Conceit by Mary Novik
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Conceit brings to life the teeming, bawdy streets of London, the intrigue-ridden court, and the lushness of the seventeenth-century English countryside. It is a story of many kinds of love–erotic, familial, unrequited, and obsessive–and the unpredictable workings of the human heart. With characters plucked from the pages of history, Mary Novik’s debut novel is an elegant, fully-imagined story of lives you will find hard to leave behind.
It is the Great Fire of 1666. The imposing edifice of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a landmark of London since the 12th century, is being reduced to rubble by the flames that engulf the City.
In the holocaust, Pegge and a small group of men struggle to save the effigy of her father, John Donne, famous love poet and the great Dean of St. Paul’s. Making their way through the heat and confusion of the streets, they arrive at Paul’s wharf. Pegge’s husband, William Bowles, anxiously scans the wretched scene, suddenly realizing why Pegge has asked him to meet him at this desperate spot.
The story behind this dramatic rescue begins forty years before the fire. Pegge Donne is still a rebellious girl, already too clever for a world that values learning only in men, when her father begins arranging marriages for his five daughters, including Pegge. Pegge, however, is desperate to taste the all-consuming desire that led to her parents’ clandestine marriage, notorious throughout England for shattering social convention and for inspiring some of the most erotic and profound poetry ever written. She sets out to win the love of Izaak Walton, a man infatuated with her older sister.
Stung by Walton’s rejection and jealous of her physically mature sisters, the boyish Pegge becomes convinced that it is her own father who knows the secret of love. She collects his poems, hoping to piece together her parents’ history, searching for some connection to the mother she barely knew.
Intertwined with Pegge’s compelling voice are those of Ann More and John Donne, telling us of the courtship that inspires some of the world’s greatest poetry of love and physical longing. Donne’s seduction leads Ann to abandon social convention, risk her father’s certain wrath, and marry Donne. It is the undoing of his career and the two are left to struggle in a marriage that leads to her death in her 12th childbirth at age 33.
In Donne’s final days, Pegge tries, in ways that push the boundaries of daughterly behaviour, to discover the key to unlock her own sexuality. After his death, Pegge still struggles to free herself from an obsession that threatens to drive her beyond the bounds of reason. Even after she marries, she cannot suppress her independence or her desire to experience extraordinary love.
About the Author
Mary Novik was born in Victoria, British Columbia. She grew up in a large family in Victoria and Surrey, and now lives in Vancouver with her husband. Her first novel, Bracelet of Bright Hair, was shortlisted in the 2000 Chapters/Robertson Davies competition out of over 400 unpublished novels, and excerpts were published in The New Quarterly: New Directions in Canadian Writing.
2 copies availableNo longer available
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Anchor Canada
- ISBN-10: 0385662068
- ISBN-13: 978-0385662062
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