Monday, June 15, 2015

John Crowley, The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines (2002)

This intriguingly-titled novella was published as a stand-alone volume, but it's expensive and hard to find. Better to buy the volume of the literary journal Conjunctions, where it first appeared. Available as an ebook, even!

The introduction to the journal is quite defensive about devoting a whole issue to genre material; frankly, if the readers were as provincial and hidebound as this makes them look, I feel embarrassed for them. The odd thing, though, is that The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines isn't even vaguely a “genre” story; it's a purely realistic narrative. One can only imagine that Crowley's reputation preceded him to the extent where anything he wrote was considered a priori fantasy/SF. Weird.

It's a pretty simple tale, really: a teenage theater nerd in the midwest gets a summer internship with a nearby Shakespeare festival; there, he meets a girl, Harriet, with whom he has a quasi-romance. The festival's eccentric backer introduces the interns to the wonderful world of Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theories, and he pokes around for a while at such things. There's a bit of biographical detail about Delia Bacon, an early theorist. Years later, he and Harriet reconnect on different terms.

And that is all. It's a small, low-stakes story, though also mysterious; the thematic connections between the romance and the Shakespeare theorizing and the other part that I didn't mention because it would be sort of spoilery to the extent that anything can be in a story like this are a bit obscure, though one feels that they are there. But the important thing is, it's so beautifully written and sad that you're like to start crying. Crowley is one hell of a writer. It'll take a few hours at most to read this, so what have you got to lose?


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