Stevenson, Jane 1959–
Stevenson, Jane 1959–
(Jane Barbara Stevenson)
PERSONAL: Born December 2, 1959; daughter of John Lynn (a diplomat) and Winifred Mary (a scholar; maiden name, Temple) Stevenson; married Peter R. Davidson (a scholar and writer). Education: Newnham College, Cambridge, Ph.D., 1985. Politics: Labour. Religion: Christian.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, Kings College, Aberdeen AB24 2UB, Scotland. Agent—Pat Kavanagh, Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Pembroke College, Cambridge, Cambridge, England, Drapers' research fellow, 1985–88; University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England, lecturer in history, 1988–95; University of Warwick, Warwick, England, research fellow, 1995–98, senior research fellow, 1999, reader, 2000; University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland, reader in English and comparative literature, 2000–02, reader in postclassical Latin and renaissance studies and professor of Latin, 2005–.
MEMBER: International Society for the Study of the Classical Tradition (fellow), International Society for Neo-Latin Studies (fellow), Royal Historical Society (fellow), Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (fellow), Society of Authors (fellow), Henry Bradshaw Society for the Editing of Rare Liturgical Texts (member of council), Renaissance Society of America (fellow).
(Editor) F.E. Warren, The Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church, second edition, Boydell Press (Wolfeboro, NH), 1987.
Women Writers in English Literature, Longman (Harlow, England), 1992.
The "Laterculus Malalianus" and the School of Archbishop Theodore, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1995.
(Editor, with Peter Davidson) The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie, Kt., Opened, Prospect Books (Blackawton, England), 1997.
(Editor, with Peter Davidson) Early Modern Women Poets: An Anthology, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2000.
Women Latin Poets: Language, Gender, and Authority from Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2005.
Work represented in anthologies, including The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe, edited by Rosamond McKitterick, Cambridge University Press, 1990; and Pedagogy and Power, edited by Niall Livingstone, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Several Deceptions (novellas), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
London Bridges (novel), Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2000, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
Astraea (first novel in a trilogy), Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2001, published as The Winter Queen, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
The Pretender (second novel in a trilogy), Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2002, published as The Shadow King, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
The Empress of the Last Days (third novel in a trilogy), Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2003, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
Good Women: Three Novellas, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2005, Mariner Books (Boston, MA), 2006.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Poetissae: Women and the Language of Authority, for Clarendon Press; The Latin Hymns of the Irish Church Scriptores Latini Hiberniae, for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
SIDELIGHTS: Jane Stevenson is a fiction writer and a student of post-classical Latin culture. In the latter role, she closely examines manuscripts and other historical documents to better understand the religious and intellectual climates of England's first Christian communities. For one of her projects, F.E. Warren's The Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church, she reconsidered Warren's 1881 history, comparing it with manuscripts from earlier centuries as she edited the work. Warren's history of the Celtic Christian communities' relationship with Rome had been used for about a century, but it was deemed by many critics to have been clouded by its author's nineteenth-century Anglican perspective. Stevenson edited the history and supplemented it with her ninety-page introduction, a bibliography, and an index. Milton McC. Gatch wrote in his review for Church History, "I find Stevenson's view that the Regula benedicti was almost universally known and observed in the early Middle Ages less than satisfactory, but her broadening of the evidence considered to the artifacts of the liturgy is a welcome step forward methodologically."
Stevenson examines the seventh-century manuscript Laterculus Malalianus in her The "Laterculus Malalianus" and the School of Archbishop Theodore. The manuscript, referred to by scholars as "LM," has been attributed to the archbishop Theodore, though Stevenson makes it clear that this attribution is entirely circumstantial. Theodore was a Greek monk who became the archbishop of Canterbury in 668 C.E. He reorganized the English diocese and helped give the English church its distinctively flavor. His LM is an historical exegesis of the life of Christ. In Stevenson's book she reexamines the manuscript, the last complete text that remains from seventh-century Canterbury and which proves that, though Latin was the language of instruction, Greek content was taught at Canterbury. She finds that there was greater Eastern influence in the early Christian church in England than Germanic-biased scholars had believed. "Stevenson has done a masterful job of translating and analyzing this text," wrote Bradley Nassif in Church History. "Her meticulous scholarship and highly competent linguistic abilities give the book a first-class rating. Her thesis that the basis of Anglo-Saxon culture was Greek more than Latin will surely give rise to historical revision concerning the early impact of Byzantine Christianity on the churches of the West. For this reviewer, it is particularly significant to see how the school of Theodore adopted the exegetical techniques of the school of Antioch." In the Journal of Religion, Paul E. Szarmach wrote: "The argument is excellent in its overall clarity and in the execution of detail…. Often Stevenson's wit enlivens her clear prose with a deft allusion, as when she comments on literature suitable for 'nicely brought-up girls.'"
Stevenson's first foray into fiction is a collection of four novellas, titled Several Deceptions, that explores the theme of deception of others or of oneself. Hal Jensen described the work in his Times Literary Supplement review as "a very enjoyable display of deadly wit given with a relaxed literary confidence." "Stevenson's maturity as a writer is even more remarkable given that the collection brings together four first-person narratives," Jensen continued, but "a single voice can be heard behind all these stories…. She sounds all the more singular for allowing her personality to creep into the supposed expressions of others, however varied. Here is a gossipy, critical, intellectual, high-spirited and literate voice." Booklist reviewer Nancy Pearl characterized Several Deceptions as an "elegant and witty debut," adding: "Think of her style as a bit of Fay Weldon, a smattering of Muriel Spark, and a dose of Iris Murdoch, although her inventive plots, con brio, are all her own."
With the critical success of Several Deceptions established, Stevenson turned to the classic English detective story for her next work of fiction. London Bridges, set in contemporary London, is the story of a young lawyer who is drawn into a series of crimes—and finally, murder—after he finds a treasure lost during the London Blitz of World War II. With a complex plot and a huge cast of characters, the mystery combines humor, satire, social commentary, and moments of pathos. Writing in the Library Journal, Margee Smith called the book "a tantalizing mystery." Smith also noted, "From the first pages to the climax, a semi-comic chase uniting everyone including Alice the dog, the story satisfies. An evocative and witty romp through modern London."
Stevenson is also the author of a fictionalized historical trilogy featuring Elizabeth of Bohemia, who is the sister of England's Charles I. In the first book The Winter Queen, titled Astraea in England, the exiled Elizabeth is living in Holland with her husband, the dethroned Elector Palatine of Spain. When her husband dies, Elizabeth struggles to survive, borrowing money from other nobles whom she knows and hoping one day to be restored to her rightful throne. She ends up falling in love with Pelagius van Overmeer, a theology student who is actually an African prince and a onetime slave. An accomplished student, Pelagius has won his freedom and is famous throughout Amsterdam for his intellect and wit. Eventually, Elizabeth and Pelagius are secretly married to avoid scandal and have a son named Balthasar, who also must be kept hidden. "A bright and engaging portrait of private lives rendered against a broad and vivid canvas of human history," remarked a Kirkus Reviews contributor about the novel. Jennifer Baker, writing in Library Journal, noted the author's "complex characterization and marvelous rendering of the dark ambiance of the Dutch Golden Age."
The Shadow King focuses on Balthasar, who has completed his medical studies and becomes involved with Aphra Behn, who is considered to be the first feminist writer. Behn is also a spy for England, however, and steals Balthasar's documentation proving his royal birth. Many years later, Balthasar moves to England, marries, and then moves to the Caribbean. Several years later, he returns to England, where he once again encounters Behn. In a review for Publishers Weekly, a critic noted, "In depicting Balthasar's anomalous position as a black man in white society, and a descendant of royal blood who lives as a commoner, Stevenson engagingly illuminates a pivotal era of history." Library Journal contributor Baker commented that this second installment of the trilogy "surpasses the first in richly drawn characters, plot complexity, mad historic detail."
The final book in the trilogy, The Empress of the Last Days, begins in modern times when documents, including a play by Behn, are discovered by a student historian named Corinne. The papers indicate that the royal lineage may have gone awry and that the true queen of England is possibly a black woman from Barbados. Corinne and her ex-boyfriend Michael become fascinated by the story they uncover and eventually learn that it may be part of an age-old prophecy. "Deftly mixing scholarship and history, Stevenson … creates a tale rich in ironies and send-ups of academic intransigence," stated a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Brad Hooper, writing in Booklist, felt that the "sophisticated novel has the feel of years of planning—not because it is overdone but because it is … well thought out." In Library Journal, Wendy Bethel concluded that The Empress of the Last Days is a "truly wonderful book and a fitting end to a fabulous trilogy."
Stevenson told CA: "My academic work, which has ranged from a study of St. Theodore of Tarsus and his school at Canterbury in the seventh century to a collection of early modern women's poetry, has always been very much focused on people: how a particular milieu makes some patterns of thought likely, but others impossible, how actions follow from events. Understanding the factors which governed the life of a soap-boiler's daughter who was writing Latin verse in seventeenth-century Rome (a true story) is closely allied to the art of the novelist. All fiction has to be researched, not just historical novels, since it is necessary to understand the circumstances of character's lives in order to carry conviction. Groping for an understanding of human action and motivation is the business of my life, though some of the people I write about are imaginary and others are real. The overriding concern of all my writing is to try and make sense of people in particular contexts, and/or to understand how particular contexts explain what people do."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, November-December, 2002, Tom LeClair, review of The Winter Queen, p. 88.
Booklist, September 1, 2000, Nancy Pearl, review of Several Deceptions, p. 68; November 15, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Shadow King, p. 581; October 15, 2004, Brad Hooper, review of The Empress of the Last Days, p. 391.
Church History, March, 1991, Milton McC. Gatch, review of The Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church, pp. 151-152; December, 1997, Bradley Nassif, review of The "Laterculus Malalianus" and the School of Archbishop Theodore, pp. 790-792.
English Historical Review, November, 1997, Nicholas Brooks, review of The "Laterculus Malalianus" and the School of Archbishop Theodore, p. 1227.
Independent (London, England), July 10, 2005, Sue Gaisford, review of Good Women: Three Novellas; July 19, 2005, Patrick Thomson Gale, review of Good Women.
Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 5, number 2, 1997, Clyde Curry Smith, review of The "Laterculus Malalianus" and the School of Archbishop Theodore, pp. 294-296.
Journal of Religion, July, 1997, Paul E. Szarmach, review of The "Laterculus Malalianus" and the School of Archbishop Theodore, pp. 461-463.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of The Winter Queen, p. 1261; September 15, 2003, review of The Shadow King, p. 1152; October 1, 2004, review of The Empress of the Last Days, p. 936.
Library Journal, July, 2001, Margee Smith, review of London Bridges, p. 126; October 15, 2002, Jennifer Baker, review of The Winter Queen, p. 96; October 15, 2003, Jennifer Baker, review of The Shadow King, p. 100; November 15, 2004, Wendy Bethel, review of The Empress of the Last Days, p. 52.
New Statesman, April 16, 2001, Patricia Duncker, review of Astraea, p. 58.
New York Times Book Review, November 5, 2000, Paul Baumann, "Deconstruction Sites," review of Several Deceptions, p. 31.
Observer (London, England), July 17, 2005, Penny Perrick, review of Good Women.
Publishers Weekly, August 14, 2000, review of Several Deceptions, p. 330; September 23, 2002, review of The Winter Queen, p. 47; September 1, 2003, review of The Shadow King, p. 60; October 18, 2004, review of The Empress of the Last Days, p. 48.
Times Literary Supplement, April 30, 1999, Hal Jensen, review of Several Deceptions, p. 24; June 30, 2000, Heather O'Donoghue, review of London Bridges, p. 24; April 6, 2001, review of Astraea, p. 24.