Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Scandalous Women in Fiction: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
by C.W. Gortner
Ballantine Books, May 2010

From the Publisher:

To some she was the ruthless queen who led France into an era of savage violence. To others she was the passionate savior of the French monarchy. The last legitimate descendant of the illustrious Medici line, Catherine suffers the expulsion of her family from her native Florence and narrowly escapes death at the hands of an enraged mob. While still a teenager, she is betrothed to Henri, son of Fran├žois I of France, and sent from Italy to an unfamiliar realm where she is overshadowed and humiliated by her husband’s lifelong mistress. Ever resilient, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children as regent of a kingdom torn apart by religious discord and the ambitions of a treacherous nobility.

I confess that I was never a huge fan of Catherine de Medici. I always fell into the Diane de Poitiers camp. The story of how Henry II fell deeply in love with her as a boy which ruined him for all othe women including his wife, well I thought that was terribly romantic. To me, Catherine was a jealous shrew who tried to get between two lovers. How wrong I was!

My change of opinion comes after reading C.W. Gortner's masterful new novel, CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI. He takes the story of this vilified Queen and makes it fresh. We meet Catherine as an orphaned 11 year old living with her aunt in Florence, a pawn on the chessboard of European politics, subject to the rise and fall of her uncle Pope Clement VIII. When Charles V invades Italy, the powers that be sent Catherine to a convent where she is treated miserably, hair sorn, forced to pray all day, starved of food. When her fortunes change, she is sent to Rome and married off to the Duc d'Orleans, the second son of Francois I.

Here's where the novel really takes off, and gets juicy. Neglected by her husband, Catherine is taken under the wing of Francois' mistress, the Duchess d'Etampes.  The doings of teh court are described in vivid detail, giving the reader a front row at the greatest show on Earth. Catherine learns to navigate the court, who is an ally, who is to be avoided at all costs, and who her enemies are.  Enduring the snigers and gossip of those who would be only to happy to see the foreigner fail. Catherine navigates the obstacles placed before her with cunning and strength. She also suffers from visions which frighten her, a gift that she doesn't want. During the course of the novel, she seeks out the help of Nostradamus to help her and relies on the help of a young astrologer who has escaped from Florence which has unforseen consequences.

Under Gortner's pen, Catherine becomes a three dimensional character, sympathetic, neither black nor white, with shades of grey. In many ways, her story is the journey of a woman beginnng to fully realize her own power, and not just within the realm of the court, but discovering her inner strength and disguising her weaknesses. Catherine is treated as a foreigner who is not good enough to be the future Queen of France when she arrives at court, facing the possibility of being banished if she doesn't give birth to an heir. She becomes a widow and a single mother fighting for her children's right to the throne. A mother who outlives most of her children.

Henri II remains a cipher in the novel, a shadowy figure dominated by the sun and the moon as it were, in the persons of Catherine and Diane de Poitiers. I'd almost feel sorry for him if he weren't such an ass at times. If there is a villainess in the book it is Diane de Poitiers. Gortner depicts her as a cold, controlling, reptilian creature who has no real love for Henri.  The politics of the time which can be a convoluted minefield is particularly well explained in this book. At all times, the reader is aware of who the major players are.  The Guise family, who I've always been intrigued by, and their war against the French Protestants is gripping. All the secondary characters come to life in this book, Gaspard de Coligny who I had actually never heard of, Margot, the young rebellious princess, and all of Catherine's sons leap off the page. I felt immediately immersed in this world, gripped from the very first page.

I'd been in a bit of a reading slump lately but Gortner's book jolted me right out of it. I stayed up all night reading the book, wanting to know what happened next, how Catherine would deal with the next crisis, cringing when one of her children did something stupid and she would have to fix it.  This is the second book of Gortner's that I've read, and I'm in awe of writers like him, Sharon Kay Penman, Catherine Delors, and others who make history come to life so vividly in their books.

I give high marks to this book, and I can't wait to read what Gortner comes up with next.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Talia Weisberg on Ruth Handler and her creation Barbie

Approximately one billion Barbie dolls have been sold, with two coming off shelves every second. Ninety percent of girls from ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie doll. Some people find these statistics disturbing; groups like NOW and AAUW have objected to Barbie’s stereotypical image of girls. However, Barbie is so much more than a busty blonde. As a positive role model for girls, the Barbie doll impacted girls’ views of a woman’s role and career opportunities.

Barbie has her roots in a strong woman: Ruth Handler. Handler was the tenth child of her already elderly mother and was raised by her oldest sister, Sarah. “Sarah…held things together, made the decisions, took care of the money…that’s why I never thought it strange for a woman to take the business lead in a marriage,” Handler once said. Taking after her business-savvy sister, Handler, along with her husband Elliot, cofounded Mattel, a plastics company, in 1944. They soon began manufacturing toys, becoming exponentially successful throughout the late 1940s and 1950s.

Handler observed her daughter, Barbara, and her friends projecting their dreams onto paper dolls, as only baby dolls were on the market at that time. Handler wanted to create a three-dimensional, adult-bodied doll for them. The designers at Mattel told Handler it was impossible. Soon after, Handler vacationed in Switzerland, where she found a doll that looked exactly as she imagined. The doll was the Bild-Lilli, based on a character in an adult German comic strip, intended as a three-dimensional pinup for men. The Bild-Lilli’s background didn’t matter to Handler; all she cared about was that the doll she had in mind was possible.

After years of shaping the Bild-Lilli into an all-American girl, Handler’s dream doll became a reality. Barbie was introduced on March 9, 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Buyers at the Toy Fair were unenthusiastic about Barbie, since they felt she had overt sex appeal and were afraid that mothers wouldn’t buy such an anatomically correct doll. While toy buyers’ reactions to Barbie were lukewarm, girls’ reactions were not. Once advertisements for Barbie aired on television, she flew off of store shelves. Store managers who had initially been reluctant to stock the doll were now ordering her in droves. Barbie became a hit almost overnight.

While the Barbie doll reflected Ruth Handler’s position as an empowered woman, most women lacked this status. After suffrage was granted, the women’s rights movement was still alive, but diminished and vilified. Most women didn’t even feel there was a purpose to a women’s rights movement; the most important right, the one to vote, had already been won. During the 1920s and 30s, women began trickling into the workforce. As a result, the media created the image of a spirited career girl in the 1930s and 40s. During World War II, women took the jobs of men who were overseas. Because of the war and the responsibilities it brought at home, women were more liberated than they ever had been before. However, once the men returned home, women were forced to quit to make jobs available for them, and they lost their fledgling power. Men began reshaping the country in the image they had craved during the war, a cozy domestic life. Thus, the idea that women should be housewives and mothers, and men the breadwinners, was created.
Women had no choice but to knuckle under to their renewed disenfranchised state. Few women pursued a career because the media inundated them with a housewife-mother image of perfection, the idea that housewives were the epitome of femininity, the highest thing a woman could aspire to. Women’s magazines, formerly advancing the idea of a career-minded woman, now advocated a housewife-mother protagonist. Many women who became housewives were highly educated, and doing housework was not challenging enough for these women.

Soon these women became bored of their monotonous lifestyles and began to scandalize. Second-Wave Feminism was born. Thousands of women, from hardcore feminists to rebellious housewives, impacted Second-Wave Feminism. Barbie can be counted among those women. While activists fought for women to have the opportunity to become successful, high-powered executives, Barbie inspired little girls to take advantage of these newly acquired opportunities. The first Barbie commercial even states, “Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you…Barbie…I’ll make believe that I am you.” Girls began viewing their dolls as themselves and not as their babies, wanting to become the powerful women their dolls portrayed. As a result, girls who played with Barbie used her as a role model and aspired to the careers she portrayed.
Barbie’s first career was Teenage Fashion Model, released at her introduction on March 9, 1959. She represented a female teenager who was self-sufficient and independent. Wearing a revealing black and white striped bathing suit, this Barbie fostered the idea that it is acceptable for girls to be autonomous and unashamed of their bodies.

The next Barbie profession was the 1960 Fashion Editor. This was an atypical career for women at the time. Very few women held high level positions in magazines; most were relegated to the research department. Even at the Ladies’ Home Journal, there was only one female senior editor: few women editors were in the women’s magazine world. The Fashion Editor Barbie encouraged girls to climb the ranks, whether in the magazine industry or any other occupation.

Graduation Barbie was released in 1963. While more women entered college in the 1950s, two-thirds of them dropped out before they finished, and those who did graduate rarely made use of their education. College was looked upon as something for women to do before they got married, not something that could lead into a profession. Graduation Barbie encouraged girls not only to attend university but to graduate and utilize their education. The Career Girl Barbie, a doll that utilized her education, was released the same year. In The Feminine Mystique, published that year, Betty Friedan discussed the negative national feelings against women in the workforce, stating that “‘career woman’ has become a dirty word”. Despite the mindset of the country, Mattel released the Career Girl Barbie. She proved to girls that they could be like Barbie, an all-American girl who nonetheless is motivated to pursue a career.

Astronaut Barbie, released in 1965, predated Neil Armstrong’s sojourn to the moon by four years. She was the only American woman in space in the 1960s. However, she was not the only female with outer space in mind; the Mercury 13 was a group of women who qualified to become astronauts but were rejected because of their sex. Astronaut Barbie showed girls that they could shoot for the stars, figuratively and literally.
The Barbie doll subconsciously opened girls’ minds to the possibility of pursuing a higher education and going into high-powered professions. While feminists of the 1960s fought for women’s right to equality, the Barbie doll motivated girls to emulate her autonomy and capability and take advantage of the rights they now had. By opening a Barbie box, girls were able to escape the restrictive box of conventional femininity.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Author Jo Manning on Thomas Gainsborough

Though Sir Joshua Reynolds was to say of his rival and sometimes-friend Thomas Gainsborough, a co-founder with him of the Royal Academy, that “his passion for his art was much greater than his love of either fame or money,” the reality, perhaps, may not bear this out. Money was a major driving factor in the life of Gainsborough. Although he was a prolific painter, he was never to achieve Reynolds’ great wealth.
In fact, no two artists could have been so unlike. And so unlike the third painter I’ve chosen to discuss, one of their greatest rivals, George Romney.

Gainsborough, in contrast to the mellow and benign personality of Reynolds, the man everyone seemed to like, was a volatile and prickly individual. It was said of him that he possessed the classic “artistic temperament”, which was not exactly a compliment. Tall, fair, handsome, a lively conversationalist, he was also impulsive, capricious, and could be easily irritated. His language could be vulgar, bawdy and off-color to a shocking degree, though he himself was not a vulgar man. (He was said to have signed letters to female acquaintances thus suggestively and boldly, “Yours to the hilt”, a clear sexual reference.)
Self-portrait, circa 1758/9

Gainsborough’s background was more modest than Reynolds. His family was not learned, not by any means. The son of a Suffolk weaver, there were no artists in his family, much less were there clerics and academics, as in Reynolds’s family. The boy, however, showed some talent for drawing at an early age that was recognized by his father, and so he was sent to London around 1740 to study under the engraver Hubert Gravelot and the painter William Hogarth. An interesting fact about him was that he was one of those rare artists who never left England to study abroad. Unlike his contemporaries, most of the better known artists of his day -- Reynolds, Romney, Ramsay, and that ilk – as well as decidedly lesser painters -- he was an anomaly in that he did not study in Italy, nor, apparently, did he care to do so.

Margaret Burr, Gainsborough’s wife, painted probably in her early middle age, circa 1758. This is one of several portraits of her painted by her husband. She actually met him as a young woman whilst sitting for her portrait.

He married Margaret Burr in 1746. She was an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Beaufort, and was said to have openly and freely boasted of the relationship to anyone she met. As a dowry, the Duke settled an annuity of either £200 or £400 upon her. (Sources differ as to the exact amount, but neither were paltry sums; multiply by at least 70 times for current value.) Her annuity no doubt was part of the attraction for Gainsborough, and it was unfortunately the focus of many a marital argument, as he kept borrowing against it to her dismay.

Margaret Burr… She was an interesting character. Opinions of her vary amongst the several biographers of Gainsborough. Some described her as sweet-tempered, others as a bad-tempered, jealous woman who was not happy to have her husband paint beautiful aristocratic women. Her looks, too, have been variously described as both beautiful and plain. (The portraits seem to support the “plain” assessment of her looks.) She was a frugal housekeeper who left an estate valued at a remarkable sum for a woman at that time: £10,000. (Again, do the multiplication.)

What happened to that portrait Gainsborough painted of Margaret Burr when he supposedly fell in love with her? There’s a portrait of a lovely young woman by his hand at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg called The Lady In Blue, with no other attribution. Could this be it?
Is this Margaret Burr as a young woman?

Viewers have had mixed opinions as to whether this is Margaret Burr, as mixed as most opinions that exist about the lady. I think there’s a resemblance in the hairline -- a slight widow’s peak – and perhaps in the name The Lady In Blue, harkening, perhaps, to his The Blue Boy, arguably his most well-known painting?

The Blue Boy, painted in 1770, when the Gainsboroughs lived in Bath, is not the portrait of an aristocrat’s child. His name was Jonathan Buttall and his father was a hardware merchant and a friend of Gainsborough’s. The style is an homage to the Flemish artist Van Dyck, who worked in England and appeared to have been a sort of patron saint to some 18th-century portraitists, Gainsborough in particular.
Elizabeth and Thomas Linley

In Bath, he painted what I think are probably his most exquisite portraits, that of the Linley children, two of the daughters and one of the sons of a musician friend of his. The girls were also fine musicians, the elder, Elizabeth, a vastly talented singer who married the playwright Sheridan. (Who forbade her to sing in public after their marriage, but that is another story.) Gainsborough also painted an enchanting portrait of Elizabeth alone and of Elizabeth and Thomas. (Thomas, a violinist and as well as a very talented composer, was called The English Mozart.). This portraits of the Linleys are, in my opinion, the best portraits executed by the hand of Gainsborough. There is a poignancy in them that perhaps foreshadows the tragic end of these beautiful young people; Thomas drowned in a boating accident; the girls all succumbed to consumption.
The Linley sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, circa 1772

Though Gainsborough had a good following in Bath, was successful, and painted some of his finest work there, he was ambitious and, always strapped for funds, realized there were so many more wealthy people, and hence so much more money to be made, in London. He moved his family there in 1774. By then, he was employing his sister’s son, Gainsborough Dupont, as his studio assistant. (Note: when Gainsborough was starting out as a young art student in London, he painted backgrounds for more established artists.)

A very handsome young man, Gainsborough Dupont (1754-94) was the son of Gainsborough’s sister Sarah, who was married to a carpenter named Philip Dupont. He became a student of Gainsborough’s in 1772 and then his studio assistant, responsible for painting backgrounds. He also made many copies of Gainsborough’s portraits. After his uncle’s death he eked out a career for himself as a portrait painter and landscape artist, but, alas, died young. (There is a painting at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Merseyside, Liverpool, said to be of Grace Dalrymple Elliott painted by his hand, but now unattributed, as it is unlikely, from the dating of the painting, that it could have been by Gainsborough Dupont. You can see this image on page 206 of My Lady Scandalous.)
Gainsborough’s nephew, Gainsborough Dupont, circa 1770-5

The family had grown. In addition to his nephew Dupont, the Gainsboroughs had two daughters, Mary and Margaret. (Their first daughter, also named Mary, had died as an infant.) Gainsborough painted several portraits of his daughters, to whom he was very much attached. Like Reynolds, he had a sweet touch with children.
Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, circa 1758

In London, Gainsborough charged higher fees and made more money, but he seemed not to be so happy in his work. And, indeed, he made a radical change years later, leaving portraiture for landscapes. (The last exhibition of Gainsborough’s work, at the Tate Britain, was an eye-opener for those who thought he only painted portraits. His landscapes are stunning and among his best work.) And his wife Margaret Burr must have been happy: no beautiful women, only trees, bushes, hills, streams, horses and cows… But, back to his portrait-painting days.

According to the art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, Gainsborough was one of those numerous 18th-century artists who complained endlessly about their patrons, decrying their “thankless, repetitive lot, the drudgery of endless sittings…entire lives spent contemplating the faces of the wealthy.” The lot of the lowly phizmonger was never so eloquently stated, Graham-Dixon went on, as in this lament Gainsborough once wrote to a friend:

“Damn gentleman, there is not such a set of Enemies to a real artist in the world as they are, if not kept at proper distances, They think (and so may you for a while), that they reward your merit by their Company and notice; but I, who blow away all the chaff and, by God, in their eyes, too if they don’t stand clear, know that they have but one part worth looking at, and that is their Purse.”

Harsh and cynical words, indeed, and it’s difficult to imagine Sir Joshua Reynolds saying this to anyone, much less writing it down. To me, it explains why I find so many of Gainsborough’s portraits cold, despite his very great skill with his brush. (Trivia: one of his favorite paintbrushes was six feet long, but I digress…) If he considered his work to be merely financial transactions, something has to be missing. Having said that, what portraits do indeed pop out with warmth, and, yes, passion? There are some, even of society women, that do, but by far the greatest warmth is, in my opinion, reserved for the women outside the pale, the courtesans so beloved by Reynolds.

Gainsborough’s first portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, a la Van Dyck – could the lady’s cleavage be any lower? – the face is not well executed (see second portrait), circa 1778.

Consider Gainsborough’s second portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the subject of my biography My Lady Scandalous. Gainsborough had painted her previously, in a style akin to the great Van Dyke, a full-length portrait in a shimmering yellow silk gown. It’s beautiful, but cold, and Mrs. Elliott, save for her remarkable cleavage, is simply a clothes-horse. Little attention is paid to her face This second portrait, however, is striking, and zeroed in on the stunning woman herself. A portrait-bust, it draws the viewer in, the dark, wide-open eyes and the slightly parted lips surely issuing a subliminal invitation. Gainsborough was, in fact, criticized at the time for this very portrait, told in strong terms that he’d made his subject much too alluring for her kind of woman.

This alluring portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott is at the Frick Collection, NYC

Gainsborough was undoubtedly attracted to her this second time around. (There were, by the way, sketches for a third portrait that was never executed; these can be seen at the library of the National Portrait Gallery.) He was said to have been sexually aroused by the more beautiful of his sitters, so how much more would he have been aroused with a sitter who oozed sensuality and easy virtue? Gossip had it that he would hie himself off to Covent Garden after a particularly stimulating sitting to consort with prostitutes. This habit once gave him a powerful dose of gonorrhea that nearly killed him (some newspapers actually reported he’d died).

But, affairs with his sitters? Although his very jealous wife Margaret thought the worst of him – and was probably right -- he most likely gave his custom to prostitutes rather than risk his professional reputation by hitting on his sitters. It is not difficult to believe, however, judging from his most sensual portraits – such as the second one of Mrs. Elliott (above) – that his sitters did not arouse him to some extent. The difference in how he painted her from the first portrait to the second speaks volumes.
Self-portrait,1787. Gainsborough was dead a year later, having succumbed to cancer at the age of 61.

And, in truth, painting Margaret Burr’s portrait as a young woman probably aroused him a bit, too. He did marry her! A young and possibly attractive female, the illegitimate offspring of a duke…that more than whiff of scandal…that had to have gotten his blood up. The annuity…ah, icing on the cake for a poor but ambitious young painter…but it would surprise me if he had not been truly sexually attracted to her in the beginning.

On his deathbed in June of 1788, Gainsborough asked to see Reynolds and the two great English painters reconciled their artistic differences. That year, Reynolds made Gainsborough the subject of one of his Discourses, the 14th, the only one of his contemporary peers to whom he gave this singular honor. Despite their differences, they had very much more in common when it came to their art and they, as Graham-Dixon put it, “Almost single-handedly, Reynolds raised the status of the painter in Britain from craftsman to artist.” He adds, “Before Reynolds, painters used the tradesmen’s entrance. After him they were allowed …through the front door.” An exaggeration? Perhaps, but the same could be said of Gainsborough. They both elevated the painterly arts.

The Gainsboroughs are buried at Kew. It’s a wonderful old neo-classical church built in 1714, during the reign of Queen Anne. The Number 65 bus passes it and you can see the lovely Green, on the way to Kew Gardens and the National Archives at Kew. The miniaturist painters George Engleheart and George Meyer and the portraitist Johan Zoffany are also buried in St. Anne’s Churchyard. Ah, can you but imagine what conversations on art and life must take place at the witching hour!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Scandalous Women in the News

Happy Birthday to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.  Recently a copy of the Gainsborough portrait was found and restored by two Syracuse University alumnae (my alma mater). Joyce Dallaportas and Ronald K. Theel found the painting at a Syracuse estate sale and confirmed that it was the lovely Duchess. You can read the article from Syracuse University magazine here

Speaking of Duchesses, Sarah Ferguson The Duchess of York has been in the news lately since it was revealed that she involved in a cash-for-access scandal uncovered by the tabloid newspaper The NEWS OF THE WORLD.  The whole thing was a set-up on the part of the newspaper. The Duchess got caught on videotape offered to help a gentleman that she thought was a businessman gain access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew for the tidy sum of 500,000 pounds. Last week, she went on Oprah to explain her actions, saying that she has gotten into financial trouble again, and had hit rock bottom. You can read about it here in HELLO Magazine. Poor Fergie! She wouldn't admit to Oprah exactly how much she owed but did admit that she's been living beyond her means trying to keep up appearances. There has been much talk about why the Queen doesn't bail her out, but Ferguson is no longer a member of the Royal Family and her daughters are grown, so the Queen has no obligation to her.

Author Faith L. Justice recently guest blogged about Hypatia, and now a new film about her is in limited release called Agora directed by Alejandro Amendabar. Slate magazine recently reviewed the film.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Author Carrie Lofty on When Regina Met Mozart

Scandalous Women is pleased to welcome back Carrie Lofty, author of A Scoundrel's Kiss (Kensington) and her newest release Song of Seduction (Carina Press) to the blog.

Some women don't set out to make a scandal, but they do by the very nature of their daring. One such woman was Regina Strinasacchi.

On April 29, 1784, a young woman performed with Mozart for Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor. But that woman, Regina Strinassachi, did not play pianoforte as most ladies were wont to do. She played violin, with Mozart on piano. Together they debuted Mozart's newest composition, Sonata in B flat for Violin and Keyboard (K. 454), which he had written for her.

By all accounts, K. 454 is a very difficult piece, which speaks to Mozart's high opinion of Strinassachi as a performer. He often wrote "puff" pieces for influential patrons' children who had mediocre talent, but this was not one of them. In a letter to his father, Mozart wrote: "We now have here the famous Strinasacchi from Mantua, a very good violinist. She has a great deal of taste and feeling in her playing. I am this moment composing a sonata which we are going to play together on Thursday at her concert in the theater."

Because of prior arrangements, or perhaps because of laziness, Mozart did not get the sheet music to Strinassachi until the day of the performance, meaning she sight-read the entire sonata. He did not complete transcriptions for his half of the duet, playing instead with blank sheets of paper in front of him.
But perhaps Mozart had a deeper motive.

Strinassachi was reputed to be a lovely woman in face, form and temperament. The novelty of a female violinist drew music aficionados and curiosity seekers alike, because such performers were rare. In fact, in the German-speaking regions of Europe between 1760 and 1800, only three such female violinists maintained a regular touring schedule, a healthy fan base, and a respectable position within society.
So what was Mozart to do, his ego faced with the possibility of playing second to a woman who had the emperor's full attention? After the concert, someone--who is not clear--told the emperor that Mozart's pages were blank. Mozart merely shrugged, leaving the emperor to believe that he had improvised the entire duet, when musical historians now believe he had composed the piece mentally. But the wonder of Mozart's talent overshadowed Strinassachi's imperial debut.

Strinasacchi went on to tour Italy, France and Germany, performing on both violin and guitar. In 1785 she married Johann Conrad Schlick, a famous cellist and konzertmeister of the Gotha ducal band, and joined his orchestra. Their daughter Caroline, born in 1786, grew up to play piano as part of a family trio, and they split their time between Gotha and tours that reached as far as Russia. Their son Johann was born in 1801--when Regina would have been nearly 40--and became a cellist and instrument maker.

Upon her husband's death in 1818, Strinassachi moved with her son to Dresden. She died in 1839, having lived through 80 tumultuous years--from the old Georgian and Classical periods, through the Napoleonic era, and into mid-19th century Victorian Europe.

I'll always be thankful for her ground-breaking example, because she helped inspire the heroine of my latest historical romance, SONG OF SEDUCTION (http://www.carrielofty.com/Song.html). But if anyone else remembers Regina Strinassachi, it's because of that fateful day in 1784 when she found out what it meant to play second to Mozart.