Monday, January 28, 2008

Review - Duchess of Aquitaine

Many people have commented on Margaret Ball's retelling of the early life of Eleanor of Aquitaine - many a time I had passed over this book, until now.

Picking it up at my local library and flipping through the back section, I came across "A Conversation with Margaret Ball". Here the author was asked a number of questions - yet the one that struck me most was as follows:

Question: How did you conduct your research for "Duchess of Aquitaine" ?

Answer: "I don't want to sound conceited, but .... I believe I did more careful, and sounder, research on Eleanor that many of her biographers have done. Without naming names or pointing fingers, let me just say that I've found evidence that several generations of "serious" historians who have copied one another's footnotes without ever checking the originals."

Interesting approach from someone who is writing a fictional account of a well know 12th Century woman. The answer many have had more of a sting to it had Margaret been writing a factual account of Eleanor.

She concludes with a section titled "On Historical Fiction and Artistic License" ... and the following sticks out for me:

" ... The fact is that you can't adhere to historical fact when writing a novel set in the 12th century. There's simply too much we don't know; too many places where you have to make your best guess and settle for that."

That's the gem of historical fiction - you can ad lib a little without offending anyone. I have come across a number of novels in which events have been so blurred that many a different scenario was plausible - which is ideal for the historical fiction author. And that just makes the novel all the more interesting - you want to go and find out for yourself.
In fact, Margaret herself puts forward a rather interesting theory of her own, and I've read some rather interesting ones myself concerning Eleanor. For those unable to distinguish between fact and fiction, well ..... I really don't know what to tell you.

Anyway, I am still in the process of reading this book and will post a final review once I am done.


Sincerae (means "Morningstar") said...

Hi Melisende,

I read Margaret Ball's novel a few years ago and enjoyed it, but I think Jean Plaidy's Courts of Love about Eleanor of Aquitaine is a better read. However, I may be more partial to Plaidy because she is one of my favorite historical authors. Co-incidentially, she also write a novel set in Victorian times called Melisende.

I liked your blog so much that I added it to my blogroll a few days ago:)

Melisende said...

Thanks Sincerae!

I posted a review above - rather disappointing for me.

I am attempting to track down the title and author of a book on Eleanor that I read over 20 years ago. As I mentioned in the post above this one, it pictured Eleanor seated on a throne with the imposing and ominous Abbot Suger standing behind her.

If anyone can help - I am sure it was by either Plaidy or Lofts and no doubt the cover has changed over the years - progress!