Ellen Gwyn has not had an easy childhood. Her father is dead, her mother is a drunk and her sister has turned to prostitution. Using the money Ellen makes as an oyster girl they barely scrape by. After her success as a sales girl is noticed, Ellen is offered a job selling oranges at the theater. There she is mesmerized by the world before her and soon befriends many of the actors who take her under their wing and begin to teach her their art. Although she encounters difficulties at first, Ellen (or Nell as the people call her) soon comes into her own on the stage with a flair for comedies and begins to move in higher circles. She embarks on her first romance and enjoys the company of the wits of London. She soon comes to the notice of King Charles II and finds the true love she has always wanted. The position of King's mistress is no easy one however, and she must wrestle with her conscience over her friendship with the Queen, navigate the politically influenced waters of court, and avoid her jealous rivals including the vapid Moll Davis and the domineering Lady Castlemaine.
Uniquely written in diary format and interspersed with recipes, playbills, gossip columns, and other documents to advance the story, Exit the Actress is a front row seat to Restoration England as seen through the eyes of this spunky and intriguing lady. I felt immersed in the era as I followed along with Nell who made an astonishing rise in fortunes from oyster girl living in poverty to actress to beloved mistress of the King. I loved the character of Ellen who refused to follow the path her sister had taken and to never settle for mutual affection but kept to her search for true love until she found it. Parmar's Nell is never quite comfortable with court life and her paramours paying her way. She wishes to live her life on her own terms-a characteristic I really liked and one which set her apart from the other ladies vying for Charles' attention. Her only concession is to give up acting at the request of the King.
Many readers do not like the diary format because it limits the point of view and character interaction but I thought it worked exceptionally well here. Others may take issue with this format because some believe Nell was illiterate. The author does offer explanation of why she chose to write in diary format in the authors note though. This was an exciting period in English history where women were finally permitted to grace the stage and write professionally and it was all brought wondrously to life by Nell. It took me just over a day to finish this book and I can't wait for the next one from this author!
This book was sent to me by the publisher through Shelf Awareness
Today is my 29th birthday! To celebrate I am giving away my copy of Exit the Actress.
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