Signed Mary Novik Conceit

ISBN 13: 9780385662055

Conceit

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9780385662055: Conceit

"St Paul's cathedral stands like a cornered beast on Ludgate hill, taking deep breaths above the smoke. The fire has made terrifying progress in the night and is closing in on the ancient monument from three directions. Built of massive stones, the cathedral is held to be invincible, but suddenly Pegge sees what the flames covet: the two hundred and fifty feet of scaffolding erected around the broken tower. Once the flames have a foothold on the wooden scaffolds, they can jump to the lead roof, and once the timbers burn and the vaulting cracks, the cathedral will be toppled by its own mass, a royal bear brought down by common dogs." (p.9)

It is the Great Fire of 1666. The imposing edifice of St. Paul's Cathedral, a landmark of London since the twelfth century, is being reduced to rubble by the flames that engulf the City.

In the holocaust, Pegge and a small group of men struggle to save the effigy of her father, John Donne, famous love poet and the great Dean of St. Paul's. Making their way through the heat and confusion of the streets, they arrive at Paul's wharf. Pegge's husband, William Bowles, anxiously scans the wretched scene, suddenly realizing why Pegge has asked him to meet her at this desperate spot.

The story behind this dramatic rescue begins forty years before the fire. Pegge Donne is still a rebellious girl, already too clever for a world that values learning only in men, when her father begins arranging marriages for his five daughters, including Pegge. Pegge, however, is desperate to taste the all-consuming desire that led to her parents' clandestine marriage, notorious throughout England for shattering social convention and for inspiring some of the most erotic and profound poetry ever written. She sets out to win the love of Izaak Walton, a man infatuated with her older sister.

Stung by Walton's rejection and jealous of her physically mature sisters, the boyish Pegge becomes convinced that it is her own father who knows the secret of love. She collects his poems, hoping to piece together her parents' history, searching for some connection to the mother she barely knew.

Intertwined with Pegge's compelling voice are those of Ann More and John Donne, telling us of the courtship that inspired some of the world's greatest poetry of love and physical longing. Donne's seduction leads Ann to abandon social convention, risk her father's certain wrath, and elope with Donne. It is the undoing of his career and the two are left to struggle in a marriage that leads to her death in her twelfth childbirth at age thirty-three.

In Donne's final days, Pegge tries, in ways that push the boundaries of daughterly behaviour, to discover the key to unlock her own sexuality. After his death, Pegge still struggles to free herself from an obsession that threatens to drive her beyond the bounds of reason. Even after she marries, she cannot suppress her independence or her desire to experience extraordinary love.

Conceit brings to life the teeming, bawdy streets of London, the intrigue-ridden court, and the lushness of the seventeenth-century English countryside. It is a story of many kinds of love — erotic, familial, unrequited, and obsessive — and the unpredictable workings of the human heart. With characters plucked from the pages of history, Mary Novik's debut novel is an elegant, fully-imagined story of lives you will find hard to leave behind.

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About the Author:

Mary Novik was raised in a large family in Victoria, British Columbia. Labeled a "bookworm" by her grade two teacher, Mary has been passionate about books all her life. She was inspired to write Conceit when she was visiting St. Paul's Cathedral in London and discovered that John Donne's effigy was the only monument that survived the Great Fire of 1666. That night, back in her hotel, Mary had a dream in which his daughter Pegge braved the holocaust to rescue her father's statue. Why? From that one question, Conceit began to unfold.

Called "a magnificent novel of seventeenth-century London" by The Globe and Mail, Conceit has been warmly received by book clubs and was chosen as a Book of the Year by both Quill & Quire and The Globe and Mail.

Mary lives in Vancouver and is at work on a new novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The City

1666

It is the second of September, a Sunday, at one o’clock in the ­morning.

Samuel Pepys is making his way home from the Three Cranes, where he drank too much mulled sack and sang himself hoarse. He feels an odd sensation and pushes away a mongrel sniffing at his breeches. To walk well with a sword requires a certain amount of swagger and forward thrust, but he is weaving back and forth, focusing only two steps ahead. As he passes through Pudding lane, he takes little notice of the unusual glow inside the bakery. He is concentrating on sobering up so he can go straight in to his wife if she calls out. When she cannot sleep, Elizabeth likes to read to him or play at cards, and he counts it the most pleasant hour of his day. In his pocket is a new comedy that has been banging against his thigh all night. He will produce the book to divert her, if she is ­willing.

The baker, Thomas Farrinor, set out his dough to rise and dampened the coals in his oven before going to bed, but forgot to latch the window. When the wind came up early from the northeast, it stirred the embers and carried a spark into the Star Inn in Fishstreete. Fuelled by the straw in the ­stable-­yard, the fire has now doubled back and is menacing Farrinor’s own bedchamber. At two o’clock, he is awakened by the smell of baking dough and is greeted by an unusually red dawn and an unseasonable heat. Farrinor scrambles out onto the rooftop for safety. The houses are pitched so close together at the top that he can leap over the narrow street onto his neighbour’s ­roof.

And so he does, for the fire is right behind ­him.

Told that his wife is unwell, Pepys is sleeping in his great chamber ­below-­stairs. At three o’clock, his maid shakes him, urging him to come to her bedchamber. She leads him up the narrow staircase to her window to point out a fire burning to the west, not far from London ­bridge.

In the amber light, his maid’s breasts appear to beckon, and he codes his thoughts in the lingua franca he has picked up from sailors. Her candle tilts towards his nightshirt, more of a threat than the fire, which the wind is driving towards the river. Musing over how pleasant it would be to tocar her mamelles so as to make himself espender, he crawls back into his solitary bed. He snuffs out his candle, lies down, sits up to check that the wick is truly out, and falls, by an erotic meandering or two, into a deep and satisfying ­sleep.

At seven, his maid wakes him again, telling him that three hundred houses have been destroyed in the night. He walks to the Tower and climbs up for a better look. From there Pepys sees that the fire has burnt all down Fishstreete to the bridge, and as far as the Steelyard to the west. However, the wind has now turned and is driving the blaze straight into the City. Even the stones of St Magnus’s ­church–­or so it seems in this red ­light–­are burning after the long summer ­drought.

Pepys takes a boat along the river to view the extent of the fire, getting out at Whitehall and up into the King’s closet as quickly as he can. Attracting a crowd, he is called to the King to give his account first hand. He warns the King and the Duke of York that unless houses are pulled down in its path, the fire will stop at nothing. Asked by the King to find the mayor and give him this advice, Pepys takes a coach as far as Ludgate, then is forced to get out and continue on ­foot.

On Ludgate hill, he finds St Paul’s cathedral being turned into a storehouse. The mercers are piling up their ­yard-­goods in the nave, and the booksellers are carting their books down the ­twenty-­six steps into their parish church in St Paul’s crypt, where they will be doubly safe beneath the marble flagstones. Whole bookstores are being stacked in ­St-­Faith’s-­under-­Paul’s and small boys have been put to work stopping up the crevices in the walls with rags. A bookseller bumps his cart through the churchyard past Pepys, who picks up an octavo that has landed ­face-­down in the grime. In this turmoil, no one cares about a single book, so he pockets it and walks east along Watling ­street.

Overtaking Mayor Bludworth in Canning street at noon, Pepys advises him to knock down the buildings ahead of the fire. If this is done, Pepys says, there is still hope of stopping the destruction at the Three Cranes above and at Botolph’s below the bridge. However, Bludworth has been up all night and is now spent. He rejects the Duke of York’s offer of soldiers to pull down houses, for the owners are militantly against ­it.

The mayor does not think the fire will spread. “A chambermaid could piss it out,” he says, retiring to a tavern for ­refreshment.

Pepys calculates the amount of fluid in a chambermaid’s bladder. A pint, he guesses, perhaps a little more, hardly enough to douse a spark. He has been able to hold little urine himself since a ­kidney-­stone was cut out of him eight years before. At the memory, his bladder tightens. He unbuttons and relieves himself against a ­wall.

Hearing fluttering, he looks up, and sees that the pigeons above his head are like people, reluctant to leave their roosts until it cannot be put off. The goods that people carried from Thames street up to Canning street that morning are now being removed to Lombard street, where they will most likely need to be shifted again. A cripple fights with an ­able-­bodied man for a cart, and a slight woman bears one child on her front and another on her back. Pepys sees a sick man carried from his house, still in his bed, and the lanes stopped up by handcarts, the citizens more eager to save their goods than quench the fire. There is an exuberance to it all, a clutching of valuables, a crying out against arsonists and foreigners, a kindly touching of sleeves, and a cutting of purse strings when the uproar presents an ­opportunity.

Pepys walks on, as near to the fire as he can get for smoke, assessing the damage to the ­City.



Mrs William Bowles is making her way down from her house in Clerkenwell on foot, skirting the Fleet river on its journey south and staying well clear of the fire that is burning along the ­Thames.

In spite of its name, this river is far from fleet. It is more of a ditch, at best a backwater, although it has its source in the clear springs and wells of Hampstead. She crosses the Fleet on ­Cow-­bridge, stopping to peer into water so clogged with refuse that even the single oarsman can make little progress upstream. His scull is loaded with his possessions, topped by a wooden lute that is listing towards the river, weeping a few plaintive notes. As the scull passes, Pegge spots a long silvery object flashing just downstream of the straining ­oar.

She hurries down the ­river-­stairs and grasps a boatman’s pole lying on the bank. Kneeling down, she steers and coaxes the fish towards her. Clutching it like a hawk, she lifts it free of the floating waste and teeters above the brackish water, fish aloft, heels sinking, until she regains her balance. Something is amiss, for the fish does not struggle to free itself. When she inspects it, she finds that her nails have perforated the skin like serving forks. The pike has been scotched with a knife and grilled on ­wood-­coal, perhaps in a cookshop in Fishstreete where the fire began two days before. She lets it slip back into the lukewarm Fleet and watches it being churned towards the ­Thames.

Fish make her think of love. She cannot help herself, though she is aware that other women favour the honey fragrance of the heliotrope or eating sugar by the spoonful. Often she seeks out fishermen along the River Lea just to watch their sleeves shoot up and their muscles tense as they cast out their ­lines.

Feeling the heat rising off the water, she tries to judge the height of the sun through the smoky air. Saffron, her husband William would call this light, or ochre, never a simple ­pea-­green or bilious yellow. There is somewhere she is meant to be. Her tongue feels for the spot where a baby tooth has been nestling in her gums for fifty years. The mud on her petticoat has already dried to a treacly brown. She shakes it off and ties up the ribbons on her stockings. Twisting her skirts into a knot, she walks quickly towards the ­Strand.



In a house overlooking St Clement Danes, the ­dancing-­master is nodding out the ­beats.

“You are distante, Madame Bowles.” Monsieur de la Valière elongates each syllable with a puff of vinegary breath. “Yet the fire is bien loin. No one suggests it will come here, not even the most dire prognosticateur of your Royal Society. You must reverse like the mirror, my right, your left.”

“The air is too close for dancing, Monsieur.”

“London has always this brown fog. It stops up the nose and the sensories.” He pinches his nostrils to show her. “Even the perspirations are brown.”

Why has she come here on such a day? The damp silk feels cold against her skin, unlike good English wool. The sleeves bind her arms and the fabric bunches against her thighs, as if something is trapped inside the folds. In this garment, she might as well be naked to the eye. Her father once said that draping a woman’s bones with silk was like smearing birdlime on twigs to catch unwary ­songbirds.

“Step, dip, turn, repeat, fa fa fa,” he sings out. “En cadence s’il vous plaît.”

She cannot seem to please this morning. Even her shoes are unhappy with her feet. She goes to the window, leaving the ­dancing-­master skimming about the floor in lonely minuets. Throwing open the ca...

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Novik, Mary
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Book Description Doubleday Canada, Canada, 2007. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: As New. 1st Edition. One small closed tear on DJ.Not Price Clipped. Canadian First. Complete number line from 1 to 10; signed by Mary Novik on the title page.It is the Great Fire of 1666. The imposing edifice of St. Paul's Cathedral, a landmark of London since the twelfth century, is being reduced to rubble by the flames that engulf the City. In the holocaust, Pegge and a small group of men struggle to save the effigy of her father, John Donne, famous love poet and the great Dean of St. Paul's. Making their way through the heat and confusion of the streets, they arrive at Paul's wharf. Pegge's husband, William Bowles, anxiously scans the wretched scene, suddenly realizing why Pegge has asked him to meet her at this desperate spot. The story behind this dramatic rescue begins forty years before the fire. Pegge Donne is still a rebellious girl, already too clever for a world that values learning only in men, when her father begins arranging marriages for his five daughters, including Pegge. Pegge, however, is desperate to taste the all-consuming desire that led to her parents' clandestine marriage, notorious throughout England for shattering social convention and for inspiring some of the most erotic and profound poetry ever written. She sets out to win the love of Izaak Walton, a man infatuated with her older sister. Signed by Author(s). Bookseller Inventory # 006894

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