The Cat and the Fiddle: In the Spirit of ‘Carnevale’

“Life will show you masks that are worth all your carnivals”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

This week I go to Genoa, invited by some gentlemen of that city, where I will spend carnival …
from a letter Alessandro Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel (one of his patrons), dated Turin, 16 December, 1677

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It was actually a few weeks later that one of the most legendary, talented, and yet long undervalued Baroque composers arrived in Genoa, highly welcomed despite the scandals and even crimes that forced him to flee Rome, Venice and Turin. It would be where he would not only spend Carnevale 1678, but also make his home and more masterpieces and messes for the next four years.

View+of+Genoa0003fb (2)

Old Painting of Genoa

I arrived in Genoa safe and sound already last week, where I was favored by many gentlemen who vied to have me in their homes … And from the moment of my arrival till now, I have always had to spend my time with ladies and gentlemen, all greatly interested in me, and actually they favour me with so many kindnesses and so much applause that I do not know what more I could desire, and in every way they show very great pleasure in my inadequate talent.
stradellwide~ from a letter Alessandro Stradella wrote to
Polo Michiel, dated Genoa, 8 January 1678

 

According to the Christian calendar, Carnevale occurs between January 6th (Epiphany/Three Kings Day) and the day before Ash Wednesday. Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday) is the final and often most excessive festival of Carnevale—a last opportunity to make merry and even immoral before Lenten prohibitions.

The Italian carnival that usually comes to mind has taken place in Venice since the eleventh century. In the seventeenth century these “Baroque celebrations” were “a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world” (Wikipedia), and it became even more popular and licentious in the 1700s until outlawed in 1797 when Venice was ruled by the King of Austria who also forbade the wearing of masks at any time. It reappeared during the nineteenth century, primarily for private celebrations and artistic expression. Carnevale di Venezia was revived in 1979 as an annual cultural event pronouncing Venice as even more magical and surreal with actors, acrobats, musicians, residents and visitors disguised in extravagant masks and costumes while enjoying themselves to the extreme.

Old Illustration of Carnival in Venice. Created by Janet-Lange

Carnevale found popularity in the city of Rome in the seventeenth century, a rider-less horse race down the Via del Corso eventually abandoned for slightly less dangerous activities. Viareggio a city on the Ligurian Sea is known for putting on one of the longest celebration, holding parades with elaborate floats.

Carnevale is about being there,” the face of the disguise was surprisingly soft against hers, its ribbons tied at the back of her head, “as anyone but yourself.”
~ A House Near Luccoli

To this day every town in Italy, even the smallest, has its Carnevale parade along with dancing, masquerading and feasting.

Traditionally, Carnevale offered the opportunity for role reversals: between men and women, nobility and commoners. A key element was the class hierarchy set upside-down, so those that normally didn’t have power might temporarily take on the identities of those that did.

Pierrot was at his own pace ahead. Alessandro never expected his servant to behave dutifully and wouldn’t have enjoyed him as much if he had, making fun and opportunity of his negligence.

“Hey, Maestro. I’m higher than you.” Golone’s voice was victorious at the top of the tower Alessandro had failed to conquer.

 “Yet I have farther to fall.”

~ A House Near Luccoli

There are a few theories on where the name Carnevale originated, the most popular put to verse by Lord Bryon:

This feast is named the Carnival, which being
Interpreted, implies “farewell to flesh”:
So call’d, because the name and thing agreeing,
Through Lent they live on fish, both salt and fresh. 

With roots in the Latin phrase carnem levare, “put away flesh” (carnem: flesh – levare: put away), the name evolved into carnelevare in Old Italian, then carnelevale, then carnevale, and, finally, carne, vale!—“Farewell, meat!”— appropriately referencing the Catholic tradition of giving up meat-eating from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The origins of Carnevale itself can be traced to ancient pagan rites involving face and body painting for dancing and chanting in honor of the transition from winter to spring. The Egyptians enjoyed similar revelries held in honor of Isis. In Italy Carnevale hearkens back to the practices of the ancient Greeks in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine, and the Roman Empire’s homage of Saturn, the god of agriculture and the harvest. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church’s attempts to eradicate the festival were unsuccessful and, eventually, it was assimilated into the Christian calendar as a last celebration before Lent. To this day, many local customs are based on pre-Christian rituals as well as medieval folk culture.

They might have flown down to the street, trailing the parade less and less distinct from the crowd swollen like a woman with child who couldn’t avoid shame whether legitimate or not. Suddenly Alessandro’s handling of street songs in his confident tenor drew more attention and applause.

“Sing. As I know you can.” he demanded of her.

She couldn’t refuse him anything, not even the embarrassment of singing in the midst of more people than she had seen in her entire life. There was nothing familiar about the songs everyone else seemed to know, the dialect one she had rarely heard and barely understood.

Bravo my gattino.” Alessandro’s carnival face leaned close to hers.

Before she could be pleased he gave into his proclivity for trying to seduce all the ladies open to him, which seemed to be the youngest and prettiest, although painted masks, high feathers, and low dresses might have made them more attractive than they were. It was amazing she didn’t lose him there and then, the surge even more chaotic on its way back towards the ducal palace and into its square that embraced everyone and anyone on Martedi Grasso
~ A House Near Luccoli

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Italian cities had a tradition of mask-wearing, enabling questionable behavior among those needing to protect their reputations, laws passed to restrict masquerading to certain times of the year like Carnevale. Besides serving as subterfuge for inquisitors, spies, high officials and nobility who couldn’t resist behaving badly, donning masks presented an opportunity for covert defiance by those on the lower levels of society.

Art Comedia

Commedia dell’ Arte: Improvisational Theatre

The Commedia dell’ Arte masks were popular from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, traveling troupes setting up a stage to perform improvisational plays that touched upon political and social issues, often by satirizing the human frailties of adultery, jealousy, old age, and love. The masks used in these performances have become part of the Carnevale tradition.

Bravo! Bravo! All the city is a stage.” He directed common chaos with more investment than a cantata, enjoying the artlessness in the strumming, plucking, piping and cranking, banging on pots, and singing from throats. He was even more excited by jugglers, acrobats, stilt-walkers, fire-eaters, monkeys, magicians, pickpockets, and pimps keeping a close eye on their harlots but also virgins with crowns and bouquets of flowers.

 arlecchino

capitano

pierrot

pulcinella

zanni

dottore-peste

Nothing personified the spirit of Carnevale more than the Commedia dell’Arte characters of Pulcinella, Zanni, and Arlechino like puppets on strings.

“I should’ve brought my violino. Then we would be the cat and the fiddle.”
~ A House Near Luccoli

 

blue_cat_mask

She was like a cat that had fallen from an open window, suddenly finding herself where she both longed and was afraid to be, feeling the hardness of pavement and softness of air. Alessandro insisted she put on her mask again.

“And practice on the way.”

“Practice what?”

“Walking like a cat, purring like a cat.

“Really.” She wasn’t averse to doing so. “I’ve never seen a blue one.”

“You’ll see others turning green.”

Although her face was immovable and pale, she couldn’t hide her pleasure.

“All that’s left is for you to rub against my legs.” Alessandro was all in white, as if he had absorbed winter from his hat like a boat with one wind-torn sail to frill topped hose and overly flapped boots. He was wimpled in lacy layers to his shoulders, tightly short coated and cavalier, out of fashion but not style, laddered rows of braid with buttons unfastened to the shine of his shirt also showing through gaping slashes on his sleeves. It would have been a perfect disguise but for the distinctiveness of his stride and attitude of his head exaggerated by a duckbill mask, the shine of his lower lip appearing when his expressive, unmistakable voice did.
~ A House Near Luccoli

venice-carnival-history-masks-auto-europe

There is a saying:

A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale.”

“Anything goes at Carnival.”

Carnevale is a time for letting down one’s guard, for mischief and pranks, for Fare uno scherzo (pull a joke on someone). In A House Near Luccoli, the reckless composer Alessandro Stradella discovers that even in disguise during the playful mania of Martedi Grasso, ridiculing the wrong person creates consequences.

Command as much as invitation hurried them across a marbled floor and up a double staircase, at the top a privileged and premeditated Carnevale custom-made in the finest fabricated layers, cock feathers and conceit sweeping and strutting and posing. The loggias were crowded with an entitled few increased by association. Shamelessness was bulging and dazzling, hedonism heightened and ambivalent in hair and shoes and sexuality, thin laughter and heavy scents. Music was a background to drinking and talking and dancing. There were even more daring activities in public rooms where heads lifted, shoulders turned, masks stared gorgeous and grotesque; a sense all the underhandedness of the city was there.
~ A House Near Luccoli

 carnevale-Copia-744x445

 

Wander through this brief moment in Italian Baroque musical history and let the author and Alessandro Stradella, Donatella, and a whole host of wonderful characters give you the “spirit of Carnevale“.
~  Martin Shone, author of Silence Happens and Being Human: Little Thoughts of Love, Nature, Peace, Freedom, and Love

 

Three Books with Genoa and Water with text a

It doesn’t end there!
The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets,
and an irrepressible spirit
stow away on Donatella’s journey
To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

 

donatellasmallest© 2016 Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

In Memory of a Happy Day in January

Today I’m commemorating the birth of Anne Brontë,
youngest sister of Charlotte, Emily, and Branwell Brontë:

January 17, 1820

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after) engraving Private Collection The Stapleton Collection English, out of copyright

STC98097 Portrait of Anne Bronte (1820-49) from a drawing in the possession of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, engraved by Walker and Boutall (engraving) by Bronte, Charlotte (1816-55) (after)
engraving
Private Collection
The Stapleton Collection
English, out of copyright

Of course I’m not the only one noting the importance to Brontë aficionados of this day in January. Let me point you to a wonderful blog dedicated to Anne, created by Nick Holland, an author and active member of the Bronte Society. His biography of Anne, In Search of Anne Brontë, is due for release in the UK in early March, and is available for preorder! (It will be released in the US in June)

Anne Brontë, the youngest and most enigmatic of the Brontë sisters, remains a bestselling author nearly two centuries after her death. The brilliance of her two novels – Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – and her poetry belies the quiet, yet courageous girl who often lived in the shadows of her more celebrated sisters. Yet her writing was the most revolutionary of all the Brontës, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. This revealing new biography opens Anne’s most private life to a new audience and shows the true nature of her relationship with her sister Charlotte.

The Birth Of Anne Brontë

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The Bronte birthplace, Thornton

As I post this latest Anne Brontë blog, I’m sitting in a beautiful café drinking a latte and eating a delightful artisan scone, but it’s not just the home made food that makes this place special, and it’s not only the coffee that’s drawn me in.

This is a Yorkshire café like no other, for it was on this very spot that Anne Brontë was born 196 years ago today – the 17th of January, 1820.

 Go annebronte.org to read the entire post …

 

#Bronte200 is the Bronte Society‘s five-year programme celebrating the bicentenaries of the births of each of the Brontë siblings (who lived beyond childhood): Charlotte in 2016, Branwell in 2017, Emily in 2018 and Anne in 2020.

I wasn’t aware of Bronte200 until after I had begun to write about Anne Brontë myself: a fiction that started out as a novelette and part of a one book collection of stories featuring women writers.

However, as my research has offered more and more possibilities for lengthening the story, it has evolved into a novella/short novel I now plan to publish on its own as part of a series. I have settled on the title Without the Veil Between taken from the last verse of Anne’s poem:

In Memory of a Happy Day in February (read full poem).

I longed to view that bliss divine
Which eye hath never seen,
Like Moses, I would see His face
Without the veil between.

200px-AnneBronte

And to continue the celebration of Anne’s birth day, I offer …

An excerpt from the work-in-progress,
Without the Veil Between © 2016
A novella about Anne Brontë
by DM Denton

From Chapter Two

Anne took a low wooden stool, her portable desk and sketchbook outside, managing to carry them all at once across the lawn to settle within the shade of some current bushes that Emily called their bit of a fruit garden. After half an hour, she felt chilled and relocated further away from the high stone wall and elder and lilac shrubs that divided the Parsonage’s yard from the church’s. At first she couldn’t write or draw, trying to restrict herself to practical thoughts, like the need to weed in the flower patch of lupines and cornflowers underneath the house’s front windows, and missing the Sicilian sweet peas that by now should have shown some attachment to a trellis by the front door, except Martha Brown had forgotten her promise to plant the seeds Emily had collected from last year’s blooms. Anne wondered if it was too late.

She pulled out a drawing begun some months before, Little Ouseburn Church most picturesque viewed from the other side of Ouse Gill Beck, its chancel encased by shrubby trees, a grassy bank sloping towards the stream, the mausoleum just out of sight. The Robinsons’ bonneted phaeton was commandeered every Sunday to transport the family the nearly two miles to the church, immediately afterwards waiting to take them back to the Hall for dinner by half-past noon. Anne was included in and yet irrelevant to the Sunday ritual, the latter demonstrated by no one questioning her leather folder tucked under her arm or even thinking to refuse, as the Inghams would have, her request to stay behind to draw a while before returning on foot.

“You may do what you please, Miss Brontë,” Mrs. Robinson was famous for saying, “and I will tell Cook to put your dinner aside for later.”

“Aren’t you afraid to walk back alone?” Mary might wonder before her mother insisted she get into the carriage.

Anne was relieved she didn’t have to answer, for any explanation of her need for bucolic solitude would have implied dissatisfaction with the confines of her room at Thorpe Green, the subdued light through one slanted window waking her very early, but by late afternoon or in the evening providing inadequate illumination for reading, writing or artwork. She took whatever time she could to be on her own out-of-doors, freed from capricious children and their equally unpredictable parents, the dissatisfaction of servants and repetitive duties, and, especially, the dreariness back stairs and dark corridors made almost unendurable. In contrast it was easy to put up with feeling too warm in the sun and too cool in the shade, watch for rain, hold her paper from curling in the wind, wave away thirsty gnats, and be distracted by birdsong and any of the creatures she could hear but not see or see without seeing, like the fish making little whirlpools of bubbles in the stream between her and the church that months later, having to resort to memory and imagination, she hoped to finish her detailed impression of.

Anne had her head down for over an hour, the shade chilling her again, St. Michael’s and All Angels’ tower, her dry mouth and stomach telling her it was time for tea and biscuits in the dining room with her aunt and father, a chance that either or both would prefer to keep to their bedroom or study respectively. In that case the kitchen, although too warm with the range stoked for heating water, would be a pleasant substitution, as would Martha and her chitchat, much of it about the residents of Haworth that Anne was too prudent to comment on. Of course, if Branwell joined them, he wouldn’t hesitate to express his cynical opinion and even add some tavern gossip.

“Yes, it is that time, isn’t it?”

Anne wasn’t so much startled by William sneaking up on her, as embarrassed by him witnessing her graceless act of picking up the stool, while she held onto her desk and sketchpad. She left the stool on the ground and stood straight to see him sitting on the edge of a horizontal gravestone nearly as high as the wall he was leaning over.

“May I see?” He reached out for her sketchbook, so sure she would hand it to him she could hardly refuse to. This time he interpreted her expression. “I don’t wish to burden you with any sort of critique. I hardly have the qualification for that.”

“It’s not a burden to show you, just to do the drawing in the first place.”

“Surely not.” William was already looking at her work and not just her imitation of Little Ouseburn Church, but flipping through pages of landscapes, animal studies, and portraits. “You must find such satisfaction in being able to capture those moments the rest of us let slip away, and sometimes aren’t aware of to begin with.”

“Except I can’t easily enjoy them as others do, always troubling myself with whether I can really reproduce what I see, what I feel, especially of nature’s beauty. I fear vanity and a weak spirit urge me to try to do so.”

“Well, even if you haven’t satisfied yourself,” William carefully closed the folder, standing and hesitating before giving it up, “you have succeeded in impressing and delighting another.”

“Hey, you two,” Branwell called down from an open window on the second floor of the parsonage, “what scheme are you leaving me out of?”

Anne expected William to quip back, but instead he hopped over the wall, picked up the stool, and followed her to the house, putting it just inside the front door she had slowly opened. With her back to him for longer than was necessary, she was afraid he must think her cold, dull, awkward, and even ill-tempered.

It was his hand that turned her around, lightly but sincerely pressing the fingertips of her left one with a wordless promise of “Trust me.”

 

donatellasmallest© 2016 Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

How to Flee From Sorrow

Or how to continue making masterpieces despite “a few” missteps…

The other day fellow author, Margaret Evans Porter, let me know that BBC Radio 4 was putting on a drama about Alessandro Stradella, the focus of my novel A House Near Luccoli.

How to Flee From Sorrow is wonderfully written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, superbly acted, and punctuated by Stradella’s music exquisitely performed by the program’s Director of Music, musicologist and violinist Alberto Sanna. It initially aired live, a little too early in the morning for me due to the time difference. However, it was recorded (about an hour long) and is now available over the next 29 days for listening to.

It covers Stradella’s time in Rome, Venice, and Turin … and Genoa (where my novel picks up his story); wittingly, imaginatively, and entertainingly representing the man, his genius and fateful recklessness. A beautiful production and well-worth sitting back for an hour to listen to. It made me want to write about Stradella all over again!

Listening to a radio drama is not unlike reading, in that it requires the listener/reader to visualize what is spoken/written. Of course, the onus is on the creator to offer something that gives the listener/reader no choice but to engage their senses and imagination. This production really succeeds in doing so.

If you’ve read A House Near Luccoli, I hope you will take the time to listen to How to Flee From Sorrow, to enjoy it in itself and as it gives some backstory to my fictional interpretation of Stradella in Genoa.

If you haven’t yet read the novel, this radio drama may well pique your curiosity enough to do so. I hope so!

So, get a cup of coffee or tea, put aside a little time and your feet up, and enjoy…

How to Flee From Sorrow

Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682) conjured music of sublime formality out of a life of chaotic violence. At a time when composers were expected to abase themselves before their patrons, Stradella swindled his, and seduced their mistresses before falling foul of hired assassins. Our central characters are all real historical figures, brought back to life by Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

How to Flee From Sorrow_peHere is Alberto Sanna performing Alessandro Stradella’s Two-Part Sinfonia no.9 in G major

Saturday Historical Novelist Interview with DM Denton

I want to thank Christoph Fischer for interviewing me on his blog today. He offered some excellent questions, which made it fun and satisfying to do. Christoph is a fine author himself, and such a generous supporter of other writers. His blog features interviews, reviews, and other articles about his own work and passions, too. Hope you will go over and have a look.

writerchristophfischer

DM Denton Profile Pic 1Today I have the pleasure of introducing Historical Novelist DM Denton. Welcome to my blog, please tell us about your writing history. When was the first time you decided to write and the first time you did?

I recall that as a child loving to read I also knew I wanted to write. Initially, it was an escape for me like reading was and a perfect pursuit for my introverted personality. My mother talks of my first poem, when I was seven or eight, in response to the family being together at Thanksgiving. I’m sure it wasn’t the first, the others probably well-hidden or destroyed. Actually, I can’t remember not writing—closed boxes and folders of yellowing, curling paper and hopeful half-filled journals can attest to that. All through my growing up I preferred alone time imagining characters and stories to any other activity.

Tell us about the concepts behind your…

View original post 1,634 more words

Creative Tunneling Towards the Light – 2015 in review

WordPress has offered this year in review for bardessdmdenton-author-artist.

This year I feel like I’ve struggled with my blog, especially to attract attention to it. As another novel, other writing, and doing any illustrated work in conjunction with those projects take priority for me, this blog has been evolving. And that’s how it should be. There are also other very important things that make my bogging time limited, like taking care of my mom who will be 87 in a few months. Being single, I’m it when it comes to all the everyday things. And, of course, there is the day job, which helps to keep me from being a starving artist. :-)

Ok, why am I explaining anything?

When, from the bottom of my heart, I just want to thank those who have visited here, again and again, now and then, and for the first time. I wish all many blessings for 2016 and far, far beyond.

Perhaps you’ll scroll down below the picture and click on the link to see my most popular posts, in case you missed any of them.

A sound, a scent, a sight,
a hope, a dream, a memory,
creative tunneling towards the light;
one word, then two and three,
a poem, a page or more of prose
set out on a never-ending journey;
there’s loss, there’s love, not less
than the unsettled heart should need
to imagine how it is doomed and blessed;
the stars, the sun, the moon,
a breeze and, oh, the stillness, too
give the birds and composer’s hand a tune;
a brush, a lens, a thought,
what is known and never can be
explained except as inspiration sought.

 

Click here to see the complete wordpress report.

 

 

Happy New Year Alt

 

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

My Gift to You: A Story of Sacrifice and Pure Intent

The Snow White Gift Scroll and image with text.jpg_pe Text and ornament highlighted FB Header sized 1

In the tradition of O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, The Snow White Gift is a short story published by All Things That Matter Press, set in 1930s Chicago, based on a childhood memory of my mother’s.

It can be read in an hour or so. Perhaps, you will consider it as a last minute gift for someone on your list … or even yourself when you might need a little escape and quiet time in the busyness of these days.

If you have Kindle Unlimited it is free to you!
Otherwise, it is only $.99

What better gift for the holidays and all year around than a charming story of an old-fashioned doll, a Nanny, a kindly aunt, and a little girl? Only the talented writing skills of author DM Denton could make this tale of hardship and disappointments during the Depression years into something that will touch the hearts of children and adults of all ages.
~
Review on amazon by Micki Peluso, author of And the Whippoorwill Sang

If you don’t have Kindle Unlimited, I would love to give you a copy!
If you would like to receive it
let me know in the comments below.

If you’ve read it already, your free copy could be given to someone else – a re-gifting I would fully endorse!

I hope, one way or other, you will take this opportunity to read this story for free … just bring your innocence and imagination and heart … and love for the little things that mean so much.

Read a sample here.

Come on! Why hesitate? There’s no obligation, except for you or someone you love to put up your/her/his feet for an hour or so and enjoy a little story that confirms love and patience can work magic.

As can the healing, wisdom, and playfulness of flowers!

A Friendship with Flowers 2016 Calendar is now available
from lulu.com for $12.99.

A Friendship with Flowers Calendar Cover-page0001 (2)_pe

 

Blessings to you and yours on the Winter Solstice

and

during this Holiday Season!

 

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

 

 

Little Things Mean A Lot: Historical Perspectives

People tend to forget that the word “history” contains the word “story”. ~ Ken Burns

For me, the most seductive historians, whether they teach, write essays or books, or make films, are masterful storytellers. They do not forget individual narratives are the breath of the past. Just as life needs each inhale and exhale, even those that go unnoted, history lives because of each story, even—especially—those that have gone untold.

The common story is 1+1=2. The real genuine stories are about 1+1=3. That thing that matters most is more than the sum of its parts. ~ Ken Burns

Venturing off the beaten path is what creativity thrives on. Going beneath, behind, beyond the obvious is what makes history vital rather than static. Something is missing when it’s defined as 1+1=2, leaving out the imagination to expand the equation. Ken Burns is right; the thing that matters most is missing. Unless the door is kept open to fresh interpretation, history loses its chance to other views, to tell the untold, to add up into more than the sum of its parts. Teaching, writing, making films about history are not just about keeping it alive but letting it live to its fully fleshed out potential.

History is malleable. A new cache of diaries can shed new light, and archeological evidence can challenge our popular assumptions. ~ Ken Burns

Unpublished C Bronte

Unpublished manuscripts by Charlotte Bronte recently discovered inside a rare book belonging to her mother.

Imagination, curiosity, obsession can shed new light. New diaries and archeological evidence aren’t found by those who are satisfied with what has been discovered, decided, and, worse, decreed to be true. Surely, even for the historian, absolutes are questionably so, because they rarely tell the whole truth but, instead, slam the door on possibility.

Uncertainty is more essential to exploration than certainty.

With enormous respect and endless gratitude for the investigation, dedication, passion for a subject, and expertise of historians (I couldn’t do what I do without them), I feel that in many ways the best historical fiction writers are reflections of the most creative of their nonfiction brethren. They start similarly from interest and instinct, and are driven to take their interest and instinct on a journey, often a long one, that satisfies their need to explore and discover, their hope of getting lost to find the way, their expectation of being surprised, and their compulsion of making something new out of something old.

Truth, we hope, is a byproduct of the best of our stories, and yet there are many many different kinds of truth. ~ Ken Burns

Twas-Later-When-the-Summer-Went

Twas Later When the Summer Went by Emily Dickinson

The kind of truth I look for when writing historical fiction is often found in the little things – The Gorgeous Nothings, as a book of Emily Dickinson’s complete envelope writings in facsimile is titled. They take one intimately into the life of a historical person. As I heard the American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin recently say (not quoting her verbatim): letters and diaries even as they speak of current events often let us into the deepest feelings and thoughts of their authors. Insight and inspiration can come from objects, activities, habits, gestures, all manner of seemingly insignificant things. Somehow they excite me more than epic occurrences. Currently, I’m working on a fiction about Anne Brontë and a wealth of “gorgeous nothings” are not only illuminating her outer world, but offering me a deeper understanding of her inner one. Small things are making the story I’m telling about her so much larger than I initially thought it would be.

Art Print c19th Victorian Barefoot Farm Girl Sits Fireside Fireplace w Cat

Art Print c19th Victorian Barefoot Farm Girl Sits Fireside Fireplace w Cat

I could hear her sigh of relief when I read of her habit of sitting in a rocking chair and propping her feet on the hearth fender in the parlor at Haworth Parsonage—it offered me a glimpse of her ease in her home environment and set the scene for a whole chapter. As a child, answering her aunt’s chastising “where are your feet, Anne?” with a cheeky “on the ground, Aunt”, showed me a girl—who grew into a woman—as spirited as she was dutiful. A diary entry by Emily describing her and Anne’s lazy start to the day offers the reminder that normalcy was as much a part of their lives as drama and tragedy and shows their home, so often depicted holding them in dismal isolation, as a playful everyday place: “It is past Twelve o’clock {sic} Anne and I have not tidied ourselves, done our bedwork or done our lessons and we want to go out to play …”

A seemingly trivial incident revealed much about Roger North, a historical character featured in my novel To A Strange Somewhere Fled. In his book Notes of Me he describes the effect entertaining “30 gentlemen” at Wroxton had on him by the end of the evening, revealing his reserve in the extreme when he was forced into pretentious social activity: “I made my way like a wounded deer, to a shady moist place, laid me downe {sic}, all on fire as I thought myself, on the ground; and there evapourated [sic] for 4 or 5 hours, and then rose very sick, and scarce recovered in some days.” (I know the feeling!)

Notes of Me Book Cover

His reflection on which instrument was best for women to play was another delicious morsel of insight into him as man who liked a certain amount of order, as well as modesty in women: “…the harpsichord for ladies rather than the lute; one reason is it keeps their body in a better posture than the other, which tends to make them crooked.”

Mademoiselle de Mennetoud on Harpsichord

Nicole Kipar 1688

Orazio_Gentileschi_-_Lute_Player_-_WGA8589_pe

Orazio Gentileschi 1625

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The) history of private men’s lives (is) more profitable than state history. ~ Roger North

It was a list of Alessandro Stradella’s possessions at the time of his death that gave me a starting point for my novel A House Near Luccoli and the fictional Donatella a way to become personally acquainted with him before he physically came into her life (the latter an advantage she had over me), revealing a man who loved beautiful things and yet hinting at a roughness around the edges (and possibly a self-penance for his misdeeds?) through the anomaly of the hemp and wool bedding on the list of silver and gold and diamonds and silk.

Inventory of Stradella's Possessions resized

With no portraits or descriptions of Stradella’s physical appearance, almost nothing recorded of his personality, I found him in the paradox between the masterpieces and messes he made. Additionally, I listened for him in the music he composed and saw something of his grace and nobility, but, also, his flair and pride (and over-confidence?) in his signature.

stradellwide

I’m often “delayed” in my writing by always looking for more magnificently mundane things. I can’t help myself. I’m more fascinated by the focused rather than panoramic view, squinting my literary eyes to see into shadows; and risk remaining in them myself.

I also realize that for a writer to enter completely into a story, to offer much more than 1+1=2, there must be a goal–at least a goal–to leave no stone unturned.

As a historian, what I trust is my ability to take a mass of information and tell a story shaped around it. ~ Doris Kearns Goodwin

As an author of historical fiction, I can say the same. Perhaps, I will be an unadulterated historian in my next life. As long as I can be an accomplished musician, too!