Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Review: The Pope's Daughter by Caroline P. Murphy
In The Pope's Daugther: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere, Caroline P. Murphy brings to life a woman who lived during the Italian Renaissance. Daughter of Pope Julius II, Felice lived most of her life in Rome and its surrounding areas. She learned at an early age that it paid to be independent, and decided to live her life the way she saw fit. Murphy uses documents from Felice's time period to put together a woman who fought hard and got independence in a time when women were little more than pawns for men to play with. The Pope's Daughter chronicals her rise from adolescent to a powerful landowner, a woman who survived the sack of Rome and her stepson's jealousy. Read it and get to know the amazing Felice della Rovere.
I have such a hard time reviewing nonfiction. I really can't say anything about the plot. After all, the plot in this case is the actual life of Felice della Rovere. I can't exactly criticize characters. They were real people. However, I can rate the writing and the style, and the way the author presented her information. So here goes.
The author states right in the beginning of the book that she had to make a lot of inferences about the life and person of Felice della Rovere. Although this at first worried me-would the book really be an accurate representation of Felice and her world-those "inquietudes" as they say in French soon fell to the way side. There is very little written about Felice, even by her contemporaries, so at first it seems impossible that Murphy could write a whole book on her life. But Murphy was able to use letters mentioning her that were written by her friends, employees, and acquaintances, and the personal records of business and inventory that Felice herself kept, to paint at least a glimpse of the true Felice. Could some of Murphy's inferences about Felice be wrong? Yes. But because Murphy backs everything up with these sources, it seems highly likely that the real Felice really was at least a bit like the Felice Murphy describes throughout the pages of this book.
As far as writing goes, sometimes when I read nonfiction, the writing is so dense and boring that even if I'm interested in what the book's about, I don't want to keep reading. Murphy's writing was super easy to follow and she explains everything in easy to comprend terms. There are a ton of Italian names and words in this book though (obviously, since Felice lived her whole life in Italy), so if you get annoyed easil by lots of foreign pronunciation and whatnot, you might at times get frustrated. I, however, loved it. I've never taken Italian, but I had a blast trying to say things out loud. I especially love saying "Felice" (pronounced "fel-ee-chay").
I think Felice is a great role model to women everywhere. If you love reading about strong women who take control of their own lives, read this book. Felice was living in a time when women pretty much had no rights (though renaissance Rome was a lot better to women than a lot of places. Felice was able to buy land and run it as long as she had the money to purchase it). Her status as the pope's daughter gave her a taste of independence and power at a young age, and she worked hard as an adult to make sure she stayed independent. She wanted an income besides that of her husband's to safeguard herself and her children against the death of her spouse.
The Pope's Daughter portrays such a strong woman, so I've decided to post some of my favorite quotes about Felice and her personality:
Page 61: There were few who did not comment on her prudentia-wisdom or intelligence. Such a reputation endured throughout her life. The scholar Angelo Firenzuola, writing in defence of the female intellect, cites among the female luminaries of his time: 'the prudentissima Felice della Rovere...of whom with no small amount of praise do men speak, with a resounding voice.'
Page 71: There is something poignant about Carteromacho's account of Felice's fervent desire for books. Over and beyond how books helped her appear to her best advantage in fashionable scholarly circles, they also served as her companions during those times when her father deliberately excluded her from courtly events. Books were a means to shut out the trials of ongoing bargaining, and negotiations for a husband she did not want. Reading was one of the great pleasures of Felice's life.
Page 72: Felice was determined to focus on aspects of her personal identity and social connections that reached beyond a role as wife to an Italian lord.
Page 129: Stazio's description of Felice's emotional state is quite surprising in its candour. Thus far in her life, Felice had performed in public, no matter what she may have felt inside, as a woman who was both proud and resilient....For her to leave Rome in tears is an indication of the deep humiliation she felt from her father's refusal of her request. Life was frequently unfair for women in the Renaissance, but its unfairness on this occasion seemed particularly harsh to Felice. She had proved herself a more than competent estate manager, a shrewd businesswoman, an admired diplomat. All were useful attributes for becoming governor of a city.
Page 172: Felice's inventory reveals her carefully crafted strategy for personal survival. If life with the Orsini did not work out for her, she was still, independently, extremely wealthy.
Page 188: Felice della Rovere had learned the language and cadences of the courtier's voice. Over the previous decades, she had had occasion to plead tearfully with her father and to take a somewhat obsequious position in order to ingratiate herself with Isabella d'Este. She had continually charmed and impressed the humanists and clerics of the Vatican court. Felice could be theatrical if need be: she had vowed to throw herself into the sea rather than be raped and she had wept at her husband's deathbed. But her tone of authority of what endures.
Page 190: Felice, who fought hard for her own rights and possessions, seems particularly angered that another woman should be denied the right to bequeath her own property as she chose. (this is then followed by some examples of Felice receiving and writing letters to the women on her land to help them get what they rightfully deserved)
Page 297: Everything she had done, she had done for the ultimate benefit of others-her children.
Title: The Pope's Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere
Author: Caroline P. Murphy
Date of Publication: November 4th, 2006
Number of Pages: 315
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Source: Personal Copy