Title: Dark Aemilia: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady
Author: Sally O'Reilly
Publisher: Picador (Macmillan)
Release Date: May 27, 2014
A TALE OF SORCERY AND PASSION IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY LONDON—WHERE WITCHES HAUNT WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND HIS DARK LADY, THE PLAYWRIGHT'S MUSE AND ONE TRUE LOVE
The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth’s royal court. The Queen’s favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.
A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself.
In rich, vivid detail, Sally O’Reilly breathes life into England’s first female poet, a mysterious woman nearly forgotten by history. Full of passion and devilish schemes, Dark Aemilia is a tale worthy of the Bard.
Praise for Dark Aemilia
“A gripping novel that gives feisty feminist voice to the unknown woman who inspired Shakespeare’s sonnets… O’Reilly brings her star-crossed lovers together and drives them apart through plot twists that are, for once, credible outgrowths of the characters’ personalities and beliefs, finally giving them a tender, heartbreaking parting. First-rate historical fiction: marvelously atmospheric and emotionally engaging.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“[Dark Aemilia] mesmerizes with its descriptions of the Bard’s London…O’Reilly casts her story with witches, doomed royals, evil courtiers, and star-crossed lovers, as if it were a Jacobean play. But her finest accomplishment is not the tribute she pays to these historical figures, but the bold imagination she displays in bringing them together.” — Publishers Weekly
“With elegant style, masterly wordplay, and an eye for historical detail, O’Reilly beautifully relates a passionate and tragic love story, worthy of two such well-known figures. With Shakespeare’s 450th birthday approaching this April, fans of historical fiction writers such as Philippa Gregory, Anne Easter Smith, and Tracy Chevalier won’t want to miss this one.” — Library Journal
“O’Reilly’s American debut is an imaginative take on the life of poet Aemilia Layner, a contemporary of William Shakespeare…. This is a lively, vividly rendered novel about the dramatic life of an extraordinary woman.” — Booklist
“Seductive, sharp-witted lady-in-waiting Aemilia Bassano, who later becomes known as England’s first published female poet, falls into a love affair with the Bard himself, loses favor with the court, and resorts to black magic and sorcery to save her child in this textured work of historical fiction.” — O, The Oprah Magazine
“I just finished this, and I’m jumping at this opportunity to recommend it to book lovers far and wide... Dark Aemilia is a must-read for all lovers of Shakespeare and old England, and while it is written from the perspective of a woman, I am confident men will enjoy it, too. I am usually careful with my books, but this one quickly became a victim of dog ears and pencil-marks, because O’Reilly touches on so many crucial historical moments and writes with such intelligent elegance.” — Anne Fortier, BookPage
“We all know Shakespeare wrote love sonnets. Now, O’Reilly’s new novel brings us the Bard’s sonnet-writing lover and sonnet-inspiring muse.” — The New York Post
“Draped in the lure of magic and fantasy that weaved its way through many of Shakespeare’s plays, Dark Aemilia lives and breathes the late 16th century... O’Reilly’s debut novel is a sweeping success, a tale full of action and intrigue and as deep as any ocean. Live vicariously through the eyes of one of the first proto-feminists to have lived. See as the author steps into her head and creates a world that is more realistic than the one outside your window. Let this book redefine the way you see love.” — Bookreporter
Dark Aemilia is my first historical novel, though I have written contemporary fiction already. I thought the research element might be quite daunting, but I was surprised to find that I loved it. I found this process a bit like equipping myself to pass through a portal into the past – finding the right clothes, the right words and the right physical sensations to be able to move through the streets of London four hundred years ago.
Most of what I found out I learned in books, though I also walked around modern London and visited places like the Museum of London and Westminster Abbey. (You can see the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I, which I found very moving.) It’s important to get small things right like coins people used, the way the clothing felt as well as looked, the taste of food and so on. But the real challenge was to try to get into the mind-set of an Early Modern woman. Some historians think this is impossible, but I felt that if I combined research with imagination, I could at least make a serious attempt!
There are two pieces of research which truly inspired me, and they are connected. The person who is the main source for information about Aemilia Bassano, later Lanyer, is Simon Forman, an astrologer who kept a detailed notebook about all his clients, including Aemilia. In this notebook, he wrote that he once asked her about her experiences of trying to summon a demon.
I found this utterly intriguing – Aemilia was a religious person whose poetry collection Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum displays a scholarly interest in theological debate. And yet, here she was as a young woman, prepared to experiment with something so dangerous. I was entranced by her daring, and this made me see this woman in a new light: not only a proto-feminist who was wrote about the crucifixion from the point of view of the women in the life of Jesus and suggested that Eve was wronged by Adam, but also someone whose curiosity extended into the forbidden.
Simon Forman was a would-be alchemist, like many learned men of his time. The main aim of an alchemist was to turn base metal into gold, but the second piece of research that inspired me was my discovery that they had another goal - and this challenged the status of God himself. This was to create a small human – a homunculus.
This fascinated me because not only did this mean that alchemists wanted to rival God by creating life through their art – or "science" as they were starting to call it – but also that they were encroaching on the territory of women – of mothers. Much of my book is about the danger of ambition and "over-reaching", and the source for this is the story of Macbeth, whose ambition destroys him.
The idea that Simon Forman was trying to create life through his experimentation, and that he then refused to take responsibility for what he had done fitted perfectly into my themes. It also seemed to me to have a modern dimension, as it reminded me of splitting the atom and the horrors that have sprung from that. Science has, arguably, over-reached itself, and our technological expertise exceeds our wisdom.
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About the Author
Sally O’Reilly has received numerous citations for her fiction, which has been shortlisted for the Ian St James Short Story Prize and the Cosmopolitan Short Story Award. A former Cosmopolitan New Journalist of the Year, her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Sunday Times, the Evening Standard, and the New Scientist. She teaches creative writing at the Open University and the University of Portsmouth in England. Dark Aemilia is her U.S. debut.
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Very interesting history about creating life and playing God! I wonder if Frankenstein was an alchemist.ReplyDelete