Speaking of history...I feel like I've always known Linda Lafferty. She sent me her novel The Drowning Guard, and I admitted that I didn't really read historical fiction, but within the first ten pages, I was swept up in the world she created--and I felt the same about The Bloodletter's Daughter. I'm honored to have her here on my blog. Thank you for the essay, Linda! And Happy Pub Day!
Seduced by History, in a Far-Off Land
When my husband told me for the nth time to stop assuming everyone knew who Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, was, I became supremely annoyed.
“Americans are better educated than you give them credit for!” I snapped. “Of course they’ve heard of Rudolf II!”
I had submitted the final proofs of my historical novel, THE BLOODLETTER’S DAUGHTER and we were hiking near our home in the Colorado mountains. By chance, we met a high school world history teacher, a colleague of mine. I told him I was publishing a novel about the mad bastard son of Rudolf II.
“Rudolf II? Who was he?”
I was aghast. My husband became disgustingly smug. And I realized that I had been thoroughly enchanted by an obscure (at least by American standards) period of history.
How is it that I fell in love with little-known characters in seventeenth-century Prague and Bohemia?
When I first heard the story of Don Julius, the mad bastard son of Rudolf II, we were on a hiking tour in the southern Czech Republic. When we reached the fairy-tale-perfect town of Cesky Krumlov, I could not believe the Gothic splendor of the castle built by the Rozmberks, a family as wealthy as Rudolf himself. It looms over the town, simultaneously enchanting and Grimm’s Fairy Tale creepy.
Then I heard the tale of how Rudolf imprisoned his son, Don Julius, in the castle and how the prince leered out the windows, his eye riveted on a Bohemian maid, living in the bathhouse below: Marketa Pichler, daughter of the local bloodletter.
Obsessed, the mad Don Julius had her brought to him. And, to avoid any spoilers, that is where the real action starts—and how! An electrical shock ran through me. That’s a novel—my novel!
Imagination ensnared, I became a slave to every fact I could find: alchemy, botany, bathhouses, witchcraft, religion, and science. Bloodletting. Galen’s four humors of the body. Paracelsus’s Bible of botanic cures.
And the mysterious Voynich Manuscript , now housed at Beinecke Library at Yale. This treasure was one of Rudolf ’s prized possessions. Scholars throughout the ages have tried to decipher it, to no avail.
Could I see it, hold it? Study its pages?
The alchemy between historical fact and creativity was at work.
How could I not be charmed? Rudolf ’s court was filled with scientists, alchemists, astrologers, botanists, and physicians. Tyco Brahe and Johannes Kepler’s discoveries defined the science of astronomy. Jan Jesenius performed the first public autopsy. Witchcraft was rampant, superstition laced everyday life.
I was pulled into the vortex of Old Bohemia, washing away the moorings of modern day reality.
Transported into another time and place—this is what I love as a reader of historical fiction. And I believe fervently that to write a historical novel, the author must first be transported, so absorbed that she loses herself in that other world.
And the only way to find my way back was to finish the novel. To be released from one faraway world to pursue another. Hmmm, Slovakia this time, seventeenth century?
THE BLOODLETTER’S DAUGHTER publishes September 4