I happened to like it when a book cannot easily be classified in the narrow confines of a particular genre. Is this an Erotic Fiction, or a Historical Fantasy? In my mind, life itself (and the art that mirrors it) constantly changes from one genre to the next, depending on the moment of experience. I appreciate a story for its contrasts, which explains precisely why I enjoy this work, and why some readers may not. Perhaps they expect one thing, based on the title ‘Dignity’–and on some pages they get something entirely different, such as a steaming, sensually described love scene. If you are one of these readers, beware. Otherwise, you will find such contrasts quite thrilling.
The book opens with an out-of-place Epilogue (titled Prologue) which describes the queen rehearsing for the most important day of her life, the day of her execution. “It was important, she believed, do end with the dignity of a queen. After all, the only thing that she had left was her dignity.” From there, we cut back to her childhood and her affair and marriage to the king. She becomes the witness–and in the end, the victim–of the high drama surrounding him. “His arrogance both attracted and infuriated her… She knew he could take her by force… she’d still have her dignity, and even he couldn’t have that.”
Katheryn Howard, the heroine of this story, is based on a historical figure about whom little is known (not even her date and place of birth.) Henry the VIII married her immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves was arranged. Katheryn was beheaded after less than two years of marriage, on the grounds of treason for committing adultery. This life, which is barely sketched in historical books due to its unknowns, provides a great, blank canvas for painting every emotion, every thought of this sensual woman. Confined in the tight dresses of the time, she is fighting to survive, as best she can, in the world of men.
One last note: when his painting The Nude Maja created an uproar, Goya created another painting of the same woman identically posed, but clothed. This book is provided in two versions: censored and uncensored, so you may take your pick.