It’s always thrilling when a new novelist marches into familiar territory and delivers something refreshingly different. In this case, Andrea Chapin presents a story of William Shakespeare, a woman every bit his equal, and the relationship that inspires some of his best work. If you think you know this tale already, The Tutor will prove you wrong in wonderful ways.
In the year 1590, 31-year-old widow Katharine de L’Isle is living on her uncle’s estate in Lancashire, where the family secretly practices Catholicism amid Queen Elizabeth’s rampant persecution of their faith. Katharine is resigned to a quiet life populated by her extended family and the books her uncle taught her to love from an early age. Then a new schoolmaster arrives: William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare is not yet the literary titan he will grow to be, nor is he yet the toast of the London theatre scene, but there’s already a boldness to him that’s at first off-putting to Katharine. As the two grow closer, though, they find an intellectual kinship which blossoms into something much more passionate.
Chapin spent years researching this novel, but she never lets her knowledge of Shakespeare or Elizabethan England overwhelm the story. Instead, her research infuses the book with the kind of detail that makes it feel warm, lived-in and real.
Perhaps more importantly, though, she writes Shakespeare not like a god among men, but like a human. He feels real in ways other fictional depictions of him never have, and a big reason why is Chapin’s creation of Katharine. She’s Shakespeare’s intellectual and emotional equal, and she’s not simply swept off her feet by him. In many ways, she’s the dominant character, and that’s both refreshing and entertaining.
The Tutor is a rich, beautifully constructed debut novel that will captivate readers of historical fiction and romance alike, and even the most devoted of Shakespeare fans will be thrilled by this new look at The Bard.