An historical author shares her obsessions with books, tea, chocolate, wine, and whatever takes her fancy!
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Heroine of the Weekend Halloween Edition
And this week's heroine (in honor of my favorite holiday Halloween, bwahaha!) is Lucrezia Borgia. Now, the real Lucrezia might just be a victim of bad publicity (since not very much can actually be known about her historical story, and her complicity in her father's and brother's crimes are only rumored), but her name does evoke suitably shivery, Halloween-y vibes. :)
Lucrezia Borgia was born in April 1480 to Rodrigo Borgia, a Renaissance grandee who later became Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, at Subiaco near Rome. Her brothers were the notorious Cesare, Giovanni, and Gioffre Borgia. By the time she was 13, she had been betrothed twice, only to have both engagements broken off by her father. After he became pope, he married her off to Giovanni Sforza in a very lavish ceremony to cement an alliance with that famous Milanese family. But before long the Borgias no longer needed the Sforzas; new, more advantageous political alliances were required, so the Pope is rumored to have ordered the murder of his superflous son-in-law. First he tried to persuade Giovanni to a divorce; he refused and accused Lucrezia of incest. Not a good move. The marriage was annulled on the basis of non-consumation (with Giovanni forced to sign papers confessing his impotence).
Rumors went around that during this long annulment process Lucrezia got to "consumating" with a lowly messenger (or maybe even with her brother!) and got pregnant. The child, Giovanni, was born secretly in 1498 before Lucrezia's second marriage to Alfonso of Aragon. (In 1501, two papal bulls were issued concerning the child Giovanni. One stated he was the son of Cesare from an affair before his marriage; one said he was the son of the Pope himself. Lucrezia isn't mentioned in either, and rumors of her motherhood have never been proven). Giovanni eventually became Duke of Camerino.
Things began promisingly with Alfonso. He was handsome and good-natured, and Lucrezia became fond of him, but Cesare (who was scarred after a bout of venereal disease, and had started wearing masks and always dressing in black) became jealous of his sister's regard for her husband. He had his men attack Alfonso one night; Alfonso's men then shot arrows at Cesare as he walked in a garden. Predictably this ended badly, when Alfonso ended up strangled to death. He and Lucrezia only had one child, Rodrigo, who died at age 13. (This second marriage probably ended not just because of jealousy, but because like marriage #1 it had become superflous and a new alliance was needed. But Lucrezia was said to be broken-hearted)
Her third marriage was to Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. They had a number of children together and Lucrezia eventually became a respectable Renaissance duchess, able to survive the fall of the Borgias after her father's death. Neither of them were faithful, of course; Lucrezia had a long relationship with her bisexual brother-in-law, the Marquis of Mantua (husband of the famous Isabella d'Este), as well as an affair with the poet Pietro Bembo.
She died in Ferrara on June 24, 1519 from complications of childbirth, and was buried in the convent of Corpus Domini. In 1816, Byron visited the Ambrosian Library of Milan and read the letters of Lucrezia and Bembo ("The prettiest love letters in the world," he declared) and claimed to have stolen a lock of her hair. All the stories of wild parties, poison rings, and incest are just that--very persistent stories!
Some good sources include:
Sarah Bradford, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy
Maria Bellonci, Lucrezia Borgia
And the Lucrezia Borgia research page
Happy Halloween everyone!
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Things I Love Thursday
What I love this Thursday---reviews! Good ones, anyway. :)
Like this one of The Winter Queen!
Plus my old Christmas novella, Upon a Midnight Clear, got a mention! Yay!
Join me at the Riskies this weekend as I launch TWQ on its way and give away a signed copy...
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
More new covers!
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I long to believe in immortality. . . . If I am destined to be happy with you here--how short is the longest life. I wish to believe in immortality--I wish to live with you forever.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever; Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for religion - I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more - I could be martyred for my religion - Love is my religion - I could die for that.
I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Heroine of the Weekend
She was born in Paris to rather strict parents, and found refuge in the books of Jules Verne, which made her dream of outdoing these heroes in adventures. (She also enjoyed running away from home on occasion, the first time being at the age of 5, right before a move to Brussels). At 15 she was a student of music, and secretly of occult books (especially an English journal published by the Society of the Supreme Gnosis). At 17 she left home again, traveling alone by train to Switzerland to hike over the Saint-Gotthard Pass through the Alps to the Italian lakes. (She was fetched home by her mother when she ran out of money at Lake Maggiore). The following year she entered the Royal Conservatory at Brussels, and 3 years later took first prize for her voice. In 1888 she went to study in London, staying at the Society of the Supreme Gnosis and meeting Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society and a great early influence on Alexandra. She then went to study at the Sorbonne and join radical societies. In 1891, disguised in men's clothes, she joined a Paris cult led by Sri Ananda Saraswati (which used hashish as a prime means of obtaining visions!). By this time she was all of 23.
That same year she received a small inheritance from her godmother, which gave her the means to travel for more than a year through Ceylon and India. She studied Sanskrit, Yoga, and heard Tibetan music for the first time. But then the money ran out, and she was forced to return to Brussels. But she wasn't idle there. She finished an anarchist treatise. Publishers wouldn't print it, so her friends printed and distributed it themselves and eventually it was translated into 5 languages. From 1894 to 1900 she lived as an aspiring singer and actress, and in 1900 she accepted a job with the opera in Tunis. There she met Philip Neel, a 39-year-old railway engineer. They married in 1904 and moved into a villa at La Goulette, near the Mediterranean.
Marriage didn't slow her down for long. In 1911 she went again to India to study Sanskrit and Buddhism (she met the 13th Dalai Lama twice in 1912 and learned much from him--unprecedeneted for a European woman at the time). She also met the Gomchen (great hermit) of the monastery of Lachen. From 1914-16 she lived in a cave in Sikkim, near the border of Tibet, along with a young Sikkimese monk named Aphur Yongden, who became her lifelong traveling companion and later her adopted son. From their cave they snuck into Tibet (where they met the Panchen Lama), and were expelled from Sikkim. Unable to return to Europe because of World War I, they went to Japan and China. By traversing China from east to west, they were able to sneak into Tibet again and stayed there for 2 months.
She legally separated from her husband in 1928, but they corresponded and he supported her until his death in 1941. Alexandra settled in Provence in her middle age and wrote books, but she went on to travek again to China and the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 40s. They ended up back in Tibet, where they circled the holy mountain Amnye Machen. They returned to France in 1946, when Neel was 78. Yongden died in 1955, and Alexandra continued to study and write until her own death in 1969 at 101. Her ashes were scattered in the Ganges.
Of Tibet, she wrote, "Truthfully, I am 'homesick' for a land that is not mine. I am haunted by the steppes, the solitude, the everlasting snow and the great blue sky 'up there'! The difficult hours, the hunger, the cold, the wind slashing at my face..."
As well as her own books, some good sources on her life are:
Barbara and Michael Foster, Forbidden Journey: The Life of Alexandra David-Neel
Ruth Middleton, Alexandra David-Neel
And there is a great website with all sorts of info here
Next month, to celebrate the release of my Elizabethan Christmas book The Winter Queen, we're going to look at some fascinating Tudor-era women! (Lettice Knollys, her daughter Penelope Rich, the Countess of Pembroke, and the Grey sisters)
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Things I Love Thursday
What I love today--getting new covers!!! There is something so exciting about seeing that file in my Inbox or that envelope on my porch. Will it be gorgeous? Or hideous? Will I love it??? yesterday I got this one, and it's a love!
Scandalous Brides is the second of my two-in-one reissues from Signet Regencies, and will be out in March 2010. It includes my first 2 Regencies, Scandal in Venice and The Spanish Bride, and I'm so thrilled they will be on the shelves again. Especially in such a pretty package!
And my first reissue, Spirited Brides, with my 2 "ghostly" Regencies, is still on the shelves, just in time for a Halloween read...
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Heroine of the Weekend
She was born February 3, 1821 in Bristol, England, the 3rd of 19 (8 of them died in childhood) children of prosperous Quaker sugar refiner Samuel Blackwell and his wife Hannah. Their religious beliefs taught them that men and women are equal in the eyes of God, so their daughters were educated as well as their sons (the sons went to school, the daughters had tutors at home, but Elizabeth was encouraged in her interest in science and medicine). When Elizabeth was 11, disaster struck when her father's business was destroyed by fire. The family emigrated to the United States and started a new refinery in New York. Eventually they moved to Cincinnati to open another refinery, but Samuel died barely 3 months after they arrived.
After his death, Elizabeth had to find work, and she took up teaching in Kentucky in order to save money for medical school. She hated teaching, but managed to find lodgings in a doctor's home where she could study in the medical library. As a Quaker, she was also active in the abolition movement (as was her brother Henry, who married suffragist Lucy Stone, and her brother Samuel Charles, who married Antoinette Brown). In 1845 she moved to Asheville, NC, where she read medicine in the home of Dr. John Dickson and that of his brother Dr. Samuel Henry Dickson in Charleston, SC.
She managed to get admitted to Geneva College in New York (the story, possibly apocryphal, says the faculty put it to a student vote, and the students thought her application was a hoax), and braved a great deal of prejudice and ridicule to complete her training. Her persistence and intelligence did eventually win her much respect among her fellow students, and it was said they treated her as an older sister. She graduated first in her class.
Despite this high achievement, she was banned from practice in most hospitals, and went to Paris to gain further training at La Maternite. While there, she caught an eye infection and had to have one eye removed and replaced with a glass eye. It didn't slow her down, and in 1857, along with her sister Emily and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, founded the Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in New York in 1857. During the Civil War, Blackwell trained nurses for the Union Army. In 1868 she established a Women's Medical College to train women as physicians and nurses. In 1869, leaving Emily in charge of the Infirmary, she returned to England to open, with Florence Nightingale, to open the Women's Medical College. She retired a year later, but kept working by writing lectures for the women's rights movement on the importance of education for women along with writing books about hygiene and disease.
She had no children of her own, but in 1856 adopted Katherine "Kitty" Barry, an Irish orphan who was her companion for the rest of her life. She died May 31, 1910 at her home in Sussex after a stroke and was buried in St. Mun's Churchyard on Holy Loch near Scotland.
Blackwell wrote many medical volumes, but also a sort of autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medicial Profession to Women (1895)
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Things I Love Thursday
What I love this Thursday--getting flowers! Especially when a deadline looms nigh and encouragement is needed...
Pink roses are my favorites. What are yours?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Yes or no?
I'm over at Dorchester author Emily Bryan's blog today, talking about Elizabethan Christmas traditions! Comment for a chance to win a copy of my November book, The Winter Queen...
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Over at the Riskies today, talking about books, deadlines, and time wasters!
Sunday, October 11, 2009
My lovely friend Kwana at Kwana Writes has gifted me with the Over the Top Blog Award, yay! With it comes a challenge--one-word answers to the following questions. Here goes:
1. Where is your cell phone? Purse
14. Something that you aren't? Mathematical
16. Wish list item? Louboutins
24. Your mood? Tired
35. Favorite place to eat? La Baguette
Now I have to pick six Over the Top bloggers and give them the award as well!
My Pride and Prejudice
The Lady Novelist
To say good-bye to summer, I've highlighted the books I've read in red, the ones I want to red in blue, with a star by favorites. What are your faves from this list? What else would you add?
*1. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
*2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
*3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
*4. Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
*5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
*6. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
*7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
*8. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
*9. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
*10. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
11. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
*12. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
*13. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
*14. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
15. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
*16. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
*17. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
18. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
*19. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
*20. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
*22. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
*23. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith
24. The World According to Garp, by John Irving
25. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
26. The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy
*27. Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
28. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
29. The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler
*30. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
*31. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
32. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
33. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
34. Beach Music, by Pat Conroy
*35. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
36. Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier
37. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
38. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
39. The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
40. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon
*41. Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
*42. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
43. Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice
*44. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
45. Empire Falls, by Richard Russo
*46. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
*47. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
48. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
49. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb
50. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
*51. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
52. The Stand, by Stephen King
53. She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
54. Dune, by Frank Herbert
*55. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
*56. Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
*57. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
58. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
59. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
60. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
*61. Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
62. Jaws, by Peter Benchley
63. Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner
64. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
65. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
66. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
67. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand
68. Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
69. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
70. The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
71. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
72. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
73. Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns
74. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
74. Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe [tie]
*76. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
77. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
*78. The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher
79. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
80. Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett
81. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
81. The Pilot's Wife, by Anita Shreve [tie]
83. All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
84. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
85. The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
86. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
*87. One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich
88. Shogun, by James Clavell
89. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
90. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera
91. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
92. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
93. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
94. Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris
95. Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume
96. The Shining, by Stephen King
97. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, by Terry McMillan
98. Lamb, by Christopher Moore
99. Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen
100. Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Heroine of the Weekend, Movie Edition
From the very beginning, as the credits rolled, this film looked promisingly terrible, one of those incomprehnsibly bad-idea movies that are huge fun to watch, and it lived up to that promise. From bizarre casting (Ida Lupino as the eccentric, fragile Emily! Olivie de Havilland as Charlotte! Paul Heinreid--!!!--as Rev. Arthur Nicholls! With Austrian accent intact!), to strange scenes, (the impoverished clergymen's daughters showing up at a grand ball--!!!--in elaborate gowns it must have taken the costume department weeks to make; Emily bounding over the strangely sunny moors with her gorgeously groomed dog, her 1940s coif perfectly still in the breeze; tiny coughs to denote raging tuberculosis; Branwell looking terribly clean and neat as he lolls drunk in the gutter). I also loved the stilted, ridiculous dialogue (Emily pointing to a house and declaring portentously, "I call it---Wuthering Heights!). It. Was. Fabulous. One of the silliest movies I have ever seen. I laughed my head off.
It did have some redeeming features. Those gowns, though wildly inaccurate for the Brontes', were beautiful, and the sets were gorgeous and atmospheric, as was the Korngold score. You can see a review of it here.
This afternoon I'm taking a break from the deadline to see a bio-pic I hope is much better, Bright Star.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Thursday, October 08, 2009
Things I Love Thursday
What I love today--Nutella. I love it in crepes, on toast, and straight from the jar on a spoon. Smooth chocolate, hazelnut goodness. And I love the commercial that tried to convince us Nutella is a health food, too. I can totally get behind that idea.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Info on the BBC's new version of Emma, with Romola Garai (who was so good in and Daniel Deronda and Amazing Grace...)! I hope it comes to the US soon.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
The first, a Moulin Rouge dancer, is cute, but maybe more than I want to spend...
Poison Fairy--very cute! And it comes with wings!
And Cleopatra. This presents some interesting makeup possibilities, AND comes with great beaded accessories (there's also a cool dagger sold separately)
What do you think? Which one do you like best?
I'm also over at Risky Regencies today, talking about royal brides! Go and vote for your favorite...
Sunday, October 04, 2009
What I'm Reading Today
On the recommendation of Janet Mullany! This is a marvelous book that tells the exciting stories of Georgian/Regency scientists, explorers, and poets and how they both changed and were products of their times. Terrific.
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Heroine of the Weekend
Francoise-Athenais de Rochechouart de Mortemart was born October 5, 1641 at the Chateau of Lussac-les Chateaux in the Poitou-Charentes region of France to parents of two of the oldest noble families, Gabriel de Rochechouart, Duke of Mortemart, and Diane de Grandseigne. From them she inherited a noble name, a great deal of wit, beauty, and not a great deal of money. But they had contacts at Court, and she spent her childhood moving with her mother between the family estates and the Court at the Louvre. At 12, she began her formal education at the Convent of St. Marie at Saintes, where her older sisters were also educated. At age 20, she became a maid-of-honor to the King's sister-in-law, Princess Henrietta-Anne (sister of Charles II of England), and later was appointed lady-in-waiting to the King's new Spanish wife Marie-Theresa. She was in position to find her destiny.
In February 1663 at the chapel of the Eglise Saint-Eustache, she married Louis-Henri Pardaillan de Gondrin, marquis de Montespan. (She had previously been engaged to his brother, who was killed in a duel). They had 2 children, a daughter who died in childhood and a son who later became duc d'Antin. The couple lived in a small house near the Louvre, so Athenais could carry out her Courtly duties with the Queen. She was soon very popular at Court, being beautiful (with curly blond hair, large blue eyes, full lips, and a good figure--at least until a love of food and repeated pregnancies set in), as well as witty and cultured (she was known to be especially good at biting mockery and flirtatious conversation), with a love of music, dancing, the arts, and parties. In her duties to the Queen, she was careful to be the last of her ladies to stay with her at night, so as always to be there when the King came to say good-night to his wife. Sneaky, sneaky.
By 1666, this had all paid off, and she was mistress to the King. She neatly replaced his current love, Louise de Valliere, who had just given birth to Louis's son. Athenais herself had 7 children with the King, beginning with a short-lived daughter in March 1669. She hired a friend of hers, Madame Scarron (later known as Madame de Maintenon) to be the childrens' governess--a bad move, it would turn out, but not for many years. In 1673, her 3 living royal children were given the last name de Bourbon and titles. Louis-Auguste became duc du Maine; Louis-Cesar the comte de Vexin; and Louise-Francois was named Mademoiselle de Nantes (she later married the prince de Conde). They seldom saw their mother, and came to consider Maintenon their true parent. By 1674, she was officially separated from Montespan, but she soon got into trouble of another sort with the notorious Affair of the Poisons.
Before 6 judges at the Chatelet, Athenais was accused of conspiring with the "witch" La Voisin to use black magic to maintain the King's love. (She was also accused of taking part in "black masses", complete with blood sacrifices over her nude body). In another accusation, which would seem to cancel out the first, she was said to conspire to poison the King. (For more info on this complex case, you can look here). Nothing was proved against her, and from 1680 onward her part in the case was hushed up by the King, along with Colbert, Louvois, and Maintenon.
There were numerous bust-ups and reconciliations between Athenais and the King, but by 1690 she was no longer in royal favor. She retired to the convent of the Filles de Saint-Joseph in Paris, with a pension of 500,000 francs. Strabgely, after a tumultuous life of sex and parties and mockery of others, she became a generous benefactor to charities and the arts, befriending Corneille, Racine, and La Fontaine among others. She died May 27, 1707 while taking the waters at Bourbon-l'Archambault. Through her descendants she is related to the house of Orleans and the Spanish royal family, among others.
Some good sources on her life are:
Lisa Hilton, Athenais: The Real Queen of France
Antonia Fraser, Love and Louis XIV
Anne Somerset, The Affair of the Poisons
Friday, October 02, 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Things I Love Thursday
When I was a kid, I got taken to the library every weekend (more often in the summer, if I whined enough about being bored), and I loved those days. I could go in, breathe in those lovely scents of paper and ink, and find all new worlds on the shelves. Best of all, I could even take them home (provided I stuck to the 30 book check-out limit). Today I could never support my book habit without them. Yay libraries!
What are your favorite library memories?