A Mirror for Monkeys

John Spurling’s latest novel

This cleverly constructed portrait of a great playwright and good man starts with teh turbulent politics of the Restoration period and ends with a timeless love. As erudite and entertaining as Congreve himself
Carole Angier, biographer of Jean Rhys and Primo Levi
A heartfelt memorial to the extraordinary William Congreve and to those who loved him. Spurling proves an imaginative way into a wonderful period for readers who prefer their historical tea mixed with the milk of fiction
Ophelia Field, the Kit-Cat Club and The Favourite


A Comedy, supposedly a newly discovered memoir of the great playwright William Congreve (1670-1729), author of Love for Love and The Way of the World, by his faithful manservant Jeremy.

Jeremy explores his master’s life by setting different episodes against the monuments at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, where Congreve often stayed with his friend Lord Cobham and where a monument to Congreve himself - a monkey peering into a mirror - stands on an island in the lake.

The chapters - each named after a monument - describe Congreve’s prodigious early success as a playwright in the 1690s; his poor health and near poverty; his successive love affairs with his leading actress, Anne Bracegirdle (The Temple of Venus), and with Henrietta, eldest daughter of the Duke of Marlborough (the Ladies’ Temple); his membership of the famous Kit-Cat Club (The Temple of Ancient Virtue); his friendships with Dryden, Vanbrugh, Addison, Steele, Swift, Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and with many of the leading Whig politicians of the day.

Behind his master’s personal story, Jeremy sketches in the political background of that crucial period in British history: the beginning of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688; the fierce rivalry of Whig and Tory politicians; the Duke of Marlborough’s great victories over the French, curbing Louis XIV’s ambition to dominate Europe; the Union with Scotland; the Tory attempt to restore the exiled Stuart pretenders; the succession to the throne of the Hanoverian dynasty; and Robert Walpole’s long stint as the first British Prime Minister.