Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thoughts and questions about historical novels

 Recently, I posted a piece, on my own blog, The Writer's Daily Grind,  musting on some things' I've rather informally discovered about historical novels, both from the writing and reading end.  I discovered, for instance, that there are a large number of female readers.  There are also plenty of male readers.  Same is true of writers.  There seem(at least to me) to be more female writers of historical fiction, than male ones.  There's nothing particularly right or wrong about any of this; historical fiction appears to be a burgeoning field. I did find, however, that there seem to be differences in the subject matter of a lot of "guy" and "girl" historical fiction.  "Guy" historical fiction(like what I call "guy books" in general, tend to have lots of action:  battles, fights, travels all over the place.  These "guy writers"(and probably a fair number of "guy readers" seem to be particularly attracted to the "Viking era",, although it seems to me that the Scandinavian seafarers, traders, and yes, fighters, of that era did a lot more than travel and fight.  In some cases, this works well.  Theres a writer by the name of Judson Roberts who has written a series of ostensibly Young Adult books in a series called the Strongbow Saga, which are, in my opinion, quite well-done.  Others?  Well, if the writer is skilled enough, like Bernard Cornwell(though he isn't really writing about Vikings per se) these stories are quite entertaining and plausible, despite the fact that, sometimes, like "thrillers" in modern settings(yes, these tend to be "guy books"), these writers can't seem to make their women very real or very interesting.  

Women historical novel readers(and writers), seem to go more for less "action oriented" stuff.  They seem to particularly favor fictional biographies.  Again, there's nothing wrong with any of this, if they're well done, and I've read some that are.  The writer Elizabeth Chadwick comes to mind.  So does Sharon Kay Penman.  They both, rather unusually, in this histoical fiction writing climate, write in the "earlier" medieval period . Just as an aside, if you want really early medieval, the "guy books" I mentioned above fit, as they take place in what medievalists call "early medieval times", believe it or not.  A very few of these writers deal with the so-called Anglo-Saxon period, and I think there's not enough of that out there, but that's another story.  King Arthur is also overwhelmingly popular with women readers, though perhaps writers, not so much. 

These differences may have come about because women(in general) are attracted, generally to the more "personal" side of people's lives.  And I'll say it again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  The only thing "wrong" with this kind of writing, IMO, is that those who write biographical fiction, seem attracted to only a few historical periods, and/or kinds of people, e.g. Tudor and Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn.  So there seems to be a lot of biographical or semi-biographical fiction about the Tudor era, and an incredible(to me) amount of literature devoted to people like Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette(of course she wasn't Tudor, and when I've read about her, it was more to kind of understand where she was "coming from).  There are plenty of women(and perhaps some men), who really love, love, love Tudors, and again that's fine, at least for them. My only "criticism" here is, that, even if publishers seem to think Tudor, Tudor, Tudor is all women, at least, want to read about, maybe some writers could get brave and branch out a bit.  Same for "guy books".  There's a lot of "Viking era" material, but on the American side of the Atlantic, a lot of this stuff is Civil War era, mostly battles and soldiers.  I, personally, don't read about these; I'm not, oddly enough, particularly interested in the Civil War, though its buildup, action, and aftermath have consequences that reverberate today.

This,my first blog here, has not turned out to be the blog I originally set out to write, but I hope these observations, which are not in any way intended to reflect badly on writers or readers of historical novels -- I've long since given up on that, and cheerfully accept whatever people say they like -- I just have my own tastes and I write that way.  But I do hope this little essay will stimulate thoughts and questions, and perhaps some exploration.  That is the core of what I originally intended, and perhaps, at a later date, I'll expand this essay a bit, and pose some questions of my own.
Anne G

Monday, April 26, 2010

Buying a book

I bought a book today. Nothing unusual, I buy a book most days. What was unusual was that I bought a physical book instead of the ebooks I usually download to my Kindle. When I decided to buy Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran, it wasn't just because Vanitha is a cool name (although it is), but also because it looked like a good story, set in a period that interests me. I went to trusty old Amazon to check it out. The book is available in paperback and Kindle formats. What to do, what to do. Price is about the same, so why the dilemma? Simple. There is back matter - a list of resources for further reading and suggested discussion questions for book clubs.

The Kindle is great for straight reading from start to finish. Not so great for trying to find a particular reference or flipping through pages to put a question to the book club.

I decided to buy the book itself. I wanted the back matter, and wasn't sure that it would be included in the Kindle version, and even if it is, it won't be as convenient to locate when I want to refer to it.

I love my Kindle, but sometimes ya just gotta have the real thing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

How do we define ‘historical fiction’? A modest proposal

What is ‘historical fiction’? How does it differ from other genres? Like ugliness, we know it when we see it but it is difficult to define, except by context. To be pedantic, the word ‘history’ is Greek in origin; it derives from historia, a term whose primary meaning is ‘inquiry’ (OED). Thus, every scheme of data - factual or otherwise - that we compile with the hope of discovering something would qualify as ‘history’. This is unhelpful.
One expert proposes that ‘[i]t is necessary to include at least one ‘real’ [person] in a novel if it is to qualify as historical’ (Fleishman 1971: 3). This is no more helpful. William Golding presents no ‘real’ person among his imaginary Neanderthals in The Inheritors and the period is known to us largely from fossil relics. Yet, because The Inheritors squares with recent research into the period, it is more likely to be classed as historical fiction than fantasy.

The historical novelist Manzoni concluded that ‘the historical novel was impossible - a contradiction in terms, as seen in its very name’ (Fleishmann 1971: 17) But that is just word-chopping. By the same logic, Manzoni would regard the journal New Literary History with extreme suspicion. Another writer suggests ‘a true “historical novel” is one that is historical in its intention’ (Butterfield 1924: 5). That is not helpful at all. What - precisely - might the historical novel ‘intend’ by its historicality?

A simple way to solve the question might be to look at the time-period of its predominant setting. Scott sited his historical novel Waverley in the period of the Jacobite rebellion (1745), a safe 69 years before the novel’s publication in 1814. He didn’t want to stir up bitter memories. But he did so, anyway. The novel provoked much waving of claymores among nonagenarian Scots. A cautious definition of historical fiction, therefore, might be: ‘a work set primarily in a period at least 100 years earlier than the author's time of writing it’. Thus, its setting and period details would precede the lifetimes of any likely author or reader and our novels might avoid libel suits.

Still, this doesn’t entirely address the problem. The House of Dr Dee by Peter Ackroyd segues between the 20th and 16th centuries. Is it historical fiction? In despair, critics have labelled the novel ‘neo-historical fiction’, a work that plays games with time. But, by this definition, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando would be neo-historical fiction. After all, her time-travelling androgyne skips from Tudor England into 1920s Bloomsbury. And what about Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court? Or even King Lear, where the Fool says, anachronistically: “this prophecy shall Merlin make, for I live before his time” (III, ii). Are these works ‘neo-historical’ too? The term is too vague.

I suggest the problem of definition might be simplified by splitting ‘historical fiction’ into two sub-genres: heritage and serio-historical fiction. Heritage fiction depicts modern people, sensibilities and conflicts but it cloaks them expediently with props from history’s wardrobe: ruffs and farthingales, gibbets and jousts. This is the film producer’s approach and it will always make the most money. By contrast, serio-historical fiction exposes the reader to a profound whiff of strangeness.

We find it in certain episodes in Nothing Like the Sun (Anthony Burgess), They Were Defeated (Rose Macaulay), Restoration (Rose Tremain), The Bull from the Sea (Mary Renault) and countless other works unvisited by Hollywood. We do not find it in Philippa Gregory.
Of course, this frisson of alterity need bear no relationship to historic ‘truth’. But when we feel it - for example in the seduction of the novice and the burning of the maid in The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) - we know emphatically that we are no longer in Times Square.

By this revised scheme, Ackroyd’s The House of Dr Dee would be serio-historical fiction, regardless of the time period of any particular episode. The entire narrative reeks of Otherness. And The Other Boleyn Girl would be heritage fiction, a sentimental blend of history and kitsch.

No value judgement is implicit in the terms heritage and serio-historical, of course, and the new scheme should please literary agents.. Whenever they meet an historical novel that is too challenging to be sold in supermarkets they could rate it as serio-historical rather than dumping it in the Literature bin.

Is there a review site dedicated to serio-historical novels? If not, perhaps somebody should devise one. Seriously.


Butterfield, H., 1924, The Historical Novel, Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Fleishman, Avrom, 1971, The English Historical Novel, Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins Press, 0-8018-1433-2

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Ism That Isn't: Two Essays on Class in Historical Fiction

By Nan Hawthorne

n a Class By Themselves

Classism is defined as a biased or discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social or economic classes. I am specifically referring to a preference or assumption of one class over others. This came up recently when someone told me the entire point of the Society for Creative Anachronism was to create a version of the Middle Ages where "everyone is a noble." What?! Forget it then. I'll drag out my old persona, Var the Insurgent. The same is generally true in novels about the era. I remark on how star-struck and classist most historical novelists are. OUt of a score of novels I would guess that at least eighteen are about royalty or nobility. Yes, yes, mine too.. though at least mine are purely fictional and my aim in the crafting of the book is self-admittedly adolescent. In the vast majority of cases, the celebrities are historical as well as fictionalized and decidedly upper crust.

When someone who is an editor on a blog I contribute to complained that too many novels give their medieval females modern sensibilities, the first words out of my mouth after "So what?" are "That's a classist position." I personally believe that every time has individuals of every sort, including tough, independent , sexually liberated women. People who say "women didn't act like that" are forgetting Eleanor of Aquitaine for a start. More than that they are forgetting the vastly different culture of peasant women. Handfastings were commonplace without benefit of clergy for one simple reason.. priests did not grow on local trees.

Authentic or not, realistic or not, it is the job of the novelist to make whatever characters s/he portrays believable. Any character you have read that you simply cannot accept as fitting an era is probably not so much inauthentic as badly written. If the author had believed in the integrity of the character, s/he would have made you believe. That's what we do.

ou Can't Tell a hentleman Without a Scorecard.. or a Sound Bite

My husband and I happily watched, for the second time, Sharpe's Eagle, the BBC television movie based on Bernard Cornwell's novel. The whole point of the Sharpe stories is that Richard Sharpe, the up from the ranks officer, is no gentleman. That is, he's more than common, he's trash. His mother was a drunk and a whore. He didn't learn to read until he was in the army. He has a criminal past. He was in a foundling home in Yorkshire until he ran away to London and became a street tough. Sean Bean, who plays Sharpe in the movies, is from Sheffield and sounds it. Not Yorkshire or London, but it works.

But in this movie, the second in the series, Sharpe is introduced to the vile Colonel Henry Simmerson, a pompous pedantic slime of an aristocrat who dogs Sharpe throughout several of the movies. He insults Sharpe right off the bat. Sharpe manages to keep his dignity and gives the Colonel a civil anser to some simple questions. It is then that someone informs Simmerson that Sharpe is no gentleman. He is an up through the ranks field commissioned officer. Simmerson blows a gasket and refuses to work with an officer who is not of the nobility.

What's wrong with this picture, or rather this soundtrack? Simmerson would have known the instant Sharpe opened his mouth that Sharpe was no gentleman. His manner of speaking, from accent to diction to phrasing would have revealed that right away. This is somethign I notice in historical fiction though. Rarely is the class distinction obvious to a real person in whatever social era the book represents acknowledged by the author. This is true of American authors but also of British. Is it that the regional accents have faded so much that we don't realize how distinct they were in, say, 1809 when this movie and the novel it is based on takes place? Or are class distinctions so foreign to us these days that we don't think of that when we write our characters? Are we so exhausted researching every other little detail that we just ignore distinctions of speech entirely and hope no one notices?

Well, I noticed.

Both essays originally appeared in Na's Booking History blog.  See links on the left.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hygiene: A Historical Dilemma

Ok – that’s not a particularly sexy title. I admit it. But it is a valid point when one writes gay historical fiction. Writing bed-scenes when your writhing couple didn’t own a bath or shower and wouldn't do for several hundred years might be a turn-off for your reader.

These days we are all Germ Free Adolescents, washing our hair every day and brushing our teeth whilst wearing scented panty liners but history, in general, is not famous for its hygiene. We all know the stories of people carrying posies around so they couldn’t smell the world around them, or scattering rue and rosemary on the rushes to keep down the fleas. I believe the rumour is that Elizabeth I took a bath twice a year, whether she needed it or not.

Once the Romans left England, plumbing became a lost art, and wasn’t really rediscovered for about two thousand years. In the interim times, well, let’s say that the natives were sometimes a little revolting.

There weren’t a lot of cosmetic dentists around in earlier times, and although the toothbrush had been invented in the 15th century, it didn’t really catch on that well (just as well we STILL don’t have to brush using badger or pig’s bristles…), and flossing? Forget it, that’s not caught on in England even today... (joke… joke…).

The Romans definitely had it right, and it's probably because of this that this is one of the most popular gay historical eras - it's very easy to get your men naked ("Fancy a trip to the Baths, Lividius?" "Don’t mind if I do, Maximus, old Beanus.") and nice and clean and ready for action.

The Greeks too, were sticklers for cleanliness, and not only that, they were accepting of male love, so no problems there.

It’s when you push ahead a few centuries that you begin to have problems, particularly in more northerly locations where people are covering themselves in skins and bear fat and not peeling off until Spring. Cowboys - out on the range for months on end in a dust bowl, Shakespearian Luvvies sharing their beds with lice and bed-bugs, naval commanders rogering the cabin boy who hasn't seen warm water or fresh fruit for an Atlantic crossing.

So how do get your hero’s todger out of his breeches and into the willing hand of his boyfriend without worrying whether their bed holds more life than just the humans? Ha ha! It’s possible, and with a little bit of suspension of belief without being totally anachronistic, too.

Say for example, you have a couple of lusty young shepherds who have been working on the farm all day in an 18th century small-holding and they look at each other over the sheep dip and they are sweating, the curls sticking to their foreheads, both covered in sheep-muck – and….Hmmm. Problem.

So – here are your basic guidelines for smexxing it up in days gone by:

1. Remember your characters come from a time when hygiene wasn’t a great issue.

They were used to smells; they aren’t going to be put off when it comes down to it. Concentrate on manly sweat, and accurate scents that might be there, rosemary, juniper and cinnamon. Celery and cardamom (often chewed to freshen the breath)

2. Ignore teeth.

It’s better not to keep referring to everyone’s perfect teeth because that’s going to be pretty damned unlikely before modern times and National Health dentistry. Assume that your hero and heroine are savvy enough to eat well and haven’t been stuck on long ship voyages. Snogging someone with bleeding gums or a jaw full of wooden dentures ain’t never going to be sexy.

3. Make them a little unusual for their time;

Remember Horatio Hornblower? . He used to shower daily on deck to the general amusement of all (which included his fellow lieutenants who were probably a little more fragrant than he was.) Horatio’s skin would have tasted deliciously of salt, and not of rancid sweat. What a damned shame that Lieutenant Bush never took advantage of this, canonically. I’m pleased to say, though, that there are now a few Age of Sail novels (Lee Rowan’s Ransom, Alex Beecroft’s Captain’s Surrender) that are exploring the love of 17th Century sailors - for other sailors.

4. Have a sex scene after swimming,

that’s always an ideal time to avoid problems like fleas….

5. Bedbaths!

An Erastes staple! I have had a bed-bath in both my novels so far. Not only are they a great way to get rid of any revolting smells, smeg and other things wot shouldn’t be on skin when a tongue is going to be stuck in any orifice handy, but they are sexy as hell and get the juices flowing, and the blood surging to places where it should be surging. Natural sponges=sexy.

6. Don’t forget the times when hygiene WAS important.

Even in Britain, before the Romans buggered off and us English reverted to smelly painted savages, there was underfloor heating, hot water, communal baths, massages, showers and hot and cold running slaves. Egypt, China, Japan too - all had higher civilisation than northern Europe.

7. And yes! There were showers in Regency England!

Here’s proof. Of course it meant that one’s man had to stand on a step-ladder and pour water into the top – but perhaps one’s man enjoyed this task – and he’d certainly enjoy drying sir off afterwards. But not with a soft thick towel please!!! Not until after the Great Exhibition!

Have good clean fun!

Erastes writes gay historical fiction. Her novels range from the English Civil War to Victorian times. Find out more about her books and short stories at her website www.erastes.com. She is also the owner of SPEAK ITS NAME the only place on the planet dedicated to gay historical news, reviews and interviews.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Brief History of Robert the Bruce

I always find it amazing how life takes us down paths we never intended. Sometimes they’re pleasant garden paths, sometimes dark twisting alleys, but always, unexpected and full of new things to learn. For this American mother of many, the road of classical music took an unexpected turn and plunged deeply into the world of Robert the Bruce, medieval warrior king of Scotland.

Bruce, too, found his life’s path diverging sharply from his expectations. Born into a peaceful kingdom under Alexander III, he died as Scotland’s greatest warrior king. The life of peace disappeared with Alexander’s fall over a cliff in the night. His only heir, a young granddaughter, died soon afterward.

As a descendent of David I of Scotland, Bruce’s grandfather fought for the crown of Scotland in the wake of Alexander III’s death. Edward I of England assigned the throne, instead, to John Balliol. This lasted exactly as long as King John complied with Edward’s wishes, meaning: not long. Less than four years later, Balliol found himself stripped, literally, of his title, and his kingdom subjected by the English. His forced abdication on July 10, 1296, left Scotland at war without a king. Into this gap stepped William Wallace of Braveheart fame, rising against the English, and the brief rule of Scotland by guardians, including both Wallace and Bruce.

In the wake of Balliol’s exile to France and Wallace’s death, the fight for the crown of Scotland resumed, this time between Bruce and John Comyn. The fight came to a head on February 10, 1306, in Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. There, Bruce killed Comyn in front of the altar. He knew he would be excommunicated for the act, which would prevent him being crowned. Racing against messengers to the Pope, he sped to Scone and his coronation before ex-communication could be pronounced.

On assuming the throne of Scotland in 1306, his queen, Elizabeth remarked, “Alas, we are but King and Queen of the May such as boys crown with flowers and rushes at the summer sports.”  Indeed, there were few at his side at his coronation: three earls, three bishops, an abbot, his four brothers, and a handful of supporters. Soon enough, even these would be dispersed. Within a year of his crowning, three of his brothers and several of his closest friends and supporters would be executed—hanged, drawn, and quartered—by the English, and his wife, sister, and daughter captured and imprisoned.

Born to nobility and castles, Bruce’s path led him, instead, to living with his few followers in caves and finally fleeing to the western islands, where he relied on the good will of Angus Og and Christina MacRuairi even for food and shelter.
In February of 1307, Bruce launched his attack on the English. Shortly after, Edward I, Longshanks, of England died, leaving his less competent son, Edward II, as king. Seven years of guerrilla warfare followed, in which Bruce steadily gained followers and re-gained what Edward I had taken. In 1314, he led a small Scottish army to Stirling to meet ‛the largest army the world had ever seen,’ twenty miles, according to some, of mounted knights, foot soldiers, archers, and supply wagons, led by Edward II.
But Bruce’s many years in a harsh and unforgiving school had taught him to use the land. By coming early, choosing his ground, and preparing it with murder pits and caltrops to pierce the English chargers’ hooves, Bruce did more than merely survive or defend, but masterminded the routing of an army three to five times the size of his own.

The Scots’ victory at Bannockburn, unfortunately, meant little to Edward II. Bruce spent the next years fighting the English both in Ireland and in frequent raids across the English border, in an attempt to force Edward to accept the very easy terms of the treaty offered after Bannockburn: that he recognize Scotland as an independent nation and Bruce as king.

In 1320, Scotland’s nobility sent the Declaration of Arbroath to Pope John XXII, asserting their independence, and naming Bruce their lawful king. It is one of the first European documents to propose the idea of a contract between a king and his people.
The Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, ratified in 1328, ended the First War of Scottish Independence, which had co-opted the path of Bruce’s life. Having achieved his lifelong hope of reclaiming his country, Bruce lived his remaining year in peace. He died at his manor of Cardross on June 7, 1329, at the age of 54. His body is buried at Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, and his heart at Melrose Abbey.
Robert the Bruce stands today alongside William Wallace, as Scotland’s greatest hero, and a testament to living life boldly and courageously, regardless of what mountains your path may climb.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Research versus the Demands of the Publishing Market

Confession time. It took me almost five years to finish my first historical novel. Now, I'll admit to being a slow writer, but most of that time was spent researching the life of Cleopatra's daughter. Oh, sure, I'd seen the famous movie about Cleopatra--the one starring Liz Taylor. I'd read many excellent books about the Late Republic and Early Empire. But it took a long time to understand both the Ptolemaic Egyptian culture into which my heroine was born as well as the Roman world in which she was raised. But when I sold LILY OF THE NILE to Berkley, I knew all of that work and effort was worth it.

What I didn't know was that everything was about to change for me as a writer. When my agent asked me how long it would take me to write the sequel, I hesitated so long that she said something like, "Be realistic, but the right answer is not longer than a year."

I agreed because, let's face it, what was the alternative? There are authors who can get away with publishing on their own schedule. Their readers will wait for them no matter how long it takes. But that's not how it works for most authors. Besides, I thought, how hard could it be? The sequel is about the same woman I'd already been writing about. I had a jump-start on the research.

As it turns out, this was only partially true. I'd done enough research on Cleopatra Selene to know that I had much more to learn, because historical fiction and even historical fantasy doesn't just revolve around the life of one person. It's a snapshot in time, and a good author will capture those details and even their contradictions. I have realized that for every fact I've learned about the ancient world between the years of 30BC-14AD there are ten more unexplored paths I could take. I'm fairly confident I'll never know everything there is to know about those years, but that doesn't stop me from trying.

Recently, I spent three working days researching the mucus of sea snails to understand how my heroine made herself rich making royal purple dye. Before I had a publishing contract, I might have spent weeks researching this, but now I have a deadline, so there's a limit. I have to stop myself and just write the book, knowing that as a fiction author, the story has to come first.

Still, I'm curious. How do you balance the research demands of historical novels against the demands of publishing today?


Questions are the stuff from which writers are made. For those of us who write historical fiction, the major question that guides our work is "What if?" Those two little words can conjure up virtual worlds, alternate realities, and a tantalizing glimpse into what might have been.

The nice parts about writing historical fiction are you'll never run out of plots, settings, intriguing characters, or fateful decisions. For example:

Want to make Charlemagne a twin who has taken his brother's place? No problem.
Think Cleopatra needs to have had a fear of spiders? Why not?
Convinced that Marc Antony really wanted to get it on with Caesar's wife? Righto.
Wondering if the Borgias were actually victims of lead poisoning instead of evil from the getgo? have at it.

The point is that history is just the starting point. The rest is up to you. What's your spin on history? Is it leading to a published work? Time will tell.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hello from Tucson

2010 is a year of firsts for me. First time to write seriously and steadily after years of "I'd like to write someday" and "Sheesh, I could write something better than that," I called my own bluff. I spent half of 2008 and all of 2009 researching, taking classes and workshops, developing characters and plotting. Now I am writing. I let the books bubble and what came to surface is a historical romance set in Maine in 1864. I chose Maine because I started this process in August in Arizona, and Maine was as far away as I get if only in imagination and not in the flesh. I liked going to the Maine in my mind to escape the heat.

After fighting against all the advice, I succumbed and treat the writing as a part-time job. I write every day, Mon-Fri, take weekends off, and write first thing in the morning. I belong the the local chapter of the Romance Writers Association and love to learn from the other members. I do belong to a critique group, but have been more of a critic than a contributor because my story isn't finished enough to share.

I am the official grammar and spelling police in our group due to my experience as professional editor and proofreader, so that is my contribution until the manuscript is done.

I work as a registered nurse in the surgical care line, usually in the recovery room, and I would never, under any circumstances, consider for five seconds writing a story set in a hospital. I write to get away from that, but I'm more than willing to answer any questions anyone may have that I am able to that fall in the area of wounds, sickness, or healing.

I love reading historical fiction, and three of the four of my works in progess are historical fiction. The other is a young adult fantasy.

Although I am not yet published and have never blogged, I was allowed to join this group. I hope my offerings are of value. I enjoy reading what the others have written so far and look forward to getting to know you all better.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Maria Anna Mozart - The Woman Behind The Talent of Wolfgang

Maria Anna Mozart
(30 July 1751 – 29 October 1829)

Maria Anna Mozart, beloved nicknamed Nannerl, was the elder and only sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As children, both were considered gifted musical prodigies and their father, Leopold, arranged tours to display their talents to the masses in the grandest capitals of Europe. Both children could play the most challenging pieces and could compose into notes any song they heard.

They enjoyed a pleasant childhood, indulging their musical creativity and creating their own childish kingdom. As Nannerl and Wolfgang’s musical genius progressed into composition, her adoring younger brother greatly praised and encouraged her work. At a concert, when he announces that the piece he has just played was written by his sister, Leopold is incensed. He orders Nannerl to never compose music again because in the 18th century, women did not become composers.

Thereafter, Leopold focused all his attentions on Mozart, not Nannerl. He refused to allow her to study the violin and composition. Leopold announces Nannerl must remain at home when he takes Wolfgang on tour and obliges her to give piano lessons to wealthy students to finance her brother’s Italian tour. Her dreams shattered, Nannerl complies, but falls into a deep depression.

Victoria, one of her students, becomes her protégé. Through Victoria, Nannerl’s passion for music is re-awakened. When Victoria’s father becomes interested in her, he rekindles her spirit. Her relationship with Mozart, however, is plagued by years of separation and the preference of their father for his son and not his daughter. Nannerl struggles not only with the loss of her hopes and dreams, but also with the ever-growing estrangement with her brother and her father who refuses to recognize her talents because of the laws of society which will not allow a woman to enter the wold of musical composition.

Even her choice of suiters were one-by-one turned away by Leopold. In 1784, she married the magistrate Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg (1736-1801) and moved to St. Gilgen. Nannerl returned to Salzburg to give birth to her first son and left the newborn there in Leopold's care.

Nannerl grew ever more distant from Wolfgang, especially after his marriage to Constanze Weber. They resumed corresponding briefly after the death of their father, but by then, their affection for each other had all but disappeared and Mozart's brief letters to her dealt almost exclusively with the disposition of their father's estate.

When Wolfgang dies, Nannerl re-awakens to life and makes it her purpose to honor her brother by collecting and assembling all his compositions and erecting monuments to honor his life.

After her huband’s death, Maria Anna returned to Salzburg and supported herself once again by giving piano lessons. She died on October 29, 1829, and was buried in St. Peter’s cemetary.

Reprinted from History and Women Blog

Monday, April 12, 2010

What's in a Name?

Genre Fiction

Names are important for a variety of reasons. On an elemental level, they help avoid confusion: (you're George, he's Freddie). Linnaeus understood this and, as a result, we have a universal system for classifying organisms. This system allows a botanist in Australia to communicate with a colleague in Ulan Bator and both will understand they're talking about the same plant. It works for animals as well.

In humans, names accomplish a great deal more. They carry social and psychological consequences. They establish identity. Society takes names seriously. In almost every culture there is a naming ceremony for a newborn child. It's a ritual complete with all the trappings of any serious cultural ceremony.

Once the ceremony is over, the child is more or less stuck for life with the name. Depending upon the popularity of that name, the child will either ride that name to the crest of popularity, build what's commonly called "character" by fighting against it until he or she can rise above it, or be shunned by the peer group. For example, consider one girl given a family name, such as DaLoyd or Brownda, and another given a currently popular name, such as Emma or Anna. Their future course is already charted before they're out of diapers.

The Segue

If you write historical fiction, you may feel a bit like the first example in the preceding paragraph. Where do your books fit in B and N? That's the first question an agent will ask you when you pitch your manuscript. Do they fit anywhere? You stammer and stumble and your answer sounds like a cross between an apology and an argument.

"My book is a cross between X and Y" or "My book is A meets B."

You can't answer the question, because there's no place for your book. You're the also ran, the wannabe. Genre fiction labels books to make things convenient for the publisher, the book store, and the reading public. Where's the lobby for Historical Fiction? Why are we the DaLoyds and Browndas of the trade?

Bookstores have sections for mysteries, romances, occasionally Westerns, and then the vast dumping ground labeled "literature." Most historical fiction finds itself consigned to this area, and this makes finding titles in your specific period, let alone historical fiction as a whole, Sherlockian.


The minor question: How do you find works of historical fiction when you browse Amazon, B and N, Borders, or your Indie book store? How do you learn what authors you're going to love or hate?

The major question: How will you ensure your title stands out amongst the thousands of books moldering away in the general lit stacks?

A Slice of History from Viva

Isn't this a great group of bloggers? Aren't you intrigued about what you'll be able to read from them?

I've been a member of the Historical Novelists list since 2002 (or so). They feed my love of history, research, and just good conversation. Being associated with them has enhanced my appreciation of history and how it shapes our present lives. Engaging in the conversations has illuminated some previously unknown facts and situations.

My writings run the gamut. My writing life began with providing publicity for the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce as well as the Business & Professional Women's Club. Those were in addition to writing legal documents and related matters as a transactional and litigation paralegal (oh yes, and as the South Coast Air Quality Hearing Board Legal Clerk). Those endeavors were soon supplemented with my becoming a freelance journalist/reporter and law clerk.

After a while, my writings took on more form as I began hosting and producing my own radio newscast on legal news for the visually impaired community in the Bay Area. My research areas also grew as I did freelance research on women's health issues for KRON.

While my poetry titles continued to grow from high school, I began to keep my manuscripts and perform them in the early 1970s. That was when my childhood neighbor's godfather revealed that he was a poet and songwriter -- Prince Patridge. He became my mentor. My poetry has also been performed by Mona Golabek on her program "The Romantic Hours" and a few pieces have been published on the Web. I long to have time to put together a collection as a manuscript for a chapbook or for a full book.

My fictional and inspirational writing began in the late 1990s and continues. Again, I have a very strong desire to aggregate many of those pieces for a book.

My life turned away from law and went in the direction of employment and recruiting, then management. Within the first two years of going independent (and a year after earning my California Accredited Consultant designation) I found myself being invited to submit proposals to be a recruiting and HR conference speaker based on my writings in those areas, and to contribute to an India university journal on management.

Desire became reality when I was published as a contributor to one of the CollegeRecruiter.com anthologies on getting a job.

My employment industry endeavors have been refined as the years have passed. My focus areas are in regard to diversity; women as leaders; hiring, retention, and promotion of personnel, especially minority women; ethics; and abuse.

Those areas are where my contributions to Clio's Children will be. The inspiration for focusing on this niche area sprang from being invited to be a speaker-presenter for Black History Month this year and then delivering the sermon in honor of Black History Month.

Being multi-racial, it was easy for me to see the value in sharing some of my research about significant contributions minorities have made to our lives and highlighting their accomplishments in spite of the many obstacles that my specialty populations have made.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Introducing Clio's Children

Clio - the Muse of History

Clio is one of the nine Muses in Greek Mythology. Daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the Muses were charged with overseeing the arts and sciences. Clio is the Muse of history, and since we are writers and readers of history and historical fiction, it seemed appropriate to place ourselves under her care and protection.

About that Picture

The bronze sculpture of Clio that leads us into this post is by Albert Wolff. Done in 1876, it stands outside St. Nicolai Church in Berlin's city center.

The Invocation

We writers of historical fiction need a great deal of support and protection, so we are counting on Clio to do right by us. We're a group with diverse interests in matters historical. Join us for some interesting discussions, opposing viewpoints, rants and raves. Welcome to our blog!

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