I thought it only fair to warn you that, come the autumn, we will be mostly talking about eunuchs on here and I'll agree that's not in our usual sphere of discussion.... and I was determined to avoid all use of pun and inuendo until I read that first line out to Bookhound and he remarked that in that case I'd got off to a really bad start.
You may certainly ask why eunuchs and I will tell you that it's because, despite all my new rules about keeping hands off proof copies until nearer publication date, I have just finished reading The Castrato and His Wife by Helen Berry, to be published by Oxford University Press...eventually...sorry in my haste to read it I've lost the blurb that came with it. I'll write more fully later in the year but just have to whet your appetites for this one, get it reserved at the library quick, even if you have not an ounce of interest in the subject, the story is quite incredible.
It's a gripping account of the life of the famous Italian castrato Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci, but also a foray into the social mores of the eighteenth century; a century which where fiction is concerned for some reason my eyes glaze over, but where accounts of real life wake me up again.
So who knew... well I certainly didn't and I have been completely mesmerised by a world of which I knew little though may have feigned a passing interest, perhaps hearing that only recording of the voice of a castrato on the radio, or thinking that I knew all eunuchs were about four foot tall because of seeing them on Carry On films, when in fact the opposite is true. The long bones carry on growing in the absence of the hormonal starting and stopping associated with puberty so castrati have disproportionately long limbs which make their heads look small, and barrel chests from all the vocal training (must guard against that when the next Vocal Harem choir season starts...good name for a choir in this context eh)
It's all involved a bit of an SRN brush up on the physiology of testosterone which with the pride of lions that reside here I should know all about, yet for some reason when I started to recount a few details to the chaps ...
'Do you know in the 1730s they used to wait for the man who castrated the pigs to visit so that he could...
and suddenly for some reason they were gone, vanished. Bookhound finding an excuse to go and play with his new windows, the Gamekeeper off to strim around his pheasant pens, so I haven't been able to share anything about this amazing book with anyone yet.
I won't go into too much detail now but with its themes of gender, passion, intrigue and obsession the book is riveting and makes you feel as ashamedly inquisitive as any eighteenth century nosey parker, especially when you get to the moment when Tenducci weds, and you realise that a Georgian version of Twitter would have been deafening with all this to talk about. The injunctions would have been flying around because there was a great deal of speculation about what may or may not have resided in Tenducci's breeches...and when you hear what may have done...well yes, knock me down with a feather etc.
In many ways and thankfully we can never truly know the quality of the castrati voice, but how I'd love to have heard Tenducci sing Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, I mean just imagine...
And imagine my surprise when I discovered that he actually sang on the stage of the original Theatre Royal, Haymarket, and even at a music festival in Plymouth.
Then I start digging around myself for more historical context to Tenducci's life because this was the era of Admiral Nelson, the Battle of Trafalgar loomed, Georgiana was marrying into the Bedford family and planning to build the little cottage orne up the lane at Endsleigh and lo there is mention that her mother the Duchess of Gordon was a patron of Tenducci.
Much more about the book when I get my hands on a finished copy later this year because I am now desperate to see the illustrations, portraits, letters, tickets etc but I know it will be yet another to add to my ever-increasing Best Books of 2011 list for sure....what a fabulous reading year this is.
But now I'm intrigued, I see Imogen Robertson's latest novel Anatomy of Murder has castrati as a theme but are there any others ??? I have it here waiting to read as soon as I've fought the Spanish campaign with Stella Tillyard and The Tides of War, and I'm also taking regular sojourns in late nineteenth century artistic Glasgow with Jane Harris and Gillespie and I, great books all.
How about you...good reads on the go??