Lisa Schwarzbaum
September 12, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

My Just Desire

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Anna Beer
genre
Biography

We gave it an A-

She was a terrible speller, but in all other regards, Bess Ralegh — wife of Sir Walter, woman of influence in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and subject of Beer’s engrossing, well-knit biography — was a pip. Beer, a lecturer at Oxford, brings Bess alive with a brisk-veering-on-cheeky writing style, a sisterly appreciation of the challenges Bess faced protecting her family (what with a death sentence hanging over her husband for 15 years), and a bracingly unworshipful attitude toward the tragic hero Sir Walter. Beer is enthralled by the stuff of everyday Elizabethan life, and balances her erudition with the kind of fondness for the absurdities of socializing humans one expects in a Jane Austen novel, not a history book.

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