Asexual Myths & Tales

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Castrato and the King

It's no secret that Carlo, the castrato singing prodigy in my current novel project Cage of Nightingales, is named after the legendary Carlo Broschi, better known as Farinelli, who was born today in 1705 in Andria, Italy.  Among his many accomplishments, Farinelli spent over 20 years at the court of King Philip V of Spain, having been invited by the Queen, who believed Farinelli's singing could cure her husband's mental illness.

From my reading, I understand Farinelli to have been a kind, modest and generous man, who didn't let his international fame as a singer go to his head.  At Philip's court, he spent time every day singing to the king, playing the harpsichord, chatting to the king and praying with him.  Although it never completely cured the king's illness, it offered him a great deal of relief, and the royal family were extremely grateful.

One can only contrast this with the treatment forced on George III of Great Britain later in the century at the hands of the Willis brothers.  If I had to choose between being strapped in a chair, purged, and intimidated into sanity, and playing the harpsichord with a kindly singer - well, there wouldn't be much choice, would there?  It makes one wonder what the royal families of Europe were thinking, to come up with such highly contrasting treatments.  Thank heaven Farinelli's methods of music therapy and confidential listening have won out in our own day!

Research source: The World of the Castrati by Patrick Barbier (1996)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Giving birth to hairy worms: bygone beliefs about the facts of life

For Christmas, my brother gave me a book called The Manly Masquerade: Masculinity, Paternity and Castration in the Italian Renaissance by Valeria Finucci.  I am probably one of the few people in Britain (or the world) who would be pleased to receive such a book for Christmas - one because my current novel, Cage of  Nightingales, has a castrato as one of its main characters, and two because I find androgyny endlessly fascinating.

But the book also turned up some strange beliefs which, as a fantasist, I find just as intriguing.  Or maybe not so strange.  Science is only based on what people can observe.  If food goes off, you come back to find it full of maggots.  Where did the maggots come from?  Without a microscope, it's not unreasonable to conclude - as our Renaissance ancestors did - that some creatures could be born spontaneously of putrefaction.

However, the spontaneous birth theories didn't end with maggots.  Here are some things that people (learned doctors as well as peasants) believed in the Renaissance:
  • Women's wombs could spontaneously produce all sorts of things, from monsters and harpies, to wood, glass or combs, to serpents, toads and hairy worms.  (I particularly like the hairy worms.  Why hairy??)
  • You could give birth to animals by seeing animals while pregnant.  In 1726, an Englishwoman called Mary Taft allegedly gave birth to 17 rabbits.
  • You could give birth to a baby of a different colour from you or your partner by looking at a picture of someone that colour.  One white woman was cleared of adultery after giving birth to a black baby because there was a picture of an Ethiopian in her bedroom.
You think this is far-fetched?  When I told my mother about it, she said that even when she was young, old wives warned pregnant women not to go to freak shows for fear of giving birth to a deformed baby.  Old beliefs die hard...

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Versatile Blogger Award

The very lovely Karin Bachmann, a friend from SwanwickWriters' Summer School, has nominated this blog for a Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you, Karin!  Karin's own blog stories 4 7=>77 features a new story twice a week in English or German.  How much fun!?!


Nominated by: Karin Bachmann

The rules: 

• Display the award certificate on your website
• Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award
• Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers (Versatile Blogger) (I haven't managed 15 but I did my best!)
• Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post

• Post 7 interesting things about yourself

7 things about me:

  1. I can play the piano, flute, recorder and guitar, but prefer the piano 
  2. I have been the pianist at my church since I was 16
  3. I have lived all my life in the same village
  4. I sat behind Alan Lee at the Hugo Awards in 2005
  5. I have a loyalty card for almost every coffee shop in Bradford. (Touch of irony there!)
  6. I have recently re-discovered the joys of French knitting
  7. I have two tuned wind chimes hanging above my bed
And now to nominate my favourite blogs... Fascinating details about his 18th-century ancestor and Georgian life A lovely and talented artist Another great history blog   Fascinating background to historical fiction Another great artist and my brother!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Introducing... Mr Van Guelder

A mysterious Dutch gentleman

  • Born: Amsterdam, date unknown.  Appears around 25 years of age.
  • Family: father (deceased) a member of the Gentlemen Seventeen (directors of the Dutch East India Company, others unknown.
  • Occupation: gentleman merchant.
  • Skills: manipulating others.
  • Interests: experimentation involving a mysterious lodestone; a growing obsession with Margaret Rosewood.
  • Van Guelder appears courteous and charming - and is extremely handsome - but there is also a hint of coldness about him.  His lack of any bodily scent and seeming ability to be in two places at once suggest that he is not quite what he seems.

Silver Hands - coming 26 April 2013 from Top Hat Books