The most controversial episode in the life of the seventeenth-century virtuoso and diarist John Evelyn has always been his passionate, complex friendship with the Restoration maid of honour Margaret Blagge, afterwards Mrs Godolphin. His 'Life of Mrs Godolphin', written after her early death in childbirth, exalted the friendship and represented her as effectively a saint. They saw their intense friendship as platonic spiritual mentoring. Yet it is sometimes argued that what took place between them was actually a kind of seduction on Evelyn's part; that far from trying to overcome her religious scruples about marriage to a young man she deeply loved, as he afterwards claimed, he secretly encouraged them in order to keep her in his power, and even falsified some documents to conceal this from her husband, whose patronage he sought. Was Evelyn in his way as much a sexual predator as the Restoration rakes he professed to despise, or does the episode provide a window on an unexplored aspect of early modern spirituality? Undoubtedly there was more to the friendship than Evelyn publicly admitted, but it remains a puzzle still to be interpreted.
This new study is based on Evelyn's papers, now fully accessible for the first time, and on important and hitherto unknown correspondence between Margaret Blagge and her future husband. It situates the episode fully within the pre- and post-Reformation debates concerning marriage and friendship (the latter seen by some as 'more a sacrament' than marriage) and the long traditions of platonic love and intense friendships between men and women in religious contexts. Its diverse and vividly realized settings include the glamorous, disreputable public household of the Restoration court and the great gardens of the day, at once 'little worlds' in microcosm and recreations of paradise on earth.
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(242mm x 163mm x 24mm)
Oxford University Press
Publisher: Oxford University Press
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UK Kirkus Review »
What marvellous additions have been made recently to the works of scholarship on the Restoration. First we had Clare Tomalin's highly acclaimed life of Pepys, and now we have Frances Harris's account of the platonic relationship between Pepys's fellow diarist John Evelyn and Margaret Blagge, a maid of honour at the Restoration court. John Evelyn worked with Pepys in the 1660s providing for seamen victims of the Second Dutch War. As well as a diarist Evelyn was the leading gardener of the Restoration period, and his best-known book is Sylva, an accessible treatise on arboriculture. Transformations of Love is an absorbing study of the relationship between Evelyn and the devout Anglican Margaret Blagge. The two first met when she was in her late teens, and the much older Evelyn had been happily married for more than 20 years. They formed a pact of spiritual friendship, and for two years before her marriage Margaret Blagge received spiritual counsel from Evelyn. Tragically, just three years after marrying future Prime Minister Sidney Godolphin, she died in childbirth, ending her 'holy friendship' with Evelyn. The core of the book is an examination of the pure love between Evelyn and Crabbe. Frances Harris throws revealing new light on the real depth of emotion between the friends, revealing how Evelyn defended physical love by saying 'those that shall people paradise, and fill heaven with saints, are such as have been subject to this passion, and were the products of it'. The author uses this study as the canvas on which she paints a fascinating word picture of society and attitudes in Restoration England. Her picture is remarkable for its combination of accuracy and vividness. Frances Harris is Senior Curator in Manuscripts at the British Library where Evelyn's archives have been housed since 1995. She is an authority on John Evelyn, and her sheer passion for this fascinating Restoration figure shines from every page of this wonderfully readable book. (Kirkus UK)
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