Barbara Quick, author of "Vivaldi's Virgins" and "A Golden Web" answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.
1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?
You know, history is an endlessly deep well. A writer can go there again and again to fill her pitcher (and get ideas!).
This isn't at all an exclusive choice, because there are so many fascinating times, places and women to choose from. (I do think I'd want to be a woman from history, rather than a man... Women have had to work so much harder and break so many more rules to achieve what they achieved.)
That said, I would choose Tsarina Elizabeth I of Russia, who managed to rule with brilliance and relative humanity over one of the most splendid courts of 18th century Europe. Never executing a single criminal during her 20-year reign, she was a great patron and promoter of the arts and education, married (in secret) for love and owned something like 15,000 dresses.
2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?
I would say from the last hour of 1899 through New Year's Eve 1900 (so I could see the fireworks!). Puccini's opera "Tosca" premiered in Rome that year. Women in Germany petitioned for the right to take university entrance exams. The Labor Movement was really getting its start (the Labour Party was founded in England; the length of a legal workday for women and children in France was limited to 11 hours!). The first of L. Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz" books was published. The newly minted politician Winston Churchill was elected to Parliament. The first line of the Paris Métro was opened. And that's just what was happening in the Western world! All in all, 1900 must have been a very exciting year. And, yes, I love the clothes they wore then. (There's a not-very-flattering theme developing here...)
3. You're having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?
Charlie Chaplin (I would beg him to re-create the little dance of the dinner-rolls and forks that he did in "The Gold Rush"...)
Mae West, who, despite her sex-pot image, was a tremendous wit (“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.")
Thomas Jefferson (provided that he brought a few bottles of wine from his personal cellar)
Madame de Staël (Anne-Louise-Germaine de Staël), the brilliant saloniste who once said, "Life seems like a long shipwreck, of which the debris are friendship, glory, and love; the shores of existence are strewn with them.”
Nelson Mandela, who would lend grace to the gathering.
Now you've got me thinking about the menu...
4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?
I lived in a stone cottage in rural Ireland for nearly a year--and spent that year writing with my fingers blue from the cold. So I'd have to say that I would choose a castle in a warm climate. Alghero in Sardinia comes to mind. I've walked on the walls of the ruined castle. The beaches are gorgeous there and the weather is delightful.
5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you'd like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?
I know and admire many writers, and count some as my friends. But writers work best in solitude--and they're also rather competitive with one another. A "themed tour of the world" in the company of two other novelists interested in the same material that interested me sounds like something of a nightmare (or maybe a good premise for a murder mystery!).
6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?
Both of them sound pretty vile, really. Great power bound up with great privilege--and packaged in a male body--spells danger for any woman.
7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?
If you mean which of them would I choose to be, I would definitely choose Jane Seymour. She's the only one of the six who died a natural death. As far as she knew, she'd given the King a son and heir, and perhaps died without too many regrets. At least she didn't find herself on a chopping block!
8. English monarchy or French monarchy?
I'd say French, because of the cuisine and also the climate. I realize I'm doing what novelists always do: imagining myself into a time and place, thinking about what it would feel like to be there...
9. What three novels could you read over and over?
"Anna Karenina", "Madame Bovary" and, yes, "Pride & Prejudice".
10. Tea or coffee when writing?
Tea first thing in the morning (Assam Golden Tip, loose-leaf), followed mid-morning by a caffe latte I make myself. Come to think of it, I'm going to make one for myself right now!
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