Tuesday, October 07, 2014


La figlia del papaLa figlia del papa by Dario Fo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not sure what I think about the current fashion for writing historical fiction in the present tense and using conversation to carry the action forward. In English Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel do it superbly, if, in the latter case, rather academically.

However, Italian is a language in which the "vivid present " [the use of the present tense to recount past events] is more common and, as we are in the hands of the dramatist Dario Fo, we must surely expect mostly dialogue.

On the whole I feel he succeeds, though I got lost in some of the early dialogue concerning political intrigues, as I have in other books about the scheming Borgias.

Why did Fo choose to write about Lucrezia? Because, I would guess, there can be no doubt that she is one of the most maligned women in history and because her story of course lends itself to high drama. Fo portrays her as the political pawn that any woman in her position and time would have been but also as intelligent, politically astute, kind and even gentle. In an interview about the book, the Nobel laureate dramatist said that Lucrezia reminded him in some ways of his late wife, Franca Rame, because Franca, too, had taken up unpopular causes, helped the unfortunate and felt the need to intervene for the sake of social justice.

We cannot know to what extent Lucrezia was complicit in the outrageous plotting of her devious father, Pope Alexander VI and notorious brother, Cesare, but that she tried to save at least one of her three husbands from death at their hands is documented. As Duchess of Ferrara she was popular with locals and, at the end of her life, espoused charitable causes and set up a convent. We know that she had an affair with the poet Pietro Bembo and this is touchingly recounted in the book. It is commonly held that she also had an affair with Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantova, but Fo - uniquely, according to him - refutes this, citing the fact that Lucrezia would have known that Francesco had syphilis and would not have risked it.

The book is beautifully illustrated but I find it strange that none of the images - some of which are famous and some of which are, I presume, by Fo himself - are accredited.

As far as I am aware, the book is currently being translated into several other languages so, if you are interested in Lucrezia and get a chance to read it, I suggest that you do so. You may conclude, as I did, that she was a product of her time and class, neither wholly bad nor as good as Fo would have her but, like most of us, somewhere in between.

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This review is also posted on Goodreads.


James Higham said...

If she's as pure as the driven snow, Welshcakes, then how did the outrageous attitude towards her come about? Later revisionism?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Your guess is as good as mine, James.


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