Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Claire Canary’s Review of Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue:Lord Rochester, in Chains of Quicksilver by Susan Cooper-Bridgewater ISBN: 9781783063079

Most of those who know of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester have something of a preconceived image of him. While that image is not altogether false, Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue allows us to see a more rounded man and brings into the limelight the side of him that is usually cast in shadow. Here, Susan Cooper-Bridgewater has brilliantly shown how wrong it is to define anyone by reputation alone.

The book is written in the first person, narrated by the earl himself. This is what really gives the readers insight. We get to feel his emotions, see events through his eyes and understand how and why he is who he is. 

The author was very courageous to make Rochester the narrator, but her clear familiarity with the period and subject himself enabled her to handle the challenge perfectly. There is some wonderful 17th-century phraseology to be found in this book, keeping us firmly embedded in the era throughout, but it never goes over the top, so is still easy to follow in a 21st-century head.

The research that must have gone into this is astonishing. The author has had academic work published but this book uses the information in an imaginative way. Tale upon tale is told with amazing detail and many of the locations themselves are described so vividly that it seems likely the author has visited them to get that feel for them. 

Adding extra feel is the picture of the 17th century that’s painted throughout. Through the food, the carriages, the clothes, the theatre and the medicine, we get a real taste of life in Restoration England. Enthusiasts for the period will recognise many of the names that pop up and the number of dates that are given are proof of just how much painstaking effort must have gone into getting the facts right.

As well as fact, though, this is partly fiction, and it’s impossible to tell which is which. In his all-too brief life, Rochester got up to some pretty shock-inducing stuff, so what may seem fabrication is just as easily truth and vice versa.

As can be expected from this infamous rake, he self-indulges in wine and women to a professional standard, but he certainly has a few other tricks up his sleeve too. Even people who aren’t into history will find plenty to entertain and, despite the joy of seeing the lesser-known aspects of Rochester, the accounts of his famous “bad boy” behaviour do not disappoint!
However, it is Rochester as a father, husband and lover that makes this book stand out most for me. Through his sensitivity as all three, we see the John Wilmot that surely existed but is never properly acknowledged.

As promised, there’s ink, wit and intrigue and the intrigue is provided to a T in the epilogue, which takes us right up to Georgian times. I don’t know quite how she did it but Susan Cooper-Bridgewater managed to change the atmosphere to match the new era, so, as well as the Restoration fans, anyone into the 18th century will find something here for them too.

A book to do His Lordship proud! I reckon he’d love to read it, but so should everyone else.

The book can be purchased at or