Yearning for Wonderland
Honestly, I didn’t think I was doing so little on my blog until I looked at the post listings and realized I had -one- post for August so far, on the 6th. At my best, I was averaging a post every day and a half. To go a week with only one…
There’s a multitude of reasons, but they may all point to the same thing. My darn Muse has departed for climes less balmy. (It has been agitatingly, soul-sucking hot for the last few weeks: the kind of heat that leaves you languidly lolling about on the veranda, fanning yourself limpidly as the linen sticks to your back.) So my Muse has left for a quick jaunt around the countryside and I am left here staring at my computer screen with the following options: 1) watch an episode of The Tudors, 2) read any of the stack of lovely new books on my bedside table, 3) play Plants vs. Zombies, that blessed time-suck.
It isn’t from lack of time off (just finished 3 days off, which may be one culprit). I have lots of projects vying for my attention: Super Secret Spy Girl, rehearsals for The Laramie Project, Blogcritic reviews, etc, etc.
My brain is a bit parched and it has nothing to do with the heat. It’s rather too many wonderful ideas crowding in, trying to fight their way to the fore; it’s not so much time management as it is time muddlement.
|Thalia, Muse of Comedy|
So today I present the Muses, since mine is not present: Clio (History), Calliope (Epic Poetry), Urania (Astronomy), Euterpe (Song & Elegiac Poetry), Erato (Love Poetry), Melpomene (Tragedy), Thalia (Comedy), Terpsichore (Dance), Polyhymnia (Hymns). Not to be confused with the Graces, the Muses were a little more workaday and useful. Nine muses, nine arts, all the root of the word “museum” and “amuse” and “musing” and other muse-like words.
|Oliver Rhys, A Seated Muse|
Ever noticed that Muses tend to be young, beautiful ladies? Fickle as well, apparently. That comes with Muse-hood. I’m fairly certain that my Muse tends to the plainer side, with milkish skin, but can look otherworldly at the right angle. She definitely has freckles and likely a penchant for ribbons.
|Jan Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting (Detail – Clio)|
Muses are generally invoked at the beginning of epic poetry, a convention followed by writers for centuries:
- O lady myn, that called art Cleo,
- Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,
- To ryme wel this book til I haue do;
- Me nedeth here noon othere art to vse.
- ffor-whi to euery louere I me excuse
- That of no sentement I this endite,
- But out of Latyn in my tonge it write. – Chaucer
Muses are also a convenient scapegoat, as I illustrated at the beginning of the post. No writing? No muse. No performing? No muse. No singing? No muse. It’s even more dangerous when flesh and blood women are elevated to Muse status, as in Jane Morris for Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelites.
Jane’s marriage to William Morris was jeopardized by her affairs with Rossetti, who married his other muse, Elizabeth Siddal (who later overdosed on laudanum). Read more in Francine Prose’s excellent study of real-life muses: Lives of the Muses.
|Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blue Silk Dress (Model: Jane Morris)|
|Jane Morris (photo) and Jane (painting) – Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood|
So, Muse, any time you would like to return…you know where my door can be found. What do you do to invoke your muse? And what do you do when she does not appear?
This post is the sixth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.
3 Question View – Alissa Libby
Your novels, The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose, are historical fiction; what drew to this genre? In your travels to do historical research, where was your favorite destination? How does being in a place inspire you? What is the most fascinating fact you discovered in your travels by being “on the spot”?
It was a bittersweet meeting; Catherine is buried alongside her infamous cousin, Anne Boleyn, who had a half dozen roses on her crest on the day we visited, while Catherine had none. The yeoman guard showed us that the white marble of Anne’s stone has turned pink from so many years of red roses being laid upon it. This made me sad for Catherine, the overlooked (but still doomed) wife of King Henry. I said hello to her and left a stone to mark our visit, and made it clear that we had come a long way to visit her, specifically.
On your blog you say you are attracted to “characters who do something wrong.” Which character was a greater challenge for you to write – Katherine Howard or Countess Bathory? Out of all the females in history, what led you to these two as the focus of your novels?
I love this question! Each character posed unique challenges. With Bathory, the challenge was to make her a sympathetic character. That book is more historical fantasy, because I added many fictional elements to her life (this is why I changed her name to Bizecka in the book). I still wanted her to commit the crimes of legend: bathing in the blood of her servants, believing that it would keep her young forever. So, how to make the reader empathize with such a character? How to show her madness growing gradually, in a way that is believable? That was the challenge. I started at a place that I could deeply understand: I gave the young Countess a best friend, and felt her betrayal when that best friend leaves her behind. A very common story, but it alters Erzebet’s perception of her world.
When writing historical fiction, how do you balance between sharing juicy historical bits with the reader without overburdening the story? Has there been a historical detail in one of your books that you badly wanted to include, but cut for story purposes? Will you stay with the genre of historical fiction or are there other types of writing calling your name?
Oh, so many details! It really was difficult, especially with The King’s Rose. I researched their food, clothing, daily life, holidays, music…The details are valuable for world-building, but it is tricky to include just what you need and not a sentence more. A delicate balance that I’m still learning to strike! I took a break from history and was working on some contemporary stories for the last few years. But there is something exciting about setting a story in a different time period. The beliefs and customs of that time influence the characters and the story itself in very interesting ways.
The King’s Rose
Appointed to the queen’s household at the age of fourteen, Catherine Howard is not long at court before she catches the eye of King Henry VIII. The king is as enchanted with Catherine as he is disappointed with his newest wife — the German princess Anne of Cleves. Less than a year from her arrival at court, Catherine becomes the fifth wife of the overwhelmingly powerful, if aging, King of England.
Caught up in a dazzling whirl of elaborate celebrations, rich gowns and royal jewels, young Catherine is dizzied by the absolute power that the king wields over his subjects. But does becoming the king’s wife make her safe above all others, or put her in more danger? Catherine must navigate the conspiracies, the silent enemies, the king’s unpredictable rages, as well as contend with the ghosts of King Henry’s former wives: the abandoned Catherine of Aragon, the tragic Jane Seymour, and her own cousin, the beheaded Anne Boleyn. The more Catherine learns about court, the more she can see the circles of danger constricting around her, the threats ever more dire.
Check out the book trailer for The King’s Rose! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGaAGyAgvas
The Blood Confession
Erzebet Bizecka lives in a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains, the only child of the Count and Countess Bizecka. Born under the omen of a falling star, Erzebet is a child of prophecy: the predictions of a scryer tell of a child whose days will end quickly, or whose days will have no end. As a teenager, Erzebet strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young village girl, Marianna, but even her dearest friend can not understand her overwhelming fears of growing older and losing her beauty. The only one who does understand her is Sinestra, the beautiful, mysterious stranger who visits Erzebet and assures her that there are ways to determine her own destiny. With the Biblical passage “The life of the flesh is in the blood” he successfully lures her into a dark world of blood rituals in order to preserve her youth and beauty for eternity. But will the blood treatments—exacted from willing servant girls—be enough to keep her safe forever? How far will Erzebet be willing to go to sever her life from the predestined path God has chosen for her?
Visit the book trailer for The Blood Confession: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYyij1xBLv8
I haven’t done any film clips in awhile, so I wanted to include this. It’s my very favorite moment from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), featuring the best character – Lucy Pevensie. I absolutely love the drifting flower petals that coalesce into the figure. It’s a thoroughly magical moment and actually redeemed the rest of the movie for me.
Have you ever experienced an afternoon like that? The sun falls a certain way; the light’s hazy and soft-focus. A breeze lifts the hair from your face and playfully blows it back again. A sense of expectancy hangs in the air – the word for it is not “magic”. Magic is oft an illusion, so what is that breathless moment where all that is impossible seems possible and the very trees would speak your name?
Who has not tried to hold onto something that slipped away? This poem speaks in a mournful throb of something precious lost forever.
“La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is commonly translated as “The beautiful lady without pity/mercy”, although “thanks” is the literal translation of “merci”. I think the idea of ingratitude is actually far more interesting than pitilessness: her procession of devotees pay single-minded homage and yet she seemingly cares not…or does she?
The narrator speaks of her eyes twice: “Her hair was long,/her foot was light,/And her eyes were wild” and then, later, “She took me to her elfin grot,/And there she gaz’d and sighed deep,/And there I shut her wild sad eyes– So kiss’d to sleep.” As described, there is a hint of regret in her eyes, of sadness for yet another lover abandoned. Is it because she feels more strongly for the narrator or that she is doomed to always lead her knights astray? This is the one moment in the poem where the coquette slips. If truly without pity, mercy or gratitude, why the lady’s sadness?
Though the poem seems straightforward, there are enigmatic layers within each stanza. He made her garlands of flowers as she sings to him faery songs, a traditional token of courtly love. She feeds him faery nourishment, “relish sweet,/And honey wild,/and manna dew“. Keats later references the “starv’d lips in the gloam” of the wraiths, an indication of lack of substance to her nourishment. It could also be read as love-starved. One common result of heartbreak in Romantic literature is wasting away from lack of love.
Keats did not originate the idea of “La Belle Dame” – it dates back to Medieval courtly love poetry. The theme of the beautiful faery creature who heedlessly breaks hearts is the mirror opposite of the lady who waits patiently at her tower window for her love or quietly pines away (see The Lady of Shalott).
Keats himself considered this poem dashed off: “I have for the most part dash’d of[f] my lines in a hurry – ” (Letter to George, Weds 21 April 1819). Nevertheless, it is considered one of the most classic English Romantic poems and was a great influence on the Pre-Raphaelites in particular (see paintings from previous post and sketch below by Dante Gabriel Rossetti).
For a far more scholarly interpretation of the sources of “La Belle Dame”:
Read more Keats and other Romantic poets at: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/66
Poem by John Keats, post by me. All material copyright.
Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.
I see a lilly on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.
I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery's song.
I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.And there we slumbered on the moss,
And there I dreamed, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dreamed
On the cold hill side.I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cried--"La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!"I saw their starved lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.
And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
Poem by John Keats.
Paintings by Frank Dicksee, Frank Cadogan Cowper, John William Waterhouse
For a great analysis of the poem, read here: