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The Illumination of Ursula Flight

by Anna-Marie Crowhurst

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LoveReading Expert Review of The Illumination of Ursula Flight

An intimate, beautifully told, occasionally rambunctious tale set in 17th century England.

An intimate, beautifully told, occasionally rambunctious tale set in 17th century England. Ursula Flight was born at an inauspicious time, she tells her own highly entertaining, yet poignant tale from birth. Ursula bounded from the page into wondrous life, I could feel her emotions, her wild, kind, impetuous nature spoke to me. Anna-Marie Crowhurst has created a vibrant, stunning setting for Ursula, the countryside of her childhood is so beautifully imagined, I found myself looking around, smelling, touching, feeling. Ursula’s own writing is scattered through the novel, her thoughts, letters and plays allow direct contact with her, as when she writes she is free, and unencumbered by the morals of the time. I have to admit to feeling a certain amount of disquiet as I read, one part of me was in the present, living life with Ursula, the other part was wondering what would become of this spirited young woman. A blistering darkness slices through ‘The Illumination of Ursula Flight’ taking its turn in the orbiting dance of life alongside the colour and passion, which creates a truly wonderful captivating read, and I loved it.

Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.

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The Illumination of Ursula Flight Synopsis

'ON THE 15TH DAY OF DECEMBER IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1664, A GREAT LIGHT BLOOMED IN THE DARK SKY...' Born on the night of a bad-luck comet, Ursula Flight has a difficult destiny written in the stars. Growing up with her family in the country, she is educated by a forward-thinking father who enables her to discover a love of reading, writing and astrology. Ursula dreams of becoming a famous playwright, but is devastated to learn she must instead fulfil her family's expectations and marry. Trapped and lost, Ursula plots her escape - but her freedom will come at a price. As Ursula's dangerous desires play out, both on and off the stage, she's flung into a giddy world of actors, aristocrats and artistic endeavours which will change her life irrevocably. A gutsy coming-of-age story about a spirited young woman struggling to lead a creative life, this uplifting tale vividly evokes the glittering world of Restoration-era theatre. For anyone who has ever tried to succeed against the odds, The Illumination of Ursula Flight is an inspiring journey of love and loss, heartbreak and all-consuming passion. This is a debut pulsating with life for readers of Jessie Burton, Sarah Waters and Sarah Perry.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9781760632021
Publication date: 3rd January 2019
Author: Anna-Marie Crowhurst
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 416 pages
Primary Genre Historical fiction
Other Genres:
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The Illumination of Ursula Flight Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

The Illumination of Ursula Flight is a lively and, at times, mischievous journey through the whims and fancies of Restoration England.

Ursula Flight’s journey into the world began on the night of the great comet of 1664. With this auspicious beginning, Ursula was never going to be an ordinary girl. Taught reading, writing and astronomy by her father, Ursula had a thirst for knowledge and desire for adventure which eventually sees her taking to the London stage. However, Restoration England was a brash and vulgar place and to survive in this world Ursula had to use her considerable wits to survive and thrive.

Ursula isn’t your usual delicate romantic heroine, she is bold and brave and so beautifully depicted that her character literally leaps of the page and grabs you by the hand as she explores the thespian world she so craves. A passionate writer and playwright from an early age, Ursula uses her considerable skill to tell her story with great gusto. Part narrative, part play, part diary, this unusual way of telling the story captured my imagination, and I had great fun in following Ursula’s adventures, both at her home in the village of Bynfield, and later when she makes her mark on the great city of London.

The author has captured all the essence of Restoration England and brings this rather bawdy world to life in a very readable way. Time and place is captured beautifully and I especially enjoyed the way the story wrapped itself so perfectly around Ursula’s forceful personality.

Josie Barton

A brilliant debut novel by Anna- Marie Crowhurst, a coming of age story with a difference. A Seventeenth century romp through the age of bawdy behaviour and male dominance.

The Illumination of Ursula Flight is an unusual novel in that some of the story is portrayed as acts in a play. The book tells the story of Ursula from a small girl throughout her life as an educated woman living in a world where women were not meant to be intelligent and her coming of age. The novel is based in the seventeenth century and is bawdy in parts, adventurous and funny with some poignant moments thrown in. Ursula has to deal with the world of theatre throwing herself into her roles as actor and playwright, whilst trying to survive on a limited income and dealing with unwanted admirers. Ursula is a strong modern woman who knows what she wants and is determined not to fail even pretending to be male in pursuit of her dream.

The style of writing is easy to read and the story is infectious, you feel compelled to continue reading chapter after chapter. As a debut novel Anna-Marie Crowhurst has triumphed and I hope she writes many more.

Glenda Worth

I think that the title page is very good, it would attract me to pick the book up, once seeing the inside, I would have been intrigued enough to buy it. I belong to Reading Groups, I will recommend it

What a fascinating look into the lives of people in the 17th Century.

 How the family lived in a small hamlet, how Ursula's life changed from a teenage girl to married woman with a husband and household to care for.

 There was no option, once the parents gave her away from the safety of all she knew, where she was happy being taught by her father to read and write. To play games in the woods and fields with friends.Then, the youthful romance, all these gradually faded in favour of the necessary jobs in the house whilst her mother produced another yearly baby to be fed and looked after.

 Finding little opportunity in her married life, to read and write her poems and plays, she dreamed of having one of her plays on a London stage. As life does, the 'wheel turned', and with it, Ursula's' life was to change.....

More than she could ever have thought of.

Marjorie Lacy

A delicious romp of a story.

Ursula is born in 1664, arriving as a comet is visible over England.  Her father educates her about the stars and much else which would normally be out of bounds for girls in that era.  She is interested in lots of different things, but especially writing and acting.  All very well nowadays, but how to channel any of this in the 1600s?  No spoilers but events compound her frustrations.  Eventually, however, she gets the opportunity to use her brains, feistiness and resourcefulness.

She’s an interesting character and I really enjoyed reading this book.  It’s funny in places and it also made me think about how other women in her situation would have expressed the intellectual and creative aspects of their character.

An interesting debut.

Sarah Webb

There are not many books that touch you in ways you can't describe- the books that stay with you ages after you've read them. This is one of those books.

There are not many books that touch you in ways you can't describe- the books that stay with you ages after you've read them. This is one of those books. There is something about the writing and the way the story is woven-  it's breathtakingly beautiful and I'm so delighted that I had read this book.

Humaira Kauser

Clever, spirited, funny and full of life, Ursula uses her plays to say the things and live the life she dare not dream of. I loved her, even though perhaps at times I shouldn’t have. Fie!

Stuck in a loveless marriage and controlled by her husband and his family, Ursula lives a dull and insipid existence. However a reunion with her childhood sweetheart reawakens Ursula Flight from the vapidity of Lady Tyringham and in spite of heartbreak she prevails.

Ursula won me over and I cheered as she became her old self, rebelled against her husband and fell in love all over again with her Samuel. Having written plays since she was old enough to read Ursula had never been to a playhouse until Samuel made her dream come true and we see her turn from a sad little wife into a merry man’s mistress and enjoy her quest to become the playwright she always dreamed of. I loved her, even though perhaps at times I shouldn’t have. Fie! #UrsulaTakesFlight @AllenandUnwinUK

Deborah Dumville

Well historically researched with an obvious 21st Century emancipated woman slant.

Ursula Flight is born on the night a great comet streaks across the sky, into the superstitious, limiting and stifling (especially if you were a woman) society of 1664.  Luckily she has an enlightened father, who undertakes to educate her and Ursula grows up to be one of the very few women able to read, write, discuss the stars and question the world in which she lives.

During her childhood she develops a love of the theatre and of playwriting, but this is thwarted when she is married off, at a very young age, to a much older man who takes her to live with his nightmare of a mother and dreadful spinster sister.  Ursula plots her escape.

I enjoyed this book, well historically researched, but obviously with a 21st Century emancipated woman slant.  Ursula is feisty and determined and seemingly completely impervious to societal pressures or setbacks.  It is interspersed with sections of play notes and scripts, lists and musings, which also tell the story, and although my copy is a pre-publication copy without all the final illustrations, I think it will be a nice book to look at in its final form.  

I would have to question a lot of the plot – why would Ursula’s doting father really marry her off to someone so unsuitable at such a young age; would she have been able to have been so headstrong and so successfully determined – and I also found also her a bit shallow and hard to warm to at times.  However, ignoring the fact that she is probably portrayed in far too modern a way for restoration England, it is an easy and sometimes humorous read. 

Sharon Wood

The beautiful, charming story. Will keep the reader wanting more long after the last page has been turned, Ursula Flight is a heroine for 2018!

Ursula Flight, was born on the 15th December 1664, as a comet flew across the sky, a comet the country said was a "bad luck comet"with this in mind, her forward thinking father, teaches her to read, write and gives her a love of astrology, armed with these. Ursula dreams of becoming a famous play write.

 Ursula's coming of age will delight the reader, who has a love of history, and humour. She will become one to admire. Her fighting spirit reminded me a little of Cathy, (Wuthering Heights) a woman, who knows what she wants and how to get it.

Angie Rhodes

Fantastic story!! I found this such an enjoyable read. A fun historical novel based around the life of the lovable character Ursula.

I really enjoyed this book. Its an unusual story around the life of Ursula born 1664 through to her adulthood. It is cleverly written with use of Ursula's plays and diary entries which give a deeper description of her thoughts and feelings. She writes with some humour even when the situation she is going through are upsetting and serious. It is beautifully written and I loved Ursula and her passion for life and the theatre when that wasn't the norm for girls or women of her time. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Kathryn Whitfield

Anna-Marie Crowhurst Press Reviews

I find this funny, eccentric, touching novel fairly irresistible. Ursula's story is told in an inventive mix of modes, through fragments and lists and plays and letters; it's a spirited funny romp and yet it feels much more than that too - touching and urgent and vivid. It's fluent, accomplished, polished, funny and charming. -- Tessa Hadley

This 17th century coming-of-age tale is at once subversive, moving and utterly fresh and original. -- Nathan Filer

This sprightely, romping novel revels in its period: the Restoration world of Ursula Flight is presented with irresistible relish. Crowhurst's enthusiasm for her subject is contagious, and her playful handling of form shows great control and confidence. Bravo! -- Imogen Hermes Gower

This debut novel sweeps us away to the world of Ursula Flight, wannabe actress and playwright in 17th-century Britain. Ursula is a spirited and funny protagonist. -- Sarah Shaffi 

A glorious book, cleverly done and lushly written with a witty, vivid heroine.--  Kiran Millwood Hargrave


Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781760632021
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781760632014
Publication date: 03/05/2018
Format: Hardback

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About Anna-Marie Crowhurst

Anna-Marie Crowhurst has worked as a freelance journalist and columnist for more than 15 years, contributing to The Times, The Guardian, Time Out, Newsweek, Emerald Street and Stylist. In 2016 she studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, where her debut novel The Illumination of Ursula Flight was born. She lives in London.

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