A Question of Identity
I am often asked about novels I've written based on the lives of historical figures, mostly famous young women, ranging from the Tudors (Mary, Elizabeth, Catherine of Aragon) to Mozart's sister, and whether these stories are true. I go to great pains to explain that yes, the facts are as true as I can determine through careful research, and the main characters are real, although I do often invent minor characters to help to tell the story. I don't attempt to rewrite history--just to bring it to life. But recently a reader who had just finished THE BAD QUEEN: RULES AND INSTRUCTIONS FOR MARIE-ANTOINETTE emailed me with an interesting question: What similarities do you have with Marie-Antoinette?
Frankly, the question stumped me. I had never thought of it in quite those terms. Superficially, of course, there are no similarities, other than being female: Marie-Antoinette was an Austrian princess who married a French prince some 350 years ago. What does an only child reared in
a small rural community in Pennsylvania have in common with one of the Empress's sixteen children in a great European city? Not much, I thought.
But then I started thinking about the early scenes in THE BAD QUEEN. Here is Marie-Antoinette, being inspected by her mother, the Empress, and found lacking. I could easily imagine how she felt as she endured her mother's disapproving gaze. I had felt that maternal gaze myself! Then comes the scene with Marie-Antoinette suffering the tortures of braces on her teeth. Just visit my website, readcarolyn.com, and click on My Life, and you'll see that I was about to undergo a similar fate. I wasn't sent off to marry a boy I had never met, as Marie-Antoinette was, but the theme of never quite living up to other people's expectations of me certainly resonated with me, even if I wasn't conscious of it at the time.
This brings up an interesting question for me as a writer: I've done a huge amount of research, read through piles of books, taken pages of notes, Googled hundreds of minute details. How much must I have in common with the character I'm writing about in order to bring that character to life? I've recently finished work on CLEOPATRA CONFESSES, an even wilder leap for me than THE BAD QUEEN. But now I believe I've arrived at the answer: On a factual level the similarities are unimportant. But on the emotional level--ah, that's the heart of it!