‘Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue -
Lord Rochester, in Chains of Quicksilver'
To be born in the year 1647, with England in the continuing grip of Civil War; to be raised by a stern, ambitious mother; to see little of your father for eleven years and then to learn of his untimely death, must all surely have had a potent impact on the life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester.
19th March 2014.
I am pleased to announce that Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue is now in stock at Waterstones, Leicester and has a spot on the local interest shelves. It is also in store at the Market Harborough and Banbury branches.
Leicestershire and Rutland Life
The Idle Woman
Leicester Mercury More
Historical Novel Society
Pocketful of Rye
Meaghan Walsh Gerard
Oxford Daily Info
John Wilmot is incredible! Here is a book that contains historical fiction (I'm a big fan) and holds the interest in a way that'll keep you sitting up half the night, wishing you didn't have to go to work, just so that you can finish. Fantastic! I hope Susan Cooper-Bridgewater has more sleepless nights for me in the future. Absolutely will make sure this one is in my store so I can handsell it!
by Donna Denn
As usual I paid nothing for this book but instead received it for free in exchange for a review. This time it was from NetGalley. Despite that repeated and wonderful kindness, I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.
This book is, to put it loosely, a bit of an outlier in the modern literary world. It's set in mid-1600 England and is the fictionalized life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester. It's written in a diary format so the whole thing reminds me very strongly of a cross between The Diary of Samuel Pepys (who makes a brief cameo appearance) and The Picture of Dorian Gray.
To the positive, this is a unique and richly rendered exhibit of life during these times. The reader is treated to all the usual plagues and illnesses and their accompanying treatments as well as all the common entertainments of the day. As a work of crystallized history it is a wonder. The main character is also delightfully scandalous and easily and promptly disliked by the reader. This is a rich and very detailed verbal tapestry.
Unfortunately, to the negative, it comes across at times as almost impenetrably dense and shares many of the negative attributes one can ascribe to Pepy's diary. It's an abundantly curious historical artifact but it hardly makes for popular reading.
To summarize, this is a book that for some will be a miracle. It is that detailed historical period novel that you've always wanted that grinds all the way down to the daily choice of 'vittles' as the protagonist puts it. If, however, you are not prepared for what is at times a laborious grind of a read, then there are better choices. Only you can judge whether you prefer your history entertaining or overflowing with detail. Unfortunately it does not seem possible that both can occur simultaneously.
by Rob Slaven
I feel a bit guilty for not being able to recommend this book more highly: the author has clearly read the standard biographies, letters and poetry of Rochester but doesn't completely manage to render the man himself as a convincing and living character on the page.
Partly this is due to form: this is a first-person narrative from Rochester himself so everything is told to us rather than shown. For example, Rochester tells us that he's the most witty and charismatic man at Court but we never actually hear or witness any of this wit for ourselves.
This is also a book which skims the emotional surface rather than delving into the inner life of our anti-hero: so one minute Rochester is 12 and off to Oxford, a few pages later he's graduated and is romping around Europe - but all the important stuff happens off-stage. When and how does he first first start drinking? Have his first sexual experiences? Start writing? For a man known as one of the most debauched rakes of the Restoration court, and one of the most scurrilous and yet clear-sighted and self-loathing of poets, this is a very tame portrait.
If you're looking for a light historical romp which sketches in the outline of Rochester's life then this might serve well but it doesn't really do his complex and often contradictory personality justice. This may suit fans of the Philippa Gregory school of historical fiction: lots of lush descriptions of what everyone's wearing, and walk-on parts from Nell Gwyn and all of Charles II's other mistresses. Anyone requiring a bit more emotional depth or with more than a passing interest in Rochester would do better re-reading his poetry (Selected Poems) or his letters (The Letters of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester), or going to Johnson's excellent and detailed biography (A Profane Wit: The Life of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester).
by Roman Clodia
This book is a meticulously researched portrait of an infamous gentleman which has been rendered in lively archaic language. Here Susan CB shows Rochester as a man who lived for pleasure and indulged in self reflection only when the consequences of his lifestyle caught up with him and hampered his ongoing fun. Written in the first person, the reader finds themselves pulled between being envious of his devil may care pursuits, angered at his nefarious actions, and experiencing a deep sense of pity for him as he looks inward and sees a man damned by his own hand.
Even though Rochester actions belie a complete lack of morals, he doesn’t do anything maliciously. It is a fine line to tread to make your main character both the hero and the villain but Susan CB does this wonderfully by showing Rochester for what he truly is: passionate and flawed and unmistakeably human.
A highly recommended read.
by Jenny Twyford
A perceptive and poignant portrayal with many fascinating insights.
I came to this book knowing but little of seventeenth century libertine John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester and expecting a historical fiction in the mould of much that is put before us in these days of both overstatement and short attention span. Perhaps we now have expectations of highly dramatized (often over-dramatized) presentation. TV and film seem to have gone down the route of relying rather heavily on C.G.I., all too often to the exclusion of plausible narrative and considered dialogue, and so perhaps we come to expect this in books too.
What I found here was refreshingly different, with a rather subtle treatment of an introspective character who elsewhere has frequently become a cliché expected to fit a formulaic picture of rakedom. Here is a well-considered portrait of a man at odds with his own reckless progression through life. His wit and status might have led him to great things but rather, seduced by the permissive inclinations of the Restoration, brought him to an inner torment, constantly struggling to reconcile his self-destructive path with the desire for the idyll of family life with his wife and children.
There appears to be much here of authentic history and much that seems implausible, yet it is hard to know what is ‘historical’ and what is ‘fiction’. Either way, there are many fascinating insights and touching episodes along the way. Approach this book without modern preconceptions of what ‘historical fiction’ should be and you are offered a perceptive and poignant portrayal of a man of influential reputation all too often in a wilderness of self-doubt.
A rollicking, riotous, yet touching account of a man whose poetic genius was only matched by his capacity for “all things madly pleasurable”
In Bridgewater’s new book we are treated to a rare tour of England after the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. If you are not aware of who the Earl of Rochester was, then please consider Rochester as the 17th Century version of that most rare of species; a rock star, with real talent.
Rochester was an Earl, a poet, courtier, wit, theatrical patron and writer, adulterer, hedonist, sometime con-artist and perhaps, genius, of the literary arts. The Earl was born to a rich title, entering the heady atmosphere of London life as the country emerged from years of Puritan rule after the English Civil War. Puritan life under Cromwell must have been boring; playhouses and theatres were closed, Puritans also cancelled celebrations at Christmas, and even dancing. We British are often known as being a rather reserved race, but that doesn’t mean we’re not up for a good party and after eleven years of behaving ourselves, enough was enough.
When the son of the executed king, Charles II was invited back to rule, the country was overtaken with a massive cultural swing in the opposite direction; playhouse, theatres, inns and brothels re-opened, balls, audiences, masques and opulence reigned.
There is a feeling about the Restoration of concentrated debauched pleasure, a reaction against years of tyrannically imposed reserve.
The Earl of Rochester is the man who more than any other embodies the zeitgeist of this hedonistic, pleasure-bent culture and immortalized it not only through his wild reputation, but also in the poetry he left behind. The Earl’s “apprenticeship of all things madly pleasurable” where he embarks on many “Rochester adventures” begins, and we are invited to accompany him through it.
The naughty Earl takes us by the arm and escorts us on a fabulous and often blood-curdling tour of the mid 17th Century; he is perhaps the only guide who could show us the heights of the glamorous court of Charles II, whilst also guiding us through the theatre of a new cultural ideology. He tucks us into a corner of steaming, sultry brothels beside him, invites us to tour his mansions and gracious parks, takes us on the odd duel, and even allows us to watch the horrific medical procedures he undertakes to try and cure that disease that so often went hand in hand with pleasure in the 17th Century, syphilis.
The intricate detail of the book allows the tour we take with the Earl to be a sensory one; the sounds and the smells, the tastes and the textures of the century are imbibed in us by the author’s attention to detail. Another review on here criticises the book for this, but I find intricate historical detail to be the most compelling part of understanding a period and the most enthralling aspect that fires the imagination of the reader. I want to taste the food as I read it, feel the wine in my throat, see the beauty and shrink at the horrors around me. Through Bridgewater’s deep and effortless understanding of the period, I felt as though I were standing right beside the Earl throughout.
The book also deals in a manner most sensitive with the Earl himself. On the face of things you could dismiss him as being a very selfish and shallow creature; an adulterer bent on hedonistic pleasure no matter the damage to his own self or those he loves. But beneath the many and various character defects of the Earl, he is portrayed by Bridgewater as a complex being of many layers; he writes with outstanding talent yet hides the majority of his works, cheats on his wife and keeps his mistress badly, but is capable of deep and intense love, attempts to kidnap a woman when she is not interested in marrying him, and yet acts with supreme bravery in war, he becomes a medical con-man, and yet uses his pretend position to help people. Perhaps like Don John in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing Rochester himself could say “Though I cannot be called a flattering honest man, it must not be denied that I am a plain-dealing villain”. Rochester is honest about his own failings, which makes him most appealing and fails to do anything about them, which makes him most human.
Rochester is obsessed and consumed by the pursuit of beauty and pleasure; be it in physical pleasure or attractiveness, in poetry, painting, books, the rich, mystical landscape of the country, or the vivid crush of the intoxicating capital. But it is a restless and unending pursuit, for once he possesses something that he loves, he is drawn away from it to ever watch for and find more. He is a slave to the mistress of beauty and pleasure that he can never possess.
This relentless obsession takes over his life, and prevents his contentment in the happiness he could have had with either his wife and children, or even his mistress. But he is unable to resist the call of all that he enjoys or finds beautiful.
Rochester was a cultural spark who deserves to be admired for his own genius, and the inspirational legacy he left for others. That his personal life was so damaged by his obsession and addictions is something that seems common to many who became immersed in their art; an inability to support a normal life, and balance the passion that drives their creativity. Beauty itself is a common fixation for humans; an obsession that drives us to collect and protect items or works for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and to admire those capable of creating things that we love and adore.
A curious mix of people and personalities is the Earl of Rochester, and yet Bridgewater manages to reconcile the many variants of his character. The Earl is made all the richer, for being presented as a real man, a complex man, rather than an emblem or a symbol as many others have portrayed him.
Bridgewater paints a picture of the Earl of Rochester; in chains of Quicksilver certainly, but also bound to the pursuit, production and preservation of the beautiful. This book is a complex, rich and stirring account of a complicated poet whose life became bent to self-destruction under the weight of his obsessions. Like so many young artists both before and after his lifetime, Rochester took the path causing him to, in the words of another young gifted artist, “burn out, rather than fade away”. But his poetry left a legacy which even now is only just starting to be appreciated and admired.
I enjoyed the book immensely; perhaps you can tell?
by Gemma Lawrence
The author set a fine challenge to present the narrative in the voice of Rochester himself. This is not always convincing and the reader may feel it lacks the wit and intrigue promised in the title.
However, where the book excels is in setting the scene for the episodes, real or imagined, related to Rochester’s life. The atmosphere of his early times in France and England are conjured up vividly then poignantly drawn on the contrast between loving yet restless family commitment in Oxfordshire and reckless behaviour in London.
In between, there are many memorable images of particular moments, characters and places throughout which stay in the mind’s eye.
I hope this book will appeal to those who enjoy a well-written historical fiction, and may encourage some to look further at this period’s history and the works of Lord Rochester.
5 out of 5 stars
A well-written mix of fact and fiction, telling the true life story of the naughty Lord R. Parts you think are fiction are in fact true but read it first before delving into Google. The first person takes a bit of getting used to since initially you expect a third person view, but it makes for an excellent story, and I for one was actually there with Lord R in all his escapades. Highly recommended.
With little experience of reading this genre, I cannot compare it to other works of historical fiction. Nonetheless, I shall endeavour to be fair in my review.
Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue is the story of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester who lived in the mid to late 17th century. He is an eccentric character who enjoys life, only bemoaning his choices when their consequences catch up with him. He is a character that is never settled, always looking for fun or new thrills, always moving onto the next delight. As such, I found him unlikeable and irresponsible; however, many would no doubt view him as roguish and puckishly charming.
The book flows well and is easy to read. The easy-going style pulls you in effortlessly. The narrative is written in first-person that could be loosely described as diary form. This style is jarring when it comes to him describing his own birth and death, but for the rest it works well. Most of the book is filled with 'telling' and it lacks dialogue, which is sparse throughout and makes the reading slow.
However, this book is extremely well researched and gives a fascinating insight into a period that included the black death and the fire of London.
In conclusion, I found this book an easy enough read and interesting. However, I felt in places I was just reading research notes that had been pasted together and missed the imaginative details that would have propelled the book into awesomeness. Where were the sights, smells, sounds, descriptions and anecdotes that would have truly brought that world alive?
by Darcy Lin Wood
This book is written in first person, in what could loosely be described as diary form. It is well-researched and written well-enough, yet it lacked imagination and at times was like reading research notes that had been pasted together. It did not have enough dialogue to add variation in the story-telling.
That is only my opinion and I do not usually read these sorts of books. However, if the 17th century is of interest to you and you like well-researched, undiluted, historical biographies then this book is for you!
I did learn a lot of history from reading this book and it gave me great insight into the times. In particular, court life, the class system and 17th century family life.
by Mildred Crumb
Most of those who know of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester have something of a preconceived image of him. While that image is not altogether false, Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue allows us to see a more rounded man and brings into the limelight the side of him that is usually cast in shadow. Here, Susan Cooper-Bridgewater has brilliantly shown how wrong it is to define anyone by reputation alone.
The book is written in the first person, narrated by the earl himself. This is what really gives the readers insight. We get to feel his emotions, see events through his eyes and understand how and why he is who he is. The author was very courageous to make Rochester the narrator, but her clear familiarity with the period and subject himself enabled her to handle the challenge perfectly. There is some wonderful 17th-century phraseology to be found in this book, keeping us firmly embedded in the era throughout, but it never goes over the top, so is still easy to follow in a 21st-century head.
The research that must have gone into this is astonishing. The author has had academic work published but this book uses the information in an imaginative way. Tale upon tale is told with amazing detail and many of the locations themselves are described so vividly that it seems likely the author has visited them to get that feel for them. Adding extra feel is the picture of the 17th century that’s painted throughout. Through the food, the carriages, the clothes, the theatre and the medicine, we get a real taste of life in Restoration England. Enthusiasts for the period will recognise many of the names that pop up and the number of dates that are given are proof of just how much painstaking effort must have gone into getting the facts right.
As well as fact, though, this is partly fiction, and it’s impossible to tell which is which. In his all-too brief life, Rochester got up to some pretty shock-inducing stuff, so what may seem fabrication is just as easily truth and vice versa. As can be expected from this infamous rake, he self-indulges in wine and women to a professional standard, but he certainly has a few other tricks up his sleeve too. Even people who aren’t into history will find plenty to entertain and, despite the joy of seeing the lesser-known aspects of Rochester, the accounts of his famous “bad boy” behaviour do not disappoint!
However, it is Rochester as a father, husband and lover that makes this book stand out most for me. Through his sensitivity as all three, we see the John Wilmot that surely existed but is never properly acknowledged.
As promised, there’s ink, wit and intrigue and the intrigue is provided to a T in the epilogue, which takes us right up to Georgian times. I don’t know quite how she did it but Susan Cooper-Bridgewater managed to change the atmosphere to match the new era, so, as well as the Restoration fans, anyone into the 18th century will find something here for them too.
A book to do His Lordship proud! I reckon he’d love to read it, but so should everyone else.
I am Leicestershire born and bred, and that wonderful shire is still my home. At the age of 15, on leaving school, I was employed as a legal secretary in the City of Leicester and continued in that profession for most of my working life.
I have for many years held a curiosity for England’s colourful history, with particular emphasis on the Restoration period and its people. My enthusiasm for this fascinating age has, in recent years, led me to scholarly research of those times resulting in some of my works being published in 2011 and 2013 volumes of Oxford University Press Notes and Queries Journal. I also have unpublished pieces archived in Blenheim Palace at Woodstock, Magdalene College in Cambridge and in the Library Catalogue of Trinity College in Cambridge.