Meet the Author: Author’s Novel Focuses On Anne Shakespeare
Want to Go?
WANT TO GO?
Who: Arliss Ryan
What: Meet the Author
When: Thursday, March 10
Where: The Country Bookshop
in Southern Pines
Call (910) 692-3211
“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.”
“SHAKESPEARE, Anne Hathaway, 67. Seamstress and Playwright. 1556-1623. Daughter of the late Richard and Anne Hathaway of Shottery. Mother of Susanna, and twins Judeth and the late Hamnet. Buried August 6, 1623, in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, next to her husband, Will. Shakespeare, gent.”
In truth, Anne Shakespeare’s name does not appear in the chancel records as wife of William Shakespeare, the world’s greatest playwright, or as mother to his children.
“Virtually nothing is known about Anne Hathaway,” says novelist Arliss Ryan, “yet plenty of unkind words have been written about her. Shakespeare scholars in particular have not hesitated to portray her as a coarse, illiterate, country wench who seduced an innocent boy and made him miserable thereafter.”
With her “blood boiling,” Ryan set out to prove otherwise.
On Thursday, March 10, at 7 p.m. at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, Arliss Ryan will present her version of the woman lost to history in her new novel, “The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare.”
“Since we don’t have even a portrait of Anne, and there is very little historical information, I could give my imagination free rein,” Ryan says. “I made her a smart, funny, sensual woman with a mind and talents of her own, and the true author of the most famous plays. I pictured her and Will falling in love and courting beside the brook that ran near her father’s farm. But in my story, they fall in love not only with each other but with writing and the power of poetry. Anne becomes his equal as a writer, and their secret collaboration makes Shakespeare the foremost playwright in England. In the end Will gets all the glory and Anne remains unsung.”
Ryan’s novel is no mere flight of fancy, however.
“I wanted my story to be both historically accurate and plausible,” she says. “How could Anne have learned to read and write when girls were barred from the grammar schools? How could she have become adept at playwriting when women were excluded even from acting?
“At every step I had to weave together major historical events like the Spanish Armada and the complicated literary history of the composition of the plays. But gifted with natural intelligence and a vivid imagination and trained in the rough-and-tumble world of Elizabethan theater, why couldn’t a woman have done it? Why couldn’t Anne?”
The author says it took five intense years to meticulously research, write and edit the novel. In order to put Anne and Will’s lives in historical context, she conducted extensive research in Tudor London and the theater of the era, analyzed Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets, and visited England, including Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery and Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, where Anne and Will lay side by side for all eternity.
Publisher’s Weekly calls “The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare” a “delightful” “tantalizing what-if” novel. “Hathaway is a strong character who makes for an excellent narrator and a unique lens through which to view the familiar Elizabethan world.”
Karen Harper, author of “Mistress Shakespeare,” says the novel is “controversial and clever, daring and detailed” and “as sweeping and insightful, tragic and comic as some of the bard’s own plays.”
Ryan says her original choice for the book’s title was “The Shakespeare Chronicles.”
“To me, ‘chronicles’ evokes a sweeping sense of history and legend, of heroism and valiant deeds, a fitting word to sum up my saga of Anne, Will and the writing of the greatest plays in the English language. Unfortunately, my publisher did not agree.
“In the end, I still prefer ‘The Shakespeare Chronicles,’ and I urge male readers not to be deterred by the feminized title. But I am glad if the revised title plays a small part in restoring Anne’s name. To strip her of ‘Shakespeare’ follows the trend of belittling her as the shrewish wife. I say she deserves a better fate.”
Arliss Ryan was born in 1950 in Detroit. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1971. She worked as a freelance writer in advertising and public relations and at the United Nations as an administrative assistant. She’s taught college courses, been a consultant with the Small Business Development Center, and worked at Astor’s Beechwood Mansion, one of the “beautiful Gilded Age mansions” in Newport, R.I., where she set her second novel, “How (Not) to Have Perfect Wedding.” Her first novel, “The Kingsley House,” a “charming, old-fashioned, heart-warming family chronicle,” recounts her own family’s 150-year history living in a small town in Midwestern America.
Ryan lives with her husband, naval architect Eric Sponberg, and daughters, Kira and Dane, in St. Augustine, Fla., where she is working on a new novel.
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