George, Margaret 1943-
George, Margaret 1943-
Born 1943, in Nashville, TN; married; husband's name Paul; children: a daughter. Education: Tufts University, B.A., 1964; Stanford University, M.A., 1966. Hobbies and other interests: Film, conservation (particularly endangered species), archaeology, Middle Eastern dance, Shakespeare, Mars exploration, photography, competitive track and field.
Agent—Jacques de Spoelberch, J de S Associates, 9 Shagbark Rd., Wilson Pt., South Norwalk, CT 06854.
Writer. National Institutes of Health, science writer, 1966-70; Washington University, news writer, 1970-72; freelance novelist, 1973—.
Archaeological Institute of America, St. Andrew's Scottish Society, Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum.
Oppie Award, best biographical novel, Southwestern Booksellers Association, Council for Wisconsin Writers first place award for book-length fiction, and Wisconsin Library Association best novel designation, all 1986, all for The Autobiography of Henry VIII; with Notes by His Fool, Will Somers; Outstanding Achievement by Wisconsin Author award, Wisconsin Library Association, 1993, for Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles.
NOVELS; UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Memoirs of Cleopatra, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Mary, Called Magdalene, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Helen of Troy, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
(With Christopher J. Murphy) Lucille Lost (children's book), illustrated by Debra Bandelin and Bob Dacey, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
Novels have been translated into fifteen languages, including Finnish, Greek, and Korean.
The Memoirs of Cleopatra was adapted for television as a four-hour miniseries for ABC-TV, c. 1999; The Autobiography of Henry VIII; with Notes by His Fool, Will Somers, Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, and The Memoirs of Cleopatra were adapted as sound recordings by Books on Tape and Audible.com; an abridged version of The Memoirs of Cleopatra was also adapted as a sound recording by Soundelux; Mary, Called Magdalene was adapted as a sound recording by Chivers Sound Library; Helen of Troy was adapted as a sound recording by Penguin Audio and Audible.com.
Margaret George spent fifteen years doing the research for her first historical novel, The Autobiography of Henry VIII; with Notes by His Fool, Will Somers. As the title implies, the book purports to tell the story of the famous English king, oft-criticized for his brutality to his wives and his advisors, from his own point of view. George uses the literary device of a secret autobiography, commented upon in footnotes by Henry's court jester. As Philippa Toomey reported in the London Times: "Henry is a hero to the author and she puts forward a persuasive case for him." Rather than a greedy man desirous of both church lands and a male heir, for instance, George explains Henry's historic break with the Catholic church as resulting from deep spiritual doubts—Henry asks the question of whether marrying his brother's widow caused God to punish him by withholding a son from him. Barbara Tritel in the New York Times Book Review observed that "George contributes intriguing material to the popular mythology" of Henry VIII's wives, and further commented on the book's "delightful detail." Though Mollie Hardwick in the Washington Post Book World lamented "the odd incongruity" of an occasional modern term, she concluded that "the writing is smooth and stylish enough that it is hard to believe that this is a first novel" and that "the historical detail and period flavor are … well conveyed."
George's next novel, Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, was published in 1992. This time the author tackles the story of Mary Stuart, the tragic queen of Scotland whose own intrigues, combined with betrayals by her advisors, religious differences, her position in line for the English throne, and the general turbulence of the times, resulted in her beheading at the hands of Henry VIII's daughter Elizabeth I. Though Sheila Paulos in the New York Times Book Review complained that George is too sympathetic to her subject, she conceded nonetheless that the author's "intriguing vision never wavers." Christopher Pavek lauded Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles in Library Journal, declaring that George "again shows exemplary research skills while improving significantly on her storytelling abilities."
The Memoirs of Cleopatra blends history and legend into a highly praised historical biography of the Egyptian queen. "Readers looking to be transported to another place and time will find their magic carpet here," maintained a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. In Library Journal Dorothy S. Golden made a similar assessment, noting of George's 1997 novel: "Both the telling and the tale are exceptional."
George's 2002 novel offers a feminist slant on the life of Mary, the early disciple of Jesus, in Mary, CalledMagdalene. Casting Mary in the light of a prophet rather than a prostitute, George creates work that Maureen Dowd, in the New York Times, dubbed "intriguing." However, Dowd added, the good Mary "may leave you a little nostalgic for the transgressive Mary's more gripping drama of sin and redemption." A Kirkus Reviews contributor hailed George's novel as "engaging and intelligent fiction."
In Helen of Troy, George focuses on the life of the mythical Helen, whose abduction led to the Trojan War, as written about by the classical authors Homer and Euripides. George begins her version of the story with the young Helen of Sparta learning through a prophesy by the sibyl at Delphi that she will be the cause of a war resulting in many Greek deaths. Helen's parents try to keep her in seclusion and eventually marry her off to Menelaus of Mycenaie. However, when Helen runs off with the Trojan prince Paris, Menelaus's brother Agamemnon sets out to seek revenge, thus setting the stage for a climatic and bloody war. "Only George … could render Helen's story with all the emotion, grandeur, and tragedy it deserves," wrote Sarah Johnson in Booklist. Other Critics also praised the novel, including a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who called it "a spirited appendix to one of literature's greatest stories." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented: "The mythic war, which, in less capable hands, might be over-romanticized, is portrayed with an enthusiasm that rings true to the period without verging on stagy."
George collaborated with Christopher J. Murphy to write the children's book Lucille Lost. Illustrated by Debra Bandelin and Bob Dacey, the tale is based on a true story and tells of a lost pet Burmese tortoise who heads out to a forest and encounters numerous adventures while family and neighborhood children look for it. The authors include numerous scientific facts about tortoises at the bottom of the book's pages. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Lucille Lost "adds up to an engaging mix of science and story."
George once told CA: "I come from a Southern background, and was born in Nashville, Tennessee. My early childhood was spent at various overseas posts where my father, a career diplomat, was stationed. These included Taiwan, Israel, and Germany. From the time I was seven, I created stories and wrote books, mainly to entertain myself. Although I kept them secret when I was writing them, once they were finished I would send them to publishers. My first completed book-length one (150 pages—I always liked length!), a novel about the Old West, was sent to Grosset & Dunlap when I was twelve. Then followed several other novels, on very different subjects, at approximately five-year intervals. The Autobiography of Henry VIII was my first published novel—thirty years after I submitted my first efforts to a publisher.
"Growing up in the 1950s, I really liked the big-screen epics of the era, and I am sure that has influenced my work. An obituary of filmmaker David Lean described his work as ‘elegant, detailed, and panoramic’—and I realized that was what I had aimed for in my work, trying to get down on paper what he got on the screen. At the same time, I think epics should be gorgeous and entertaining as well. Too many of them get weighted down with research and self-importance. If a story cannot stand on its own as a drama, then it isn't fiction, but something else.
"I credit my Southern background and the King James version of the Bible with my saga-like approach to storytelling and my love for the beauty of words. I use only published works in the public domain. For details, I am grateful to the historians Agnes Strickland, Lacey Baldwin Smith, and Michael Grant."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1997, Brad Hooper, review of The Memoirs of Cleopatra, p. 1203; May 1, 2006, Todd Morning, review of Lucille Lost, p. 91; June 1, 2006, Sarah Johnson, review of Helen of Troy, p. 6.
Bookseller, May 12, 2006, Kate Braley, review of Helen of Troy, p. 34.
Children's Bookwatch, September, 2006, review of Lucille Lost.
Entertainment Weekly, August 18, 2006, Jennifer Reese, review of Helen of Troy, p. 143.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of Mary, Called Magdalene, p. 514; May 1, 2006, review of Lucille Lost, p. 458; June 1, 2006, review of Helen of Troy, p. 535.
Library Journal, August, 1992, Christopher Pavek, review of Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, p. 148; May 1, 1997, Dorothy S. Golden, review of The Memoirs of Cleopatra, p. 139; July 1, 2006, Mary Kay Bird-Guilliams, review of Helen of Troy, p. 65.
New York Times, July 9, 2002, Maureen Dowd, review of Mary, Called Magdalene.
New York Times Book Review, October 12, 1986, Barbara Tritel, review of The Autobiography of Henry VIII; with Notes by His Fool, Will Somers, p. 28; November 1, 1992, Sheila Paulos, review of Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, p. 20; July 9, 2002, Maureen Dowd, review of Mary, Called Magdalene, p. B8.
Publishers Weekly, March 24, 1997, review of The Memoirs of Cleopatra, p. 58; May 13, 2002, review of Mary, Called Magdalene, p. 51; June 5, 2006, review of Helen of Troy, p. 31.
School Library Journal, August, 2006, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of Lucille Lost, p. 87.
Times (London, England), May 28, 1987, Philippa Toomey, review of The Autobiography of Henry VIII, p. 17.
Washington Post, July 20, 2003, interview with Margaret George.
Washington Post Book World, August 17, 1986, Mollie Hardwick, review of The Autobiography of Henry VIII,p. 4.
FWOMP,http://www.fwomp.com/ (April 4, 2007), Byron Merritt, "Historical Fiction: The Best of Both Worlds; An Interview with Bestselling Author Margaret George."
Margaret George Home Page,http://www.margaretgeorge.com (April 4, 2007).
Pan Macmillan Web site,http://www.panmacmillan.com/ (April 4, 2007), "Margaret George's New Book Is Helen of Troy," interview with author.