Here is this week’s challenge:
Week 2: (November 7-11) – Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title (or another nonfiction!). It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story. Or pair a book with a podcast, film or documentary, TV show, etc. on the same topic or stories that pair together. ( Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction)
I’m not sure if this counts for Nonfiction November since Rennie doesn’t mention paintings or poetry but I’m hoping it does! I’m pairing a fictional account of the life of Lucrezia di Cosimo de Medici (1545 to 1561 who was married at the age of 13 to Alfonso II d’Este (1533-1597) Duke of Ferrara, as written in The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell (reviewed here) with the only known portrait of the Duchess, and the poem based on the painting Robert Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’. The painting was made shortly before she died, at the age of just 16.
Browning’s response to Bronzino’s work of art is empathetic with the permanently silenced woman who stares out from the frame. It is hard to believe, looking at this image of a girl so solemn and regally attired that she is only 16 years of age.
North Carolina Museum of Art
My Last Duchess
The only voice we hear in Browning’s poem is that of the Duke. He is showing some visitors a portrait of his late wife. He does not use the word ‘late’ though, he says ‘last’ as if there will be a string of them. As in fact there were two more wives after Lucrezia. By the end of the poem, we become aware that the visitor the Duke is showing round is there to negotiate a dowry for the next poor soul of a bride!
This is a poem riven by sexual jealousy which even the death of the woman in the portrait does not seem to allay. The Duke starts off calmly enough then gets angrier as he speaks :
She had a heart/How shall I say? Too soon made glad/Too easily impressed.
He is still maintaining ownership of the dead woman
(Since none puts by/The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
even as he negotiates with his visitor for a dowry from the family of the next wife! So much for ‘my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name’. Though of course, he says at the end it’s the ‘fair daughter’s self’ he wants, not the money, as he carts the poor visitor out past a bust of Neptune.
Loathesome man the Duke but extraordinary and very famous poem. There is a full analysis of Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess on the excellent Poetry Foundation website here.
O’Farrell’s bookThe Marriage Portrait is about two portraits. The one is the physical portrait which we know of today and the second is the actual lived experience of Lucrezia’s short and miserable marriage to Alfonso. O’Farrell gives this young girl back the voice and the story that history has denied her.
I hope and trust that The Marriage Portrait will win all the plaudits and prizes that unjustifiably eluded O’Farrell’s previous book Hamnet. For my money she is one of our finest writers.