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The Marriage Portrait by Maggie…
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The Marriage Portrait (original 2022; edition 2022)

by Maggie O'Farrell (Author), Genevieve Gaunt (Narrator), Maggie O'Farrell (Narrator), Knopf Canada (Publisher)

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6193633,360 (4.12)36
From the author of the breakout New York Times best seller Hamnet--winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award--an electrifying new novel set in Renaissance Italy, and centering on the captivating young duchess Lucrezia de Medici.   Florence, the 1550s. Lucrezia, third daughter of the grand duke, is comfortable with her obscure place in the palazzo: free to wonder at its treasures, observe its clandestine workings, and to devote herself to her own artistic pursuits. But when her older sister dies on the eve of her wedding to the ruler of Ferrara, Moderna and Regio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage, and her father just as quick to accept on her behalf.   Having barely left girlhood behind, Lucrezia must now make her way in a troubled court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her new husband himself, Alfonso. Is he the playful sophisticate he appeared to be before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his formidable sisters seem to tremble?   As Lucrezia sits in constricting finery for a painting intended to preserve her image for centuries to come, one thing becomes worryingly clear. In the court's eyes, she has one duty: to provide the heir who will shore up the future of the Ferranese dynasty. Until then, for all of her rank and nobility, the new duchess's future hangs entirely in the balance.   Full of the drama and verve with which she illuminated the Shakespearean canvas of Hamnet, Maggie O'Farrell brings the world of Renaissance Italy to jewel-bright life, and offers an unforgettable portrait of a resilient young woman's battle for her very survival. Cover image: © Alinari Archives / Raffaello Bencini / Art Resource, NY… (more)
Member:raidergirl3
Title:The Marriage Portrait
Authors:Maggie O'Farrell (Author)
Other authors:Genevieve Gaunt (Narrator), Maggie O'Farrell (Narrator), Knopf Canada (Publisher)
Info:Knopf Canada (2022)
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:2023, audiobook, italy, 1500s, historical fiction

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The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell (2022)

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English (34)  Dutch (2)  All languages (36)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
It’s 1561, and Lucrezia, the not-quite-sixteen-year-old duchess of Ferrara, refuses to believe that Alfonso, her husband of one year, means to kill her. She can see no cause for offense, and at certain moments, he seems tender and thoughtful, maybe even loving. Yet when Lucrezia, daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici and no stranger to the forms and unwritten rules of cutthroat court life, reconsiders how Alfonso has brought her to a deserted castle, she has to wonder.

A remarkable premise, this, and at times The Marriage Portrait reads like a thriller, written in O’Farrell’s trademark sumptuous prose. But this novel isn’t merely another tale of a child at risk, though Lucrezia is that; innocent, empathic by nature, a sensitive soul who loves animals, she’s ill suited to her time and station in life. Her father and husband care only to extend and preserve their power, which means that daughters exist to be sold in marriage for political advantage.

Like Hamnet, therefore, O’Farrell’s triumphant novel about the Shakespeare household, The Marriage Portrait deals with matrimony. But where Agnes Shakespeare worried about her husband’s constancy and their children’s health and struggled against the sexual double standard, here the stakes consider survival when a husband, not the plague, is the enemy. Lucrezia’s expendable, and as the novel opens, she’s coming to realize that.

The back story, which narrates her upbringing and bewildering early months of marriage, imagines how a young girl must have felt to be torn from home and thrust into the bed of a man almost twice her age. But Lucrezia’s much more than a victim. She has enough willfulness to want to ask why things must be how they are, even if she holds her tongue, and she likes to test the rules. In that vein, there’s a terrific childhood scene in which she contrives to be alone with a tigress her father has imprisoned in his basement menagerie.
Not only is Lucrezia like that tigress; her father, the kind of man who’d imprison the beast for his own amusement, treats his daughter similarly. That relationship foreshadows the Ferrara court, where all eyes focus on her, as though she too were a beast on display, yet no one really sees her. She craves understanding and friendship but, to her shock, can trust nobody, not even—maybe especially—her sisters-in-law. If she takes small pleasures, such as opening a window to watch a storm, her husband scolds her, often dragging her around. So he’s not just a tyrant; his violence makes him a sociopath.

Such extreme character disorders can, in the wrong authorial hands, function in an exaggerated way to create tension. But here, Alfonso’s not just an erratic personality. The narrative shows his motives, fears, and overweening pride—from his young bride’s perspective, to be sure—but nevertheless depicts him so that the reader understands what drives him, even if Lucrezia doesn’t always.

I usually dislike cliff-hanger openings, a prologue by another name, followed by lengthy back story. But again, O’Farrell goes one better, using that device to achieve several goals. First, she introduces the mystery Lucrezia’s trying to decipher, whether Alfonso truly means to do away with her—and her confusion, not just the threat, propels the narrative. Secondly, I believe that novels should start where the protagonist realizes that life will never be the same—and in Lucrezia’s case, that life appears to be short.

Moreover, O’Farrell doesn’t abuse the reader’s patience. She returns frequently to the scenes of 1561 and Lucrezia’s duress, while the back story advances rapidly, and I never feel manipulated through the withholding of secrets. Quite the contrary; a historical note before the first chapter establishes the premise, apparently inspired by a Robert Browning poem I've always liked, “My Last Duchess,” quoted there. That forthrightness marks the story throughout.

The resolution is predictable, based on a couple one-sentence clues dropped into the text. That bothered me, a little, though how the story gets there is anything but ordained.

Hamnet is a deeper novel, I think, offering at once a view of Elizabethan daily life, exploration of mortality and its impact on the living, and the themes of marriage referred to earlier. But The Marriage Portrait, though it has a narrower focus, is still a superb novel, and I highly recommend it. ( )
  Novelhistorian | Jan 24, 2023 |
I loved Hamnet so was looking forward to the author's latest book. I TOTALLY devoured this book! It was lyrical and riveting. Lucrezia di Cosino de Medici marries Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. I don't want to give anything away so will only share these comments. I found the connection to the actual portrait of Lucrezia fascinating. The author offers very interesting characters, as well as descriptive details of clothing fashion, palace interior, and artists. I was compelled to research more about Lucrezia's life upon completion of the book! Highly recommend reading, especially for lovers of historical fiction. ( )
  efoland | Jan 23, 2023 |
I don’t know what, but I was dreading this one. Maybe it was a case of judging the book by its cover. Instead of a dry history I found a riveting portrayal of a young girl trapped in a dangerous marriage. It’s based on the real marriage of Lucrezia de' Medici and Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara. The author does an incredible job, building the tension in the tear as the options narrow for the Lucrezia.

The author was inspired by the real family portraits and the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. ( )
  bookworm12 | Jan 23, 2023 |
The Marriage Portrait is based on the life of Lucrezia de Medici, who married the Duke of Ferrara. The book opens with Lucrezia realizing that her husband intends to kill her, and then alternates between the story of her childhood and marriage, and the days of her impending death.

O'Farrell is a brilliant writer. She makes people and places come to life. Lucrezia is a interesting and relatable character, and the book is suspenseful and hard to put down. ( )
  Gwendydd | Jan 21, 2023 |
The 1550's, Renaissance Italy, women's life in a troubled royal court....I'll always think of this book when I view those beautiful paintings of those women dressed heavily in jewels looking at us. This Dutchess, Lucressia, led a life of confinement, and duty, surrounded by intrigue and ruthlessness. So little is actually known about her, but this book captures the wonderfully written and well researched possibilities. ( )
  EllenH | Dec 31, 2022 |
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Epigraph
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive.

                    ROBERT BROWNING, “MY LAST DUCHESS”
The ladies . . . are forced to follow the whims, fancies and dictates of their fathers, mothers, brothers and husbands, so that they spend most of their time cooped up within the narrow confines of their rooms, where they sit in apparent idleness, wishing one thing and at the same time wishing its opposite, and reflecting on various matters . . .

                    GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO, THE DECAMERON
Dedication
For Mary-Anne and Victoria
First words
Lucrezia is taking her seat at the long dining table, which is polished to a watery gleam and spread with dishes, inverted cups, a woven circlet of fir.
Quotations
No one, she believes, has ever kissed her in her sleep before. She likes to place a palm over the place, after he has left the room, as if to keep it there, to stop it floating off into the air , like pollen.
She has access suddenly to the private, hidden life of the castello, the wrong side of its embroidery, with all the knots and weave and secrets on display.
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From the author of the breakout New York Times best seller Hamnet--winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award--an electrifying new novel set in Renaissance Italy, and centering on the captivating young duchess Lucrezia de Medici.   Florence, the 1550s. Lucrezia, third daughter of the grand duke, is comfortable with her obscure place in the palazzo: free to wonder at its treasures, observe its clandestine workings, and to devote herself to her own artistic pursuits. But when her older sister dies on the eve of her wedding to the ruler of Ferrara, Moderna and Regio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage, and her father just as quick to accept on her behalf.   Having barely left girlhood behind, Lucrezia must now make her way in a troubled court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her new husband himself, Alfonso. Is he the playful sophisticate he appeared to be before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his formidable sisters seem to tremble?   As Lucrezia sits in constricting finery for a painting intended to preserve her image for centuries to come, one thing becomes worryingly clear. In the court's eyes, she has one duty: to provide the heir who will shore up the future of the Ferranese dynasty. Until then, for all of her rank and nobility, the new duchess's future hangs entirely in the balance.   Full of the drama and verve with which she illuminated the Shakespearean canvas of Hamnet, Maggie O'Farrell brings the world of Renaissance Italy to jewel-bright life, and offers an unforgettable portrait of a resilient young woman's battle for her very survival. Cover image: © Alinari Archives / Raffaello Bencini / Art Resource, NY

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