Earthly Joys represents one of the few novels in which Philippa Gregory tells the story from a man’s perspective. Beginning in 1603, Gregory introduces the reader to a young John Tradescant, gardener to Robert Cecil, the most powerful man in England.
John, yet unmarried, has a loving relationship of equality with Cecil – one of friendship rather than master-and-gardener. In time, John marries and Cecil, always frail, passes away. For a time, John is left with his wife and his garden, raising trees and flowers as if they were his own children.
Robert Cecil, George Villiers Make Appearances in Earthly Joys
Eventually, George Villiers comes around searching for a gardener and hires John, the best in the land. Much to the dismay of his wife and son, John falls into work and again into love, this time with the lover of King Charles I.
Throughout his work with the powerful men of England, John is close at hand when some of the most scandalous events of his time occur, from the Gunpowder Plot to the battle of Ile de Rhé to the growing tension between Parliament and King Charles’ court.
Philippa Gregory Writes from Male Point of View in Earthly Joys
Gregory presents John’s story in a manner that, despite it’s length, is captivating. As someone who nearly always writes from a woman’s perspective, Gregory’s efforts at telling John’s story are impressive and successful. She’s managed to create a character that is just as round and full as her lead female characters in other novels. John’s heartbreaks and elations are very real and very believable, while his interests and challenges are unique.
That being said, Earthly Joys is certainly not Gregory’s best work. At times, the story seems to drag along forever, and there doesn’t seem to be a climax, nor any rising or falling action. A build-up to, well, anything, would have made Earthy Joys a bit more enjoyable and a bit easier to read. As it is, there are certain sections where the reader will have to force herself to continue reading.
If she can stick it out through the slower parts, though, the reader will find that Gregory has once again made history pop in a fun way.
Earthly Joys was published by Touchstone in 1998. ISBN: 9789743272520.
Read other Philippa Gregory reviews by this author:
Historical Fiction Novels by Philippa Gregory – an anthology of Gregory’s novels.
The Other Boleyn Girl – Story of Mary and Anne Boleyn in King Henry VIII’s court.