Posts tagged ‘historical fiction’
What’s the attraction of the Renaissance?
For me, it started with the art. I’ve written quite often about the formative effect of my first visit to Florence, when I was twenty, and an English Literature student. I was free to roam the city every afternoon and, as well as falling in love with it as a place, I went into lots of galleries, churches and museums. That was when my taste was formed and I became a fan of the Renaissance (though for painting I prefer Medieval Italian, since the High Renaissance tips into Mannerism, which I can’t abide).
The sculpture of Michelangelo, Donatello and Cellini, the architecture of Brunelleschi, the frescoes of Fra Angelico and Masaccio – all spoke to me in a way that only great art can. “I know what I like” is a much-derided sentiment in regard to art but if you don’t like it you can’t really engage with it or to anything to deepen your understanding of it.
“No more Madonna and Child altarpieces,” my daughters would protest. “You and Stevie go to the Pinacoteca (of whatever city) and we’ll meet you later.” So, yes, the Renaissance for me begins and ends with the art. But then, I got interested in the history – the powerful and fabulously rich de’ Medici family, Macchiavelli, the Borgias. What a fascinating period!
And the philosophy – the beginning of humanism with Ficino, Bruno, Bembo, who were all guests at Lorenzo de’ Medici’s table. When we talk of “Renaissance Man” (I’m afraid it’s always ‘man’), we think of Lorenzo, the scholar poet, patron of the arts, swordsman and lover. And you can’t find out about Lorenzo, who died in his early forties, without learning about the Pazzi conspiracy which wounded him and killed his brother Giuliano during High Mass in the Duomo in Florence on 26th April, 1478.
So a time of extreme violence and danger, even if you were the richest and most influential person in your city. But also a time when art and literature and music were highly valued, when the whole population of a city would turn out to see a new altarpiece being carried to its destination and set up for all to see. The last time something like that happened in the UK was probably the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral by Basil Spence, in 1963, where new works of art by John Piper, Jacob Epstein and Graham Sutherland made it into all the papers and Benjamin Britten’s great War Requiem was premièred.
So, yes, I would like to live in a time when the things that matter to me like art and music and literature have a high profile, rather than the ephemeral celebrity of TV and film “stars” and musicians and artists whose output is very unvaried and aimed primarily to shock, since the arts can do so many other things as well.
But I’m well aware that it would NOT be much fun to live in the Renaissance, even in beautiful Florence, especially as a woman! Think of the dentistry, the plumbing, childbirth and surgery without pain relief, political factions whose members stab each other in the back, literally, instead of figuratively like our modern-day politicians.
And while some of these things could have been mitigated by living in a beautiful palazzo or villa, gazing at great art and wearing voluptuously gorgeous velvets, silks and jewels, this only works if you are a wealthy aristocrat. If you are a humble stonemason like Gabriele in David, or a servant like his friend Grazia, you would be dependent on others even for getting enough to eat.
I try not to romanticise the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, but I can’t deny their attraction for me as a place to spend time and to set my books.
By Mary Hoffman
Historical fiction is really world building for a lot of young readers. What do they know about Zimbabwe and Mugabe? This is exactly what Jason Wallace does with his Costa awarding winning book for 2010.
Strong adventure and tension plus great characters carry this story along. The moral dilemma of who owns the land and how it could be taken back. The issues of racism, colonialism and violence are all part of the story. You know you are in for a great story with the first lines.
‘ Go ahead shoot, I thought, because I am thirteen and desperate and anything, was better that the fate to which my parents were leading me.’
The interest has been set right from the beginning. Zimbabwe and Mugabe become the backdrop to a boy growing up.
Australian historical fiction at it’s best. Jackie French has taken the song Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Patterson and created a fiction so interesting that even adults will like to read this one with their children. Matilda looks for her father who is leader of the shearers union. He is chased by troopers and drowns in a billabong. You know the song now read the book!