New Books | Recent Historical Fiction

Posted in books by Editor on June 24, 2022

If historical fiction is your summer thing, some possibilities . . .

Jessie Burton, The House of Fortune (New York: Bloomsbury, 2022), 304 pages, ISBN: 978-1635579741, $28.

Alive with the magic of 18th-century Amsterdam, an enchanting, fantastical stand-alone companion novel to the sensational New York Times bestseller The Miniaturist, which has sold over two million copies worldwide.

Amsterdam in the year 1705. It is Thea Brandt’s eighteenth birthday. She is ready to welcome adulthood with open arms, but life at home is increasingly difficult. Her father Otto and her Aunt Nella argue endlessly over their financial fate, selling off furniture in a desperate attempt to hold on to the family home.

As catastrophe threatens to engulf the household, Thea seeks refuge in Amsterdam’s playhouses. She loves the performances, and the stolen moments afterwards are even better. In the backrooms of her favorite theater, Thea can spend a few precious minutes with her secret lover, Walter, the chief set-painter, a man adept at creating the perfect environments for comedies and tragedies to flourish. The thrill of their hidden romance offers Thea an exciting distraction from home. But it also puts her in mind of another secret that threatens to overwhelm the present: Thea knows her birthday marks the day her mother, Marin, died in labor. Thea’s family refuses to share the details of this story, just as they seem terrified to speak of ‘the miniaturist’—a shadowy figure from their past who is possessed of uncanny abilities to capture that which is hidden.

Aunt Nella believes the solution to all Thea’s problems is to find her a husband who will guarantee her future. An unexpected invitation to Amsterdam’s most exclusive ball seems like a golden opportunity. But when Thea finds, on her doorstep, a parcel containing a miniature figure of Walter, it becomes clear that someone out there has another fate in mind for the family . . . A feat of sweeping, magical storytelling, The House of Fortune is an unputdownable novel about love and obsession, family and loyalty, and the fantastic power of secrets.

Jessie Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist, was a New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a PBS series, starring Anya Taylor-Joy. Jessie’s second novel, The Muse, was also a #1 international bestseller. Jessie has written essays and reviews for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She lives in London.

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James Runcie, The Great Passion (London, Bloomsbury, 2022), 272 pages, ISBN: ‎978-1635570670, $28.

From acclaimed bestselling author James Runcie, a meditation on grief and music, told through the story of Bach’s writing of the St. Matthew Passion.

In 1727, Stefan Silbermann is a grief-stricken thirteen-year-old, struggling with the death of his mother and his removal to a school in distant Leipzig. Despite his father’s insistence that he try not to think of his mother too much, Stefan is haunted by her absence, and, to make matters worse, he’s bullied by his new classmates. But when the school’s cantor, Johann Sebastian Bach, takes notice of his new pupil’s beautiful singing voice and draws him from the choir to be a soloist, Stefan’s life is permanently changed.

Over the course of the next several months, and under Bach’s careful tutelage, Stefan’s musical skill progresses, and he is allowed to work as a copyist for Bach’s many musical works. But mainly, drawn into Bach’s family life and away from the cruelty in the dorms and the lonely hours of his mourning, Stefan begins to feel at home. When another tragedy strikes, this time in the Bach family, Stefan bears witness to the depths of grief, the horrors of death, the solace of religion, and the beauty that can spring from even the most profound losses.

Joyous, revelatory, and deeply moving, The Great Passion is an imaginative tour de force that tells the story of what it was like to sing, play, and hear Bach’s music for the very first time.

James Runcie is an award-winning film-maker, playwright and literary curator. He is the author of twelve novels that have been translated into twelve languages, including the seven books in the Grantchester Mysteries series. He has been Artistic Director of the Bath Literature Festival, Head of Literature and Spoken Word at the Southbank Centre, London, and Commissioning Editor for Arts on BBC Radio 4. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in Scotland.

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Eva Stachniak, The School of Mirrors: A Novel (New York: William Morrow, 2022), 416 pages, ISBN: ‎ 978-0063119604, $17.

A scintillating, gorgeously written historical novel about a mother and a daughter in eighteenth-century France, beginning with decadence and palace intrigue at Versailles and ending in an explosive new era of revolution.

During the reign of Louis XV, impoverished but lovely teenage girls from all over France are sent to a discreet villa in the town of Versailles. Overseen by the King’s favorite mistress, Madame de Pompadour, they will be trained as potential courtesans for the King. When the time is right, each girl is smuggled into the palace of Versailles, with its legendary Hall of Mirrors. There they meet a mysterious but splendidly dressed man who they’re told is merely a Polish count, a cousin of the Queen. Living an indulgent life of silk gowns, delicious meals, and soft beds, the students at this “school of mirrors” rarely ask questions, and when Louis tires of them, they are married off to minor aristocrats or allowed to retire to one of the more luxurious nunneries.

Beautiful and canny Veronique arrives at the school of mirrors and quickly becomes a favorite of the King. But when she discovers her lover’s true identity, she is whisked away, sent to give birth to a daughter in secret, and then to marry a wealthy Breton merchant. There is no return to the School of Mirrors.

This is also the story of the King’s daughter by Veronique—Marie-Louise. Well-provided for in a comfortable home, Marie-Louise has never known her mother, let alone her father. Capable and intelligent, she discovers a passion for healing and science, and becomes an accredited midwife, one of the few reputable careers for women like her. But eventually Veronique comes back into her daughter’s life, bringing with her the secret of Marie-Louise’s birth. But the new King—Louis XVI—is teetering on his throne and it’s a volatile time in France…and those with royal relatives must mind their step very carefully.

Eva Stachniak was born in Wroclaw, Poland. She moved to Canada in 1981 and has worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and humanities. Her first novel of Catherine the Great, The Winter Palace was a #1 international bestseller and was followed by another Catherine the Great novel Empress of the Night, also a bestseller. She lives in Toronto.


Call for Papers | Variety, Variation, Multiplication

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on June 24, 2022

From ArtHist.net, which includes the German version:

Variety, Variation, Multiplication: Imaging Techniques in Premodern Art and Their Products
Die Vielfalt des Vervielfältigten: Bildgebende Verfahren in der Kunst der Neuzeit und ihre Produkte
Institut für Kunstwissenschaft und Historische Urbanistik, Technische Universität Berlin, 13–15 April 2023

Organized by Magdalena Bushart, Livia Cárdenas, and Andreas Huth

Proposals due by 1 August 2022

Interdependencies VII – Seventh international conference of the research project Interdependencies: Arts and Artistic Techniques at the Department for Art History, Institut für Kunstwissenschaft und Historische Urbanistik, Technische Universität Berlin

Printed images and moulded artworks have one thing in common: they refer to an ‘original form’ to which they stand in a complex relationship. Produced in a mechanical process with the help of a (negative) form—a casting mould, a printing block, or a printing plate—they assert a reference of similarity both to their model and each other. Nevertheless, they are not reproductions that are largely identical to their ‘prototype’. After all, the transfer of the original is done in a different technique and usually also in a different material than that of the ‘prototype’. Thus, each is produced in its medium which influences the form with its technical requirements. From a technical, material, and formal point of view, they rather represent variants than precise reproductions of the initial work. And even the reproduced works do not look the same. Although they are based on a common casting or impression mould, they are subject to the conditions and contingencies of the production process, as well. In addition, these products were often further processed, i.e. ‘varied’. This is particularly the case in the 15th and 16th centuries, the period in which the techniques of printmaking and moulding were redefined through the innovative use of materials, the opening up of new markets, and the development of a specific aesthetic: Three-dimensional objects—such as sculptures made of terracotta or plaster—were reshaped in parts and individually polychromed, while two-dimensional works—mainly woodcuts and copper engravings—were coloured, trimmed, or silhouetted. This raises the question of the relationship of the artefacts to each other or their individuality: Were the works understood as individual pieces, as part of a series, as repetitions? Or did the attraction lay precisely in the knowledge of the singularity of the pieces despite their obvious similarities?

Variety, Variation, and Multiplication in the Art of the 14th to 18th Centuries shall be the subject of the seventh conference in the series Interdependencies: The arts and their techniques. Instead of focusing on the standardising effect of reproduced artworks and printed images (e.g. through the establishment of certain types of images and the standardisation of knowledge), we want to question the variants and their variances arising through printing and moulding processes or further processing. On the one hand, we are interested in the differences between the originals and the repetitions. On the other hand, we want to explore the margin opened up by the respective production process as well as by the possibilities of further handling: How do the products relate to their ‘prototype’ and each other? Do the variances result from intentional interventions or, the production process? What is the function of the medium of transfer? What is the effect of the change in materiality? What forms of further processing can be observed? How can common and singular characteristics of the reproduced works be described? What connects two- and three-dimensional reproductions and how do they differ? And last, but not least: How has the tension between similarity and deviation been received? Did it play a role in the perception of contemporaries or was it ignored?

All those interested in the conference are invited to submit an abstract of no more than 5,000 characters together with a short CV. Please send your proposal by 1 August 2022 to Prof. Dr. Magdalena Bushart (magdalena.bushart@tu-berlin.de) and Dr. Andreas Huth (andreas.huth@tu-berlin.de).

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