Exit the Actress

A Novel

Exit the Actress

From the critically acclaimed author of Vanessa and Her Sister, the debut novel hailed by New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory as “a vivid imagining of the restoration London of Charles II with Nell Gwynn as a powerful and engaging heroine.”

While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater’s proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England.

Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn’t enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance.

Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen’s diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 464 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439171189 | 
  • February 2011
List Price $9.99 (price may vary by retailer)

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Exit the Actres includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Priya ParmarThe suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


It is seventeenth-century London: England is at peace, King Charles II has been restored to the throne, and young Ellen Gwyn has a decision to make.  Does she obey her mother and follow her sister Rose into the demi monde of prostitution or does she risk all and chart her own course?  Ellen, better know to history as ‘Nell’ defies her family and becomes an orange girl, selling fruit at Covent Garden’s famous Theatre Royal. Her risk brings speedy rewards and at the theatre she soon rises to become the most popular actress in London. 

Outrageous, bright, and brimming with wit, beauty and grace, she charms all who meet her, quickly befriending Poet Laureate John Dryden, playwright Aphra Behn, famed libertine Johnny, Earl of Rochester and the last of the cross dressing actors, Edward Kynaston.  She is courted by men named Charles: Charles Hart, leading actor, Lord Charles Buckhurst wealthy, young wit and finally the most famous Charles of all: King Charles II of England see more

About the Author

Priya Parmar
Photograph by Naomi Nicholson

Priya Parmar

Priya Parmar, a former dramaturg and freelance editor holds degrees in English Literature and theatre and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh.  She divides her time between Hawaii and London.  Visit her website at PriyaParmar.com.