Backstory for Conceit

I hope you enjoy these “finds” about the 17th century. If you have any comments, or suggestions for additions, please e-mail me from my Contact page.

London Before the Great Fire of 1666

What did London look like before the Great Fire of 1666 that destroyed old Saint Paul’s Cathedral? Six students from De Montfort University in Leicester “have turned a historic map into a realistic and detailed 3D animation of Tudor London,” says The Telegraph. “The video shows the area around Pudding Lane in the City of London before the Great Fire of 1666 . . . read more

Re-enactment of John Donne’s Gunpowder Sermon, 1622

On November 5, 1622, the Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne preached a sermon in Saint Paul’s yard for Gunpowder Day. A brilliant digital re-creation of this sermon, which includes elaborate models, diagrams, videos, and acoustic files, gives us the amazing opportunity to be part of the large crowd listening to John Donne on this day …read more

Shakespeare Without the Beard?

The most recent contender for the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, put forward by John Hudson in the latest issue of The Oxfordian (November 2009), is minus the traditional beard. Amelia Bassano (also known as Emilia Lanier) was the daughter of Venetian Jew, a musician who was brought to England by Henry VIII… read more

Telling Time by Flowers

Recently, when I was reading from my novel Conceit, an experienced gardener asked whether the flower clock, used by Ann More to tell time, would actually work. In Conceit, it’s summer 1599, Ann is living in York House on the bank of the Thames in London, and she is having an erotic conversation with the poet John Donne… read more

Sources for my novel Conceit

In writing Conceit, I drew mainly on primary sources. I was happiest when I found eye-witnesses, for instance Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, who wrote about the Great Fire of 1666 in their diaries, which I consulted for the prologue. Izaak Walton was very helpful also, with his book on fishing and his biography of Donne… read more

Read a Poem by John Donne

I’ll start things off by posting some of John Donne’s remarkable Songs and Sonnets. Although we don’t know the chronology of these clever love poems, the libertine posturing in “The Indifferent” suggests that it was written when he was a law student and young-man-about-town.. read more

Izaak Walton – Fisherman and Biographer

Those of you who’ve read Conceit will know that Pegge, when she’s a teenager, is infatuated with Izaak Walton, best known to us as the fisherman who wrote The Compleat Angler, which I dipped into frequently when writing the novel. Pegge’s attempt to seduce Walton by finding a new stream, and their trip to fish along… read more

Shakespeare Portrait Found–or Not?

A painting of William Shakespeare has recently been found in Newbridge House, a manor outside Dublin that belonged to the Cobbe family. Amazingly, they did not know that the portrait was of Shakespeare until a family member saw a copy on exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Experts now say that it’s the… read more

The Tudors Plunders History–and Art!

British historian David Starkey has blasted the costume drama The Tudors for falsifying history, calling it “a brutal dumbing down” and “armpit TV.” Even the costumes are faux: more Elizabethan than Tudor. Sure The Tudors plays fast and loose with the facts, but David Sessions chides us for our naivety in expecting… read more

Pegge’s Breasts: From the Louvre to YouTube

When I returned to Paris for the month of September 2008, my first cultural jaunt was to the Louvre to revisit the Guérin painting of Pegge in room 54 of the Sully pavillion… read more

Jeune fille en buste

A year or so before I finished writing Conceit, I was in Paris and stopped in front of a painting in the Louvre by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin. I was immediately struck by the resemblance of the girl to my main character, Pegge. Called “Jeune fille en buste” (Portrait of a Young Girl), it was painted in 1794 when Guérin was about… read more

17th-century Diarists

Although Samuel Pepys is far and away the best-known diarist of the 17th century, John Evelyn is more historical. Pepys is gossipy and personal; Evelyn is more dry and circumspect and his diaries cover a longer period, from his birth in 1620 until 1704, just before his death. Friends and contemporaries, they were both members… read more

The City of London Destroyed by Fire a Second Time

Miraculously, John Donne’s effigy survived not only the burning of the medieval St Paul’s in 1666, but also the bombing of Sir Christopher Wren’s cathedral during the London Blitz. My uncle, Ned Young, writes… read more

Literary Fathers and Sons

Dmitri Nabokov, the son of Vladimar of Lolita fame, has been dithering in public again about whether he should publish his father’s last “novel”–actually 50 index cards with notes that Nabokov ordered destroyed upon his death. The Times calls it “a story about a son caught between a powerful urge to go against his late… read more

Were Shakespeare and Donne Friends?

This 1850s painting by John Faed is known as Shakespeare and His Friends at the Mermaid Tavern and features a “Tudor hall of fame.” Shakespeare, seated in the centre dressed in black, resembles the First Folio engraving of him by Martin Droeshout. Ben Jonson’s biographer Gifford wrote that around the year 1603… read more

John Donne in the News

When a cache of old letters was recently found in a laundry room in Switzerland, a letter by John Donne was estimated to be worth $250,000. Donne was something of a specialist in writing letters to great ladies in order to win favour, and the letter was penned to Lady Kingsmill in 1624 to console her on the death of… read more

A 17th-century Blog

Ready for your daily dose of Samuel Pepys? Read Pepys’s diary for this day in 1664. This marvellous website posts a new entry from the 17th-century diary each morning. Pepys was a bit of a philanderer, but to see just how far he indulged his libido, you will have to read through the million-and-a-quarter words of his… read more