As part of the blog tour for The Sister Queens, I am happy to welcome the author of the book, Sophie Perinot to In the Hammock for a guest post. The publisher is generously giving away a copy of this historical novel for a lucky reader of my blog.
Standing at the Intersection of Women’s and Historical Fiction
by Sophie Perinot
Recently I was a featured author at the Baltimore Book Festival. As such I participated in a number of interesting panels, including one entitled “What is Women’s Fiction?”
Good question. Before I sat down to prepare for this panel I’d never articulated a personal definition of “women’s fiction” or thought about whether or how my work fits into the genre. I write historical fiction. Do I consider historical fiction to be women’s fiction?
Not all historical fiction certainly. But the type of historical fiction I personally write—most definitely. I write what I like to call “women-centric” historical fiction. While my plots include battles and political intrigue (what is historical fiction without intrigue) they aren’t driven by those things. They are driven by female characters facing issues that transcend any single time period. To me that is the heart and soul of women’s fiction—whatever other genre a book falls under, to be women’s fiction it needs to examine and expound upon situations and questions that have concerned women for hundreds of years and will concern women for hundreds more years to come.
There may well be as many definitions of “women’s fiction” as there are women readers or women writers. For example, my fellow Baltimore panelist Lisa Verge Higgins who writes for Grand Central opined that in order to be a work of women’s fiction a book must involve “a woman falling in love with her own life.” The women’s fiction chapter of RWA on the other hand defines women’s fiction as a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Neither of these definitions hit quite the right note with me, so here is my personal definition:
Women’s fiction is fiction in which (1) a female main character (2) confronts issues, relationships and/or situations that have a certain universality to women throughout the ages and (3) through her own actions, resolves or at least come out on the other side of those issues having grown.
My debut novel, The Sister Queens, definitely fulfills all three points of my definition. Set in the 13th century, it tells the tale of two sisters from Provence who became the queens of France and England. In doing so it focuses on how their relationship as sisters (a timeless relationship if ever there was one) shaped and sustained them as queens, wives and mothers. In the course of the book my sisters wrestle with issues like: sibling rivalry; the illness and loss of a child, trying to build a power base in a male-dominated field (in their case 13th century royal politics); and unhappiness in marriage. All issues that I believe resonate with modern women and will resonate with our granddaughters. And both my sisters grow immensely in the course of the novel (which covers 20 years).
In Baltimore each author on my panel was asked to select a brief reading from her book illustrating how it fit her definition of “women’s fiction.” I’d like to share the excerpt I selected from The Sister Queens. It comes from Chapter 4 in which the eldest of my sisters—Marguerite—begins to realize that the she is lonely and unhappy in her marriage to Louis IX of France, a marriage which in its earliest stages seemed to be the stuff of fairytales.
It is 1237 and Marguerite has just joined Louis in the gardens of the Plais du Roi in Paris:
“I have heard from my sister the Queen of England.”
“Hm.” Louis does not look up from the letter he is reading beneath the pear tree – the tree that used to be ours. “I truly believe this fellow is being abused by one of my barons. He sought help at the local Franciscan monastery and the abbot writes to me.” Unlike in former times, he no longer pats the spot on the carpet beside him and asks me to sit. And this fact makes me both sad and angry.
“Her husband the King surprised her by hiring an artist to paint her bedchamber at the Tower of London while she and all the court were at Westminster.” I will not be distracted, certainly not by some barefoot monk from the countryside. I do not begrudge the time Louis spends sitting where once we studied my Latin, meting out justice to his subjects. But surely he should do me justice as well, and give me a modicum of his attention. “Louis, did you hear me?” I put my hands upon my hips. Have I become a shrew? My husband looks up, startled. He thinks of me, when his mind strays in my direction at all these days, as a mild woman, a woman of patience. And so I have been, but to what end?
“Your sister is at Westminster.” He looks genuinely puzzled.
“No, my sister has just returned from Westminster to find her rooms painted with hundreds upon hundreds of delicate roses at the King of England’s behest.”
“How singular, and what a waste. Just think how many of the poor he might have fed with the same monies.”
“That would indeed have been a noble enterprise, but surely giving pleasure to his wife is also worthy? The two are not in opposition to each other. Henry of England may give to the poor and also to my sister Eleanor.”
“So it seems.” Louis looks down again and turns another page. Then, as if struck by something, looks up at me again. “If you want your rooms painted and your incomes do not permit it, I shall be happy to advance you the money. I sincerely hope, however, you will select a more exalted theme. Perhaps the parables.”
I feel as though Louis has slapped me. Mild mannered Louis, who shows the most exquisite kindness to the sick in our city’s hospitals. Who cleans their filth and changes their dressings. Can he not see that I do not envy Eleanor her freshly painted rooms, but the solicitude of her husband – a man whom, from what my sister’s letters tell, rises each morning intent on finding some novel manner of delighting or pampering his wife? My eyes sting. But even if a loss of composure might recall my husband’s attention, I cannot bear to expose my feelings to someone so clearly indifferent to them.
Women have dealt with the cooling of marital relationships for centuries and will continue to face the issue as long as marriage exists. In fact, in The Sister Queens itself my second sister—Eleanor—whose marriage is generally happy and successful also faces a bout of marital staleness (though hers comes as more of a mid-life crisis). So, I clearly have the first two points of my definition covered even in this brief selection. To find out how Marguerite resolves her disappointment with and distance from Louis (thus, hitting point number three in my definition) I am afraid you’ll have to read the book ;)
What about it readers—how would you define women’s fiction? Is there an intersection between women’s fiction and historical fiction or am I just imagining one?
Thank you for stopping by, Sophie!
Here is more info about the book!
Publisher: NAL Trade
Release Date: Mar 6, 2012
Source: sent by publicist
Summary from goodreads.com:
Patient, perfect, and used to being first, Marguerite becomes Queen of France. But Louis IX is a religious zealot who denies himself the love and companionship his wife craves. Can she borrow enough of her sister's boldness to grasp her chance for happiness in a forbidden love?
Passionate, strong-willed, and stubborn, Eleanor becomes Queen of England. Henry III is a good man, but not a good king. Can Eleanor stop competing with her sister and value what she has, or will she let it slip away?
The Sister Queens is historical fiction at its most compelling, and is an unforgettable first novel.
Links for author Sophie Perinot: WEBSITE | BLOG | FACEBOOK | TWITTER
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