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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!
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
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Thursday, November 1, 2007
Q&A With Historical Fiction Author Rita Charbonnier
* In your debut novel MOZART'S SISTER, your protagonist, Maria Anna Mozart (nicknamed Nannerl), is denied the spotlight in favor of her talented brother. What drew you to Nannerl's story?
Later, finding myself working on “Shakespeare’s Sister” by Virginia Woolf, I had something of a revelation. I was writing an article for a magazine and in preparing an historical digression I went back to the essay A Room of One’s Own that I had read some time before. In it, Woolf sketches the biography of William Shakespeare’s imaginary sister-poetess in order to demonstrate that had Shakespeare been born a woman, not only would he not have known success but he would also have come to a bad end.
For example, in the novel I have created a relationship between Wolfgang and his father, Leopold Mozart, that becomes closer and closer as the years go by. When Wolfgang leaves Salzburg and goes to live in Vienna, he does so with the full approval of his father, who even organises the journey and the move. In reality, the event took place in a very different manner; Mozart remained in Vienna against his father’s wishes; and he probably could not wait to be permanently away from him. However, I needed to create a dynamic between them that was coherent with the emotional web of my story and create a sort of male alliance against the protagonist, who at this point is completely crushed.
* Tell us something surprising about women in 18th century Europe.
One aspect that made me smile was discovering the foul-mouthed language used by Anna Maria, Mozart’s mother. The same taste for obscene jokes that has made some of the Maestro’s letters so famous can be found in his mother’s letters too; there is even one, addressed to her husband, in which she composes a sort of rhyming poem about excrement. Nannerl’s letters, on the other hand, contain nothing of the sort, she was a very well-mannered woman and probably somewhat inhibited when it came to expressing her emotions.
* Parts of your novel are told through Nannerl's letters. What made you choose to tell some of the story in this way?
* How did you research MOZART'S SISTER, which draws heavily on Nannerl's passion for music?
As for music, I did not have to do a great deal of research because I had the fortune of studying the piano from when I was a small child. For a while, when I was an actress and singer, music was my profession, and even now it is a fundamental part of my life, and one that I could not do without. To tell of Nannerl’s feelings as she plays, or doesn’t play, meant essentially drawing on my own past feelings, when I was on the stage, and then when I decided to come off the stage... probably for the last time.