Book Review | The Darling Strumpet

Title: The Darling Strumpet: A Novel of Nell Gwynn, Who Captured the Heart of England and King Charles II

Author: Gillian Bagwell

My Review:

Beginning in 1660, The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell is a rich portrayal of the life of Nell Gynn: prostitute, actress, and mistress to King Charles II. Nell is first introduced when she is nothing more than an oyster seller, longing for more money so that she fill her belly. After listening to some other prostitutes exclaim how much money they had brought in on that day, Nell decides to give it a try. When she discovers how effortless it is to please a boy, Nell leaves her mother and begins a career as a whore.

During her time working for Madam Ross, Nell is introduced to a troupe of actors and falls in love with the stage. Though she cannot read, Nell becomes a beloved stage performer, and one of the first female actresses in London. It isn’t long before Nell captures the attention of King Charles II, and discovers a world that has always been beyond her reach.

Any sort of historical fiction is a gigantic undertaking for any writer. In fact, Gillian Bagwell began her research on Nell Gwynn in 1983. Her narrative is descriptive and the characters come alive, but I almost felt as if this novel was too saturated with details. I love decadent chocolate cake, and I know that it tastes great, but it is something best enjoyed in small amounts. The Darling Strumpet is very much like that piece of chocolate cake, and I could only read a few chapters at a time before I needed a break that would sometimes last for days.

Bagwell is truly a talented writer, but as I reader The Darling Strumpet was too overwhelming for me. Historical fiction is a genre I very rarely delve into, but I wanted to learn more about Nell Gwynn, a historical figure whose name I had never heard before. I think readers who have an interest in the history of stage will find this an invigorating read. Unfortunately for me, the theatre portions of this novel were really slow moving.

Like many other historical novels that I have read that cover this time period, The Darling Strumpet is filled with descriptive sexual scenes and bloody brawls. This may not be the right kind of book for someone who is sensitive to sex and violence in their reading materials.

The Darling Strumpet is sure to be a favorite for a certain type of reader; unfortunately this one book just wasn’t the right fit for me.

*I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel.*


Jen currently lives in Utah with her family, and enjoys reading and writing in her spare time. She is active on popular book websites including,, and

more by Jennifer »