Setting

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The story takes place in heaven ("Up") in the late twentieth century. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Matilda, and William the Marshall are waiting for King Henry II to be admitted to heaven at last. The Abbot Suger stops to chat with Eleanor and stays to wait, too. To pass the time, the four recall Eleanor's time on Earth.

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The flashbacks on earth are set during the Middle Ages in France and England, with a brief trip to the Holy Land. The flashbacks trace the highlights of Eleanor's life from 1137—when she is fifteen years old and about to wed Louis Capet, soon to be King Louis VII of France—to her death in 1204. Her life encompasses the rule of England by her husband Henry II and by her sons Richard and John.

Literary Qualities

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The device of placing characters in heaven allows Konigsburg to focus on Eleanor's personality and experiences without getting bogged down in all the details. This anachronistic approach—that is, taking the characters out of the time in which they lived—has been the focus of the critical response to A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, critics think it is either clever or too clever. Beyond the narrative frame, Konigsburg's treatment of the four narrators deserves praise. Each speaks of a period in Eleanor's life unknown to the others, except Eleanor herself. Each narrator's unique style suits the personality revealed in the narration.

Konigsburg's illustrations are in medieval style. Most recall the illuminations, or ornamental designs and miniature drawings, of medieval manuscripts. One, showing Thomas Becket's envoy to the king of France, offers insight into the details of medieval life, much like the famous Bayeux tapestry from the eleventh century. The pen-and-ink drawings add flavor to the historical backdrop, depicting such specific activities and events as a tournament, a town receiving its charter, a royal wedding, and a crossing of the English Channel.

Social Sensitivity

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The concept of an afterlife may cause some controversy, but Konigsburg uses it as a literary device, not as a means of advancing a particular point of view about religion. In the framework of A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, one is admitted to heaven ("Up") after spending time "Below" to remedy any character flaws remaining at one's death. Eleanor had not learned patience, and "she had done things on Earth for which there had been some Hell to pay."

Konigsburg jokes gently about admission to heaven and activities there. Lawyers and bank presidents are scarce; anyone in government will need some time in hell first. Heavenly inhabitants are requested not to race around or to drum their fingers on the clouds,...

(The entire section contains 648 words.)

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