As the sun set for a few members of the Barga Book Club on a balmy mid October evening, we enjoyed a simple repast and discussed The Deadly Sisterhood, A Story of Women, Power and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, by Leonie Frieda. While one journalist reviewed it under the title of ‘Italy’s tiger mothers,’ a reference to comparative parenting styles in contemporary society, it wasn’t about parenting at all but about political power behind the scenes.
The book is a complex narrative of real and conjectured power politics focusing on eight wives or regents of Renaissance rulers. Often weakened by self indulgence or gout the princes risked diminishing dominions and often during or after bearing eight to ten heirs the women took the reins, literally in some cases, and led their families to glory or at least more territory and power. The book opens with Caterina Sforza, the Lady of Forli, and “she wolf of the Romagna” heavily pregnant, her husband Girolamo Riario assassinated, holding forth obscenely and holding down the fort until she was relieved by troops from her native Milan.
The book continues with convoluted historical details of Papal intrigues and brutal power plays often exploited by the wives. Machiavelli, a recurrent figure, had nothing on them, the ends justified their means.
Most readers felt it was a very interesting and enjoyable but sometimes difficult read keeping track of all of the personages and relationships and needing to cross reference the time line and family trees. Helen mentioned its not flowing as either novel or strictly biography during the period of the stranglehold of the the Papacy, a period of entitlement, self indulgence and privilege in which strong, well educated and politically astute women capitalize on their situations. Selene felt that eight women were a lot to cover in this way and like others felt the need to have more time to finish it and do the history justice.
Everyone enjoyed the sense of being able to imagine clearly where and how these women lived practically in our midst.
Thank you to everyone who participated and brought delicious food. We were all concerned for those who could not be there and hope to see them at the next meeting.
November 20 at Anne Cappani’s Albiano, The Red House by Mark Haddon
December 18 Spring Sonata by Bernice Rubens venue to be announced
Article by Kerry Bell