Getting into the mind of a literary character is a gradual process, just as it is with real people. My biggest wow moment in my understanding of Solange Le Blanc in Muse came when I was on the secret tour of the popes’ palace in Avignon. I stared at the bare walls of a basement chamber trying to imagine the décor of the Pope’s bathing room as the guide was describing it . . . read more
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Late-medieval Avignon was a city of men. A vast number of clerics were employed by the Pope and cardinals, and foreign merchants, craftsmen, and artisans swelled the ranks of local people providing services to the church. The city was a cultural and economic magnet, an attractive place to set up shop. It was also notoriously corrupt . . . read more
Seven hundred years after the popes lived in Avignon, we can read reports about their banquets and gain insight into their luxurious life style. The type of food people ate depended on their rank. Although there was a vast difference between the diet of a pope and a peasant, the poor did not starve, because the Pope gave out 6,000 loaves of bread daily. The staples of a peasant’s diet were grains, legumes, onions, garlic, vegetables, coarse dark bread, eggs, and milk products, with a little fish, meat, or poultry . . . read more
My novel Muse arrived, imaginatively speaking, when I was teaching a literature course in which we were exploring Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey. We were riffing on that, looking at ways of describing a woman hero’s journey, when a student told me about Veronica Franco, an “intellectual courtesan” of 16th-century Venice. This discovery was one of the triggering ideas for Muse. From the poet Veronica Franco, who had unfortunately been written about, I made the leap to the walled city of Avignon, which I had recently visited, guessing that courtesans, as well as popes, had lived there in the 14th century.
. . .continue reading at Mary Novik’s website
The inspiration behind my novel Muse is the amazing town of Avignon in France, where the popes resided in the 14th century. I visited it five times to explore the popes’ palace, the city wall, the rivers and canals, and the surviving medieval streets and buildings. I went there to soak up the atmosphere and walk in Solange’s shoes. The late middle ages are so far back in time that facts are scarce and history blurs into poetry and myth. This made the city even more attractive to me, because I could gather many story-strands into a single character, the fictional Solange Le Blanc. Early on, I decided to tell the story from Solange’s point of view. This was a blessing, because it would have been drudgery to wade through the piles of information about theAvignon popes. Acres of worm-eaten parchment sit in the Vaucluse archives, not to mention the Vatican archives in Rome.
As the author of two novels, Conceit (Doubleday 2007) and Muse(Doubleday 2013), I often get asked “Where do you get your ideas from?”
Actually, I waited for years for my first good idea to come along. Finally, when I was about fifty, I stumbled across the story of Veronica Franco, a poet and “intellectual courtesan” in 16th-century Venice. What if someone dug up a lost manuscript by Franco? That would make a great book, but unfortunately, it had been written. Were there any courtesans in papal Avignon, a city equal in splendour to Venice? I had visited Avignon and seen the pagan frescoes in the Pope’s bedchamber. What sort of antics had gone on there? Avignon was a city of men, but not just ordinary men—unmarried clerics. I read in Peter de Rosa’s scandalous book, Vicars of Christ, that 14th-century Avignon had “spectacular whores.” Eureka. Avignon would be better than Venice.