The Verneys - a Family Biography

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The Verneys - a Family Biography

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Jun 24, 2008, 9:38 pm

I just finished The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England by Adrian Tinniswood.

This is an ambitious social history derived from the massive records of an English family who seem never to have thrown anything away. The author focuses on the 17th century, a time of turmoil in Britain. But politics get relatively short shift. Monarchs (James I, Charles I, Charles II, James II) and a Lord Protector (Oliver Cromwell) come and go, but the Verneys plod on. They were an odd lot. One turned Moslem and became a pirate. One woman ran off and married a Catholic which was considered to be the gravest offense committed by any family member. Most of the men and some of the women were sexually adventurous. One wife went insane. Others had reason to take that route, but didn't.

All of this ought to be interesting, and some of it is -- most especially the account a younger son who was successful in seeking his fortune in the Levant. Anyone searching for a window into the world of a land-owning and merchant family of 17th century Britain will be attracted to this solidly-researched book.

However, even though I am fond of social histories and can accommodate a wealth of detail, I found this tale hard to follow. Tinniswood had to sort out dozens (it seems like hundreds) of characters and did so, but this reader was taxed to do the same. For one thing, there are way too many Ralphs, Marys, and Elizabeths who are involved in the same family tensions, victories, affairs, and squabbles. Unless one reads carefully and consults the index from time to time, it's easy to become confused.

I admire the research effort that went into this book and am glad that I read it, but I would recommend it only to the most serious students of English social history.

Jul 6, 2008, 9:26 pm

so, I am curious. Why was this posted as a discussion thread rather than as a book review?