognizable mythological and literary references (pp. 60):
How quickly men forget. Henry VIII had bestridden England like a colossus and, on 31 January, when his death was finally announced to a dumbstruck parliament, everyone, led by the Lord Chancellor, wept copious tears. Were they crying for Henry? Or for fear of their own, uncertain futures, now that the royal rock on which England had been rebuilt was gone?
The other is a more intimate, quirky, and thoroughly English staccato, with phrases like “willy-nilly” and “pernickety” thrown in for good measure (pp 18-19).
When Mary [Tudor] arrived at Hatfield, she set herself to be as difficult as possible. And, since she was a Tudor, she succeeded. She spent days in her chamber, weeping uncontrollably. She fell ill. When she convalesced, her peculiar dietary requirements set the household in turmoil and greatly increased its costs. And there was one thing she would not do. She would not acknowledge Elizabeth as Princess. She was, she explained, prepared to call her sister, just as she referred to the King’s bastard son, the Duke of Richmond, as her brother. But she would never address her as Princess. And, despite Lady Shelton’s threats (rather unwillingly administered), her father’s studied neglect, the loss of her jewels and the refusal to serve her food in her chamber which forced her to dine in the hall, she stuck to her guns. Elizabeth was a highly precocious child, so it is just possible that some of her earliest memories were of Mary, red-eyed and resentful, stamping her foot as she refused to curtsy to her baby half-sister.
I will attempt to emulate David Starkey’s staccato style by rewriting a paragraph from my History 711 paper entitled, The Curious Case of Marie Glass.
Under Spanish law, women occupied an interesting position in society. Spanish society, Catholic and highly patriarchal, held women responsible for Original Sin. They, therefore, were placed in a specially protected legal category, along with children, mentally handicapped, and criminals. Their lives were controlled by their fathers, brothers, or other male relatives, until they married or reached majority at 25 years of age. This, however, did not extend to les femmes de couleur libre. Their fair complexions triggered the male urge to protect them as white women. But their negro ancestry signaled their vulnerability to be acquired for a price. Because of their negro ancestry, les femmes de couleur libre were attributed with a sultry, hyper-sexuality. They were perceived as highly seductive and a bit dangerous, just like the ancient Sirens’ song.