“A male child would be greeted with rapture and relief, she knows, but then it would be moulded for one single destiny: a duke. And a female child would be required to do as she has done, to be uprooted from her family and her place of birth and bedded down in another, where she must learn to thrive and reproduce and speak little and do less and stay in her rooms and cut off her hair and avoid excitement and eschew stimulation and submit to whatever nightly caresses come her way.”
— Maggie O’Farrell in The Marriage Portrait
When I was a little girl, I daydreamed about how wonderful it would be . . . to be a princess or a duchess or a queen. What luxury! What glamour! How marvelous!
In reality, not so much.
Or, at least, not in Renaissance Italy!
And that, of course, is the setting for Maggie O’Farrell’s newest novel (and our current Read With Us selection) . . . The Marriage Portrait . . .Renaissance Italy, particularly Florence and Ferrara, 1560(ish), at the time of the Medici and d’Este family dynasties.
I’d been waiting eagerly to get my hands on a copy of The Marriage Portrait from the moment I first heard about it. I loved Maggie O’Farrell’s last novel, Hamnet, and I couldn’t wait to read her newest offering, this time about another little-known (but real) child of the Renaissance. I was not disappointed! The Marriage Portrait is an engrossing and compelling story with beautiful writing, authentic characters, and a wondrous sense of time and place. O’Farrell’s writing creates a stunning visual picture of what life was like in Renaissance Italy, and especially for a daughter of a Duke/a bride of a Duke. It’s a very visual, sensual read filled with rich detail. Themes of captivity, independence, defiance, deceit, and exploitation reveal how crushing life was in the mid-sixteenth century – for everyone, but especially for women.
I’m sure there will be much to discuss when we get together to talk about the book in January!
If you’re wanting more insight into the book, Bonny shared a portrait of Lucrezia d’Medici last week, and explained that Maggie O’Farrell was inspired to write the book after reading the poem My Last Duchess by Robert Browning. And two weeks ago, Carole shared a short introductory interview with Maggie O’Farrell (available on YouTube).
Or – for more information about this season’s selection, you can check out our Read With Us reference page (click the link there — or in the menu bar, above, or in the side bar) for all kinds of background info and “goodies” about the book. You can find the portrait, interview and review links, quotes, author info — and even the full version of the Robert Browning poem.
I do hope you’ll pick up a copy and Read With Us!
The book is currently available on Amazon in hardback ($24.80), paperback ($27.00), Kindle ($14.99) or Audible versions (1 credit). You can check your local bookstores for a copy — and, of course, the book should also be available at most libraries.
Our Read With Us book discussion day will be coming up on Tuesday, January 10. Bonny, Carole, and I will each post discussion questions on our blogs that day, and then – later in the evening (7:00 pm Eastern time zone) – we’ll be hosting a live book discussion/meet-up on Zoom.
Read With Us!