MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Portrait of an Unknown Woman

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Portrait of an Unknown Woman

A Novel

by Vanora Bennett

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett X
Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 432 pages
    Apr 2008, 464 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

This article relates to Portrait of an Unknown Woman

Print Review

Vanora Bennett became a journalist by accident; having learned Russian and been hired out of university by Reuters she was catapulted into the adrenaline charged realm of conflict reporting. She has reported from Paris, Cambodia, Indonesia and Africa where she commuted between Angola and Mozambique writing about death, destruction, diamonds and disease; after which she took a posting in Chechnya, three months after it gained independence from the Soviet Union.

In 1998 she published Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya; a second, more light-hearted book followed about post-Soviet Russia's illegal caviar trade titled The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar (2003).

She now lives in North London with her husband and two small sons from where she writes a regular column for the London Times. Portrait of an Unknown Woman (published in the UK in 2006) is her first novel. Her second novel, Figures in Silk (sent in 15th century London about the silk trade and Richard III), published in the UK in May 2008.

She was inspired to write Portrait of an Unknown Woman after viewing a Holbein exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery some years ago. At the time she was living in Boris Yeltsin's New Russia, and was struck with how much the faces of the new Tudor aristocracy* resembled the tough, aggressive, on-the-make faces of the successful new capitalists she saw in Moscow every day.

*Many of Henry VIII's leading advisers, including the four Thomases (More, Cranmer, Cromwell and Wolsey), were the sons or grandsons of tradesmen, who had improved their positions during the power vacuum following the War of the Roses (a war between two sides of the Plantagenet family over which side of their extended family had the right to the throne of England); by the end of the war many of the English nobility had been killed and Henry VII (with connections to the House of Lancaster but little claim to the throne) put an end to the Plantagenet in-fighting by taking the throne and marrying a princess from the House of York; his second son became Henry VIII.

Interesting links:

  • An interview with Vanora Bennet on BBC Radio's Woman's Hour (about 8 minutes) - once you arrive at the BBC's website, click the Listen to This Item link.
  • Vanora Bennet's website, with extensive background information including essays on religion and medicine in 16th century England, a timeline of events and portraits of many of the key players in Portrait of an Unknown Woman.
  • Jack Leslau's website, which sets out the theory about Holbein's paintings of the More family on which Portrait of an Unknown Woman is based. CAUTION: by definition, this website contains plot spoilers; therefore, we suggest you do not visit until after reading the book!
  • More information on Thomas More's Utopia and his history of Richard III.

This "beyond the book article" relates to Portrait of an Unknown Woman. It originally ran in May 2007 and has been updated for the April 2008 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Mercies
    The Mercies
    by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
    It's 1617 and a violent storm has claimed the lives of 40 fishermen off the coast of Vardø, a ...
  • Book Jacket
    Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
    by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
    Ya Ta, the main character in Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's novel, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, ...
  • Book Jacket: Run Me to Earth
    Run Me to Earth
    by Paul Yoon
    Suspenseful and elegant storytelling in Run Me to Earth kept me turning pages even through traumatic...
  • Book Jacket: Beheld
    by TaraShea Nesbit
    Much like her debut novel The Wives of Los Alamos, TaraShea Nesbit's Beheld imagines a familiar ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    by Anne Enright

    From the Man Booker Prize–winner, a brilliant and moving novel about celebrity, and power.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Yellow Bird Sings
    by Jennifer Rosner

    A breathtaking debut inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during WWII.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Resistance Women
by Jennifer Chiaverini

An enthralling saga, inspired by real events, that recreates the danger and sacrifice of the Weimar Republic.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Firsts

The Inside Story of the Women Reshaping Congress

[I]ntimately told ...detailed and thought-provoking" - New York Times



Solve this clue:

T Die I C

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.