Exit the Actress
While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater’s proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England.
Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn’t enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance.
Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen’s diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.
Reading Group Guide
It is seventeenth-century London: England is at peace, King Charles II has been restored to the throne, and young Ellen Gwyn has a decision to make. Does she obey her mother and follow her sister Rose into the demi monde of prostitution or does she risk all and chart her own course? Ellen, better know to history as ‘Nell’ defies her family and becomes an orange girl, selling fruit at Covent Garden’s famous Theatre Royal. Her risk brings speedy rewards and at the theatre she soon rises to become the most popular actress in London.
Outrageous, bright, and brimming with wit, beauty and grace, she charms all who meet her, quickly befriending Poet Laureate John Dryden, playwright Aphra Behn, famed libertine Johnny, Earl of Rochester and the last of the cross dressing actors, Edward Kynaston. She is courted by men named Charles: Charles Hart, leading actor, Lord Charles Buckhurst wealthy, young wit and finally the most famous Charles of all: King Charles II of England.
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