The Lady Doth Protest
The Lady Doth Protest seems to be loosely based on Lysistrata, a play where the women of Athens barricade themselves in the Acropolis and refuse to let the men have sex with them until they make peace with Sparta. Only Klassel’s humor is a bit broader than Aristophanes’.
Lady Margaret de Languetot, called Megge by all, has, by the age of 24, been seven times betrothed and three times widowed – but never bedded. She is the great heiress of Castle Rising on “England’s southwest coast” (which jarred a bit, as the very famous Castle Rising is located in Norfolk in eastern England) but she has not been permitted to live there since she left it as a child, instead growing up under the care of her guardian Lord Humphrey and his wife. When she learns that King Edward is considering Lord Humphrey’s loathsome brother for her next husband, The Lady Doth Protest!
Determined to take her fate into her own hands, choose her own husband and administer her own lands, she repairs to Castle Rising taking all the women of her guardian’s home with her. They all have some complaint about their treatment by their men and their lack of say in matters important to them. Through subterfuge, they manage to take possession of the castle and then await the arrival of the men, resolving to keep the castle and to deny their men sexual favors until their concerns are addressed.
A blustering, angry – and sexually frustrated – Lord Humphrey arrives with his right-hand man Sir Olyver. Olyver is the biggest, the baddest, most ruthless knight in the land having earned the nickname “The Scourge of the Saracen, the Limb of Hell.” Not the kind of man you want laying siege to your castle. He has been promised Megge’s hand if he successfully resolves the impasse and as they meet to negotiate, they recognize in each other a smart and worthy – not to say devilishly attractive – opponent.
One problem of the novel was the inclusion of “Tatyania,” “Auberon,” and “the Fay” – if the author was paying homage to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it didn’t work for me. Aside from the needlessly precious spelling (and what’s up with “Olyver” and “Megge”? What’s wrong with “Oliver” and “Meg?”), I did not find this element of the novel successful. Mention of “the Fay” is just tossed in a few times and the book is very vague as to whether they are a real presence or not, not to mention that every time I read the term my hands itched for a red pen. It certainly wasn’t essential to the novel and wound up being simply intrusive.
The humor in this novel is very broad. Sometimes it works for me, as in the chapter which consists entirely of a flurry of letters to and from Megge, Lord Humphrey, Sir Olyver, and King Edward, and sometimes it is a bit strained and repetitious, as is the continual gossiping of the women over their men’s “lances.” Your enjoyment of the novel will depend entirely upon your appreciation for broad, low humor. I like it just fine – at times – but found it was wearing a bit thin for me by the end of the book.