Try Before You Trust

To All Gentlewomen and Other Maids in Love

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Pub Date 9 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 15 Aug 2024


What if Taylor Swift found herself penning songs about love in Elizabethan England when women were required to be chaste, obedient, and silent? Young poet Isabella Whitney sets out to do just that. Having risked reputation and virtue by allowing her passions for her employer's aristocratic nephew to get the better of her, young poet Isabella Whitney defies sixteenth century convention and sets out to shake up London's reading public by being the first woman to pen a poem about the deceptive practices of men in love. Follow her incredible journey from maidservant to an illicit passionate affair to published poet.

What if Taylor Swift found herself penning songs about love in Elizabethan England when women were required to be chaste, obedient, and silent? Young poet Isabella Whitney sets out to do just that...

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Average rating from 14 members

Featured Reviews

“Try Before You Trust” is a nice blend of historical romance, feminist rebellion, and forbidden desire. It's about a young poet, Isabella Whitney who writes songs about love in Elizabethan England, during a time when women were required to be chaste, obedient, and silent. It's a story about Isabella and how she meets Robert who is the nephew to the widowed baroness. Their chemistry is electric from the start, and they also have a bit of tension and forbidden romance weaved in. Isabella wrote poems that challenges the status quo, asserting that men, not women are inconstant in love and despite Robert’s objections, Isabella’s determination forces her to make choices uncommon for women of her time. This book has secrets unraveling and loyalties are tested as we're drawn deeper into their world. I loved this book because there was a lot to learn from it, I was able to quickly read this one and it was nice to get a taste of historical romance and hope to find more books like this.

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Excellent read. Really enjoyable. Exquisitely written with relatable and likable characters and beautiful world-building. 100% would recommend to all of my friends and fellow book lovers.

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"Isabella Whitney is credited as the first English woman believed to have written original secular poetry for publication in the mid-sixteenth century."
"[She] dared to challenge the double standard on the behavior of the sexes in love at a time when the norm for women was to be seen and not heard."

Author Constance Briones has created an excellent work of historical romance with a definite feminist bend. There is a paucity of information on the life of Isabella Whitney aside from her poetry first published in 1567 by London printer and bookseller, Richard Jones.

In this novel, it is imagined that eighteen year old Isabella was sent to work for widowed baroness, Lady Bramwell. Isabella needed to acquire the housewifery skills necessary to be matched, in matrimony, to a distinguished gentleman. Lady Bramwell encouraged Isabella to read books on "the virtues of womanhood and housewifery skills." Isabella noticed a magnificent library at the country estate. If only she could explore the amazing collection of Greek and Roman classics. Lady Bramwell's nephew, Robert Barrington, a law student, entered the library and Isabella's life at the Twelfth Night Gala at the estate. Was Robert a rakish fellow or a serious, kind gentleman? He recommended and secured several books for Isabella to be discussed after she read them.

At celebrations or gatherings, gentlemen often debated "the querelle des femmes..."A trite rhetorical exercise in which men debate about a woman's true nature...virtuous or sinner, rational or irrational, a worthy or unworthy companion for life." Isabella was frustrated. "Poetic expression is a powerful tool, and a woman can do it just as well as a man...Poetry has the power to sway emotion no matter which sex wields the pen." It is unclear why Isabella was dismissed from Lady Bramwell's employ...a dalliance? Could she write a poem showing the inconsistency of a man's love?

Excerpts from
The Admonition by the Author to all Young Gentlewomen: And to all other Maids being in Love (1567)
by Isabella Whitney

"Ye Virgins, ye from Cupid's tents
do bear away the foil,
Whose hearts as yet with raging love
most painfully do boil...

Beware of fair and painted talk,
beware of flattering tongues:
The Mermaids do pretend no good
for all their pleasant songs...

Trust not a man at the first sight
but try him well before:
I wish all maids within their breasts
to keep this thing in store...

For trial shall declare his truth
and show what he doth think,
Whether he be a lover true,
or do intend to shrink...

The little fish that careless is
within the water clear,
How glad is he, when he doth see,
a bait for to appear....

He thinks his hap right good to be,
that he the same could spy,
And so the simple fool doth trust
too much before he try....

O little fish, what hap hadst thou?
to have such spiteful fate,
To come into one's cruel hands
out of so happy state?"

Thank you Historium Press and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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I love reading about what my life could have been like had I lived 100 or 200 years prior. This book was a good example of that. It follows Isabella who behaves completely out of the norm for a woman the time - not only publishing writings, but controversial and scandalous ones at that. Great read and well done!

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“I have a hunger to read books that are deemed unsuitable for our sex. Do you really believe that women need men to control what we read because of our weak nature? That we will be unduly influenced by romantic tales, leading us astray from the path of virtue? I don’t believe that — no matter how vigorously the church fathers preach it from their pulpits.”

Constance Briones writing reads like an English literary escape befitting of the classics! I was absolutely swept away by this storytelling and truly loved our heroine Isabella Whitney.

Feminism in 16th century England is a foreign concept and any attempts to rectify this are scoffed and laughed upon. Isabella is fiercely determined to rectify this & be heard through the artistic and witty prowess of her pen.

“Like the women in Heroides, I, too, had fallen victim to my passion and was forsaken by a man I loved too fast and too soon. But unlike them, I would not break.”

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'Try Before You Trust' is a beautifully-rendered piece of historical fiction filling in the biographical gaps of Isabella Whitney, one of England's earliest female poets. Constance Briones manages to bring both rural Cheshire and Elizabethan London to life, immersing the reader in the sights and sounds of Isabella's youth.

The 'woman question,' hotly debated at the beginning of Elizabeth I's reign, comes to the fore in Briones's narrative. Quarrelling in print over which is more inconstant in love, women or men, highlights the iniquities and prejudices experienced by women at this time in history, particularly for a relatable, bookish heroine like Izzy. It makes one appreciate the obstacles Whitney and her peers struggled against all the more, as there are echoes of future feminist thought and feeling represented in their articulate verse.

Izzy's trials and tribulations in love are achingly familiar to the modern woman, eliminating the barrier of time between the protagonist and the reader. How many of us have also learned about love the hard way? I found myself really rooting for Izzy and wincing at the subtle red flags thrown up along her journey. The passions that no doubt inspired her verse have been vividly portrayed upon the page.

If you are a devotee of Elizabethan history, British history, women's history, women's writing and poetry, English literary history, or all of the above, you must add 'Try Before You Trust' to your shelves!

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Rating: 4.5

The characters in this novel were well-developed, Isabella Whitney's venture into writing fleshed out from the little that we know. It shows the hardships of women in the 16th Century, being seen as wanton if they deviated from the norm of society.
A pleasant historical romance read, with blends of feminism and forbidden relationship.

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Isabella, a young woman in Tudor England,
unhappily becomes part of 'the woman question'
This is the age old story between men and woman, but this very special story, has many twists and turns. It is a,well woven tale ,full of ambience and secrets. I enjoyed the book very much.

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oh. my. goodness. this book was absolutely incredible!!!! i had so much fun reading this book. it was lovely and wonderful and amazing. thank you so much to netgalley for letting me read this book before the publication date!!!

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This was a beautiful read! I really enjoyed it. It wasn't the usual type of book I grab for, but I'm glad I read it. From the descriptions of 1500's England, to unpacking the meaning of various poetry stanzas, to old-fashioned revenge-winning, I soaked it all up. I've never heard of Isabella Whitney before, so I ended up on a rabbit hole researching her life story. Fascinating.

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I LOVED this book! My God the plotline is perfect, and the writing! I so much enjoyed reading this version of English. The writer did well to portray Isabella Whitney as a girl who, though possessed wit, was far too innocent in matters of the heart, unfortunately for her.

Overall, this book is a wonderful, perfectly written book. Great for lovers of literary history. You will definitely enjoy this, glued to the pages like I was. I give this book a perfect 5 stars. 10 out of 10!

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