News & Reviews

The Beauties by Lauren Chater

20 May 2024 News & Reviews

Set in 17th Century UK and The Netherlands, Lauren Chater’s historical fiction novel “The Beauties” follows the lives of three individuals existing in close connection to the Royal Family. Emilia Lennox, a young married woman of immense beauty, travels to London in the hopes of restoring the property and riches of her husband from the King. After losing her status, Emilia’s beauty becomes her currency, and she receives the favour of the King, yet it comes at the expense of her loyalty to him as his mistress. Emilia’s natural artistic talents are overlooked by society, hey beauty serving as her only source of value to all except young artist Henry Greenhill. Through the perspectives of these two characters, a historical narrative of 1660s England develops, providing insight into events such as the plague, and a simultaneous romance is also constructed between Emilia and Henry. Henry aides Emilia in enhancing her artistic skills, allowing Chater to explore the confinement and reduction of women to their physical appearance during this time.

A separate storyline develops through the perspective of Anne Hyde, who becomes the Duchess of York. Anne’s narrative occurs five years prior to those of Emilia and Henry, and she commissions a series of portraits named “The Beauties” which will hang in Windsor Castle. Emilia’s deal with the King later culminates in his agreement to have her portrait painted as one of these Beauties, painted by Henry Greenhill himself. Anne experiences her own struggles with oppression, being looked down upon for her lower-class upbringing and pregnancy prior to marriage. Chater’s text has impressively combined an accurate recount of significant historical events, an appreciation for artistic skill, and an exposition of the adversity faced by women in the 17th century.
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