By: Priya Parmar
Publisher: Touchstone, Original Edition
Copyright Date: 2011
Number of Pages: 464 (Trade Paperpack)
Format: Adult Fiction
Reason for Reading: Summary rocked!
If you ever took an Introduction to Theatre course in college, it’s entirely possible that you remember hearing the name Ellen – Nell, for short – Gwyn. If you were a theatre major, you definitely heard of her. During her life, she was easily the most famous female actor in London. Red haired and slender as a reed, she achieved great success and garnered admiration when the ideal beauty of the time was dark and voluptuous. Her kind of theatre was the people’s theatre: bawdy, brawling, humor where she could utilize her natural wit and easy grace in the popular new restoration comedies. As a principal player in the King’s Theatre, she cemented her reputation performing comical roles. As King Charles II’s mistress, she cemented her reputation as England’s most cherished whore. Where her rivals for the King’s affection were frequently mocked and held in disdain by commoners, Nell was loved and admired. They saw Nell as one of them. She didn’t put on airs and try to act anyone’s superior just because she shared the bed of a king. Nor did she pretend to be someone she was not in order to secure her place at court.
In Exit the Actress, author Priya Parmer very effectively uses a combination of journal entries, playbills, letters, home remedies, and gossip columns to recount Nell Gwyn’s rising career as London’s favorite actress, as well as her love affairs with the three Charles’s: Charles Hart, Charles Buckhurst, and King Charles II.
What I liked: Parmer captured my attention immediately with her prologue: Nell’s final performance which perfectly segued into young Ellen’s first journal entry. I actually went back and read the prologue again after I’d finished the book and wound up enjoying it even more the second time. The letters to King Charles II from his sister and mother gave insight into the political intrigues of the day; while the gossip columns from Ambrose provided plenty of detail regarding the popular culture of the time. Parmer also inserts the most delightful little recipes for home remedies from the time (there was one requiring the ingredient “dog water” that made me cringe). She has a clear grasp on the historical royal and political shape of Europe and uses it to mold a richly satisfying and complex plot. I love Ellen here as Parmer has written her. Her exploits and adventures, though humorously told, make up only a small part of Ellen’s oversized personality. At the root of all she is a decent and fun person. She seems like someone I might have known in my theatre courses in college: wholly devoted to her art, yet not taking it so seriously that she’s a pompous bore. I think I would have enjoyed sharing a stage with her. Finally, it’s written so that any reader will understand and enjoy Nell’s experiences even if they’ve never seen the inside of a live theatre. It is Nell’s relationships with her family, both biological and theatre, that drive her. With its cheeky allusion to celebrity culture and its rags-to-riches success story, at the end of the day the through-line is love.
What I disliked: Nothing. I had a difficult time putting this down once I started reading it.
What about the Giveaway?? I am giving away my copy of this gently used trade paper book because I wish to spread the gospel of Priya! 🙂 Just leave a comment on this post. Winner will be selected at random and notified via this blog.