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History Buff is a site for history lovers everywhere. It is also a site very interested in women of the past. Although I (sadly) no longer have time to continue these interviews, here is an archive of Q&As about women's lives in history. And please feel free to stop by History Buff's sister site for archaeological discoveries making news today. Enjoy!

Michelle Moran
Historical fiction author

As an historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
large quantity of time searching for news in archaeology and history. Once in a great while a new archaeological discovery will act as an inspiration for what I'm currently writing. But most of the time the news stories I read are simply interesting tidbits of history. Unfortunately, I have disallowed comments because I travel so frequently that I can neither monitor nor respond to them. But I would still love to share the history that I find fascinating each day. So welcome! And feel free to visit my website at or contact me at authormichellemoran at hotmail dot com.

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Sunday, May 6, 2007

Q&A With Historical Fiction Author Stephanie Cowell

Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell

*MARRYING MOZART is the story of four sisters and their fascinating and often scandalous lives while living with Mozart. Why did you choose to use Sophie as your narrator?
Sophie was the youngest and last surviving sister, and I decided to use her memories as an old woman to frame the different sections of the book. An English musician did travel to Salzburg a good half century after Mozart’s death to gather information about him and find how the four musical Weber sisters had influenced his music as a young man so I made him a character. I thought I could set up interesting questions…and here is this very old woman living in a room in Salzburg with all sorts of memorabilia from Mozart and her sisters…letters, hats, opera scores, secret boxes, each one which leads into a story of the 21-year-old unemployed composer who showed up for her father’s weekly informal musicale in Mannheim when she was very young. Of all the sisters, she is the greatest observer.

Actually, the sisters only lived with Mozart about six months when the mother kept a boarding house. Otherwise they lived pretty close to him as Mannheim, Munich and Vienna were fairly small then.

*How much of the Weber girls' lives are fact and how much is fiction?
I had to create a lot, but things like the Mozart family letters and opera house documents etc. helped a lot. We know that Aloysia, the second sister who became a highly paid opera singer at a young age, did break her promises to Mozart and marry someone else; we know that Mozart was scandalized when his future wife allowed a young man to measure the calf of her leg in a parlor game. That became part of the book. He was very proud and concerned for his honor and hers. We know he wrote great music for Josefa and that he adored little Sophie. But of course you have to create a lot to fill in the blanks. It was very easy to create them; they just “spoke” to me!

*Tell us something surprising about women in 18th century Mannheim, where Fridolin Weber's four daughters grew up playing music for German, and later, Viennese soirées.
I suppose you mean women in the artistic, educated circles which were different than the poor uneducated classes or the upper classes. I think the Weber sisters were a bit Bohemian. Artists were always in and out of their door and reading and education were very important. Almost all educated people then learned to sing and play instruments; in this age before radio and recordings, etc. people made a lot of music themselves. But the sisters’ father was poor and he taught his daughters, hoping they could make good livings in music.

*In what ways did the Weber sisters defy the conventions of their time (18th century) and country (Germany)?
I suppose they ended up marrying pretty much who they wanted to marry! They had a lot of freedom. However, it was still very scandalous for a girl then to sleep with anyone before marriage. Only one of the girls actually does…but they choose for themselves. They are strong-willed; their father is lenient and their mother lives in a fantasy world of some prince sweeping her girls away when they live in a fifth-floor walk up and have to bring down the chamber pots themselves and bring up the firewood. The mother is hoping for a prince to walk up the five flights, so the girls take matters into their own hands.

*In MARRYING MOZART you expose how important it was for elderly parents who were not financially secure to arrange a marriage of monetary convenience versus love for their daughters. In the novel, the mother of the Weber girls becomes extremely disappointed when her prettiest daughter, Aloysia (whom she hoped to marry to a Swedish baron), runs away with a painter. For a girl who disobeyed her parents and eloped during the 18th century, what kind of life and reception could she expect in society?
There was certainly no social security back then, though Mozart’s father as an employee of the Archbishop would have qualified for a small pension, and a grown child was expected to provide for her/his parents. They would perhaps move in with the child. But 18th century Vienna was not 19th century Victorian England or the upper class society of Anna Karenina who is shunned by some people when she takes a lover. People had lovers more easily and it wasn’t such a scandal…not in the artistic circles anyway. Besides, the Swedish baron was an utter fantasy! And Aloysia’s mother demanded and received a substantial sum of money from the man Aloysia married! Sort of a reverse dowry!

*Are you working on another novel, and if so, who will be your protagonist?
I am working on a few novels now, mainly one about the very handsome 25-year-old Claude Monet. I also have a few others going about a famous writer, another musical one, and maybe a second one about the Weber sisters after Mozart marries one of them. We’ll see!

Copyright ©2003 by Sigrid Estrada
Thank you Stephanie! And feel free to visit Stephanie Cowell online for more information about her novel Marrying Mozart.