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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Review - The King's Women

The blurb on the back of Deryn Lake's book reads as thus: "... a meaty dish of lust and medieval intrigue..."

The main focus of this book centers around the women who played a pivotal role in the life of King Charles VII of France. The setting is in the latter part of the period in history known today as the Hundred Years' War - a war of succession involving both English and French claimants to the French throne following the deaths of King Philip IV and his sons.

The book is in four parts, focusing on Charles' life and those women who helped shape him. Part I focuses on Charles' mother, the grotesque Isabaeu of Bavaria, Queen of France, and his future mother-in-law, the intelligent Yolande d'Aragon, Queen of Sicily and Duchess d'Anjou.

Part II deals with Charles' relationship with his first "important" lover, one Madame de Giac (Bonne), and Charles' wife, Marie d'Anjou, Yolande's daughter. Part III deals specifically with Jehanne Darc (La Pucelle - Joan of Arc) whilst Part IV deals with Charles' last great love, Agnes Sorel.

Okay - this is not a straight re-telling of Charles' life - but more of a narrative focusing on the interaction of these women and Charles; how they influenced him; and how they shaped the man he was to become.

I found, however, Part II to be rather labourious - is is the longest; and Part III dealing with Jehanne (or Joan) was rather brief, as was Part IV (Agnes).

There is a twist in this book, and one you will have to follow quite closely from start to finish - an interesting twist - this will give pause for further thought.

A background into the Hundred Years' War isn't necessary - but it does help where characters are concerned. An enjoyable read nonetheless.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Killer Kosmetics

These days, women are so careful about what they put on their faces - is the make-up or skin creme they use tested on animals; is it dermatologically safe; does it contain "natural" ingredients.

Well, spare a thought, Ladies, for your ancient and medieval forebears who coated their faces with many a poison - all in the name of beauty.

According to this article by "MSNBC" women in ancient Egypt used eye make-up made up of "malachite (a green ore of copper), galena (lead sulfide), and, most famously, kohl, a paste made of soot, fatty matter and metal (usually lead, antimony, manganese or copper)."

Women in ancient Greece and Rome used a white lead to give the skin a more paler tone; red lead to give their lips a more redder appearance; and lead also to dye their hair; white lead and mercury for the "face peel"; and lead sulfate to aid in the removal of freckles. According to this article, the use of lead to whiten the skin increased during the 15th - 18th centuries - and "death by cosmetics" was common.

However, even well into the 19th and 19th Centuries, poisonous substances like arsenic, radium, and even rat poison were still to be found among the ingredients of both cosmetics and facial cremes that women unknowingly smothered their skin with.

Thank goodness today, we women are more concious of just what we feed our skin - so spare a thought for the women of yester-year who died for the sake of beauty.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Review - The Scarlet Lion

This is Elizabeth Chadwick's sequal to "The Greatest Knight" - the continuing story of the lives of William Marshal and Isabella de Clare.

It took me a little longer to read than the first book - though not through any fault of the author - just other things had my attention, which in effect meant I needed to re-read a few times just to referesh my memory.

As I said with the first book - the story was familiar yet despite this I still enjoyed the "The Scarlet Lion". The by-play between William and King John was good - there were times when one felt like yelling out to Marshal, "just give it to him" (ie: him being bad King John). That man Marshal must have had the patience of a saint - or he really was a adept in the way and wiles of the court scene.

Maude de Braose - she has a somewhat fleeting part in the story - yet I found myself thinking she was hard done by - well, she certainly was by King John! And so I felt she was a little more derserving of a bit more sympathy (ie: the "raddled hag" reference). Maude and Isabella were quite similar in character and in both wanting more for their husbands. Yet I suppose at that time, looks as well as property were high on the list of the recommended qualities of a woman - even after many years of marriage (and many children later).

Anyway, "The Scarlet Lion" is a very good read - however, I would recommend reading"The Greatest Knight" beforehand - just to keep things in perspective and to provide some background information, especially for those unfamiliar with this part of history.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Women of History - 2008

As the year has already begun, I have been a bit lax in my postings.

I have been posting a few new articles in the Women of History website, and my new one "Historic Biography" - and so shall try and get some stuff organised for the Blog.

I am currently reading, for anyone interested, Elizabeth Chardwick's "Scarlet Mantle" - though due to work commitments ('tis the season, etc etc), progress is rather slow.

Hope this new year will find you all well and hope to get into a bit of a routine, posting-wise.

~~~ Take care on life's great journey!