History and Fiction
Updated: Jan 10, 2020
Recently on NetGalley.com a reviewer of Ida Curtis’s SONG OF ISABEL called attention to the author’s use of “an authentic 9th-century tale to produce a highly readable historical romance” but found that “a cursory internet search” turned up “no evidence to either confirm or deny that such a manuscript ever existed.” It does exist, as did its author, Dhuoda of Uzés, an isolated area on the edge of the Holy Roman Empire and near the Spanish March. When the manual was written, her husband Bernard of Septimania, an important figure in the court of Louis the Pious, lived at court with their sons, one a teenager and the other an infant, leaving Dhuoda at home to manage his remote estate and sustain the income that supported his career and enabled his influence with the king. At the time of Dhuoda’s writing, King Louis had died, and his sons were vying for power, leaving Bernard’s place in that world and the futures of her two sons in doubt. Thus, the manual addressed to the two boys: “Read all,” she tells them at the start, “and at the end you will know more fully.” Knowledgeable not only about “grain and wine,” the business of the estate, but also about the ins and outs of court intrigue and the fragility of life in general, Dhuoda stands out as a strong woman in a man’s world—like Isabel of the novel.
(The original manuscript was transcribed by Myra E. Bowers for her 1977 doctoral dissertation, “The Liber Manualis of Dhuoda: Advice of a Ninth-Century Mother for her Sons”; The Catholic University of America.)
For this and other reviews on NetGalley.com, see https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/130446