Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Meet My Main Character: A(nother) Blog Hop

Doing the Blog Hop

I've been tagged in this blog hop by Louise Rule, author of the book Future Confronted, a moving memoir about her late son's illness and death.  Louise is now working on a historical novel set in Edinburgh and Florence (Florence!  Yes!) during the Renaissance, and you can learn more about it on her blog.  Many thanks to Louise for giving me this chance to introduce you to the main character of my work in progress.

This seems to be a hop where one answers anywhere from five to seven questions about a character and tags anywhere from one to five people to do the same (let's face it, organizing writers is a lot like herding cats, so we make it up as we go along).  I've gone for five and five, so here we go.

First, just a bit of context.

When San Francesco d'Assisi died in the year 1226, he spent his last days and hours surrounded by the men who had been his earliest followers -- those who joined him early in his radical quest to live a gospel life, long before there was any official acceptance or general understanding of what he was trying to do.

Those men included Brother Bernardo, a friend from Francesco's youth and the first to join him; Brother Leo, Francesco's traveling companion and confessor; Brother Angelo, the son of a knight from Assisi; Brother Rufino, a shy and self-effacing nobleman who was a kinsman of Santa Chiara (Saint Clare); Brother Egidio (Brother Giles), who would also be present at the death of Santa Chiara 27 years later, and who was beatified; Brother Masseo, who nursed the ailing Francesco with great devotion; and Brother Elias, the brilliant but controversial brother whose turbulent tenure as Minister General of the Franciscan Order exacerbated a painful rift between two factions of friars, and who ended his life estranged from the Order and just barely reconciled with the church.

All of these men and more -- and one woman, a wealthy Roman noblewoman:  Lady Giacoma dei Settesoli,  who Francesco called "Brother Giacoma."  

1.  What is the name of your character?  Is she  fictional or a historical person?

Lady Giacoma dei Settesoli (also sometimes called Jacopa or Jacoba) is a historical person, though relatively little is known about her life.  Most of what we know comes from biographical works about San Francesco, but she was a wealthy noblewoman, married into the powerful Frangipani family, so it has also been possible to learn something about her family and its position in Rome through historical sources that don't pertain primarily to the saint.

Giacoma, fresco from the Lower Basilica, Assisi

2.  When and where is the story set?

It begins in Rome in the year 1210, just before Francesco found his religious calling, and covers nearly three decades of Giacoma's life.  While some of the book takes place in Rome, other sections are set in and around Assisi.

3.  What should we know about her?

Francesco once told a companion that there were only two women in the world whose faces he would recognize, as he otherwise kept his eyes averted from women.  Those two women were Chiara (Clare) and Giacoma.  Descriptions of Giacoma in the early works about Francesco stress her energy, her strength of character, her devotion to Francesco, her tirelessness in performing good works.  In the Italian sources the words "virile" and "forza" appear with almost alarming frequency, and they mean exactly what you'd expect them to mean.  Francesco's biographers say that she "knew how to surmount every obstacle."  They stress her generosity, her sense of justice, and that Francesco was "astonished by her outspoken manner, her sense of humor and her leadership qualities (traits then thought more suitable for a man)."  One summary that struck me was that Chiara was the "dolcezza" (sweetness) in Francesco's life, and Giacoma the "forza" (strength).  She was able to provide Francesco and his brothers with considerable material support, but to my mind, the one thing that overrides all others is that in this period where platonic friendships between men and women were always suspect, these two great souls were firm friends, first, last, and always.  He specifically requested her presence at his death.  She has been described as the first Franciscan tertiary; one historian calls her the "friend, mamma, and sister to Francesco and to his brothers."  The combination of wealth and widowhood gave her a lot of power and independence, but the way she used that power was all her own.

This image is usually associated with St. Clare, but some scholars believe it may be Giacoma.

4.  What is the main conflict?  What messes up her life?

Two disasters changed the direction of her life.  First, the death of her husband Graziano when she was a young woman left her with the sole responsibility for her two small sons, a huge fortune, and a long-running lawsuit against the papacy.  Graziano must have realized what an extraordinary woman he had married, because it would have been more usual to involve some of his male relatives in these matters, but he left everything up to Giacoma.  And second, the rancorous rift that developed in the Franciscan order even before Francesco's death was extremely painful for her, as she had deep friendships with brothers on both sides of the divide.

But more than that, I see Giacoma's story as that of a woman who would have liked to leave the world behind and enter a contemplative life, but who could not do so because of her substantial responsibilities (and possibly also because of her nature).  So she spent her life searching for a  balance -- she was utterly devoted to "Il Poverello," the little poor man who considered himself wed to Lady Poverty and who burned to live a Christlike life free of all possessions, yet at the same time she was one of the wealthiest and most influential women in Rome, and part of a family that aspired to be the pope's bankers.  If ever anyone had doubts about being part of the one percent, it was Giacoma.

Some scholars believe the person in red, at the head of Francesco's bier, is Giacoma.

5.  What is the personal goal of the character?

She yearns to follow Francesco's example, but a deep sense of duty makes her stay in the world, fiercely protective of her sons, the members of her household, and the beggars and supplicants she supports, but also of her chosen family -- Francesco and his brothers.  She will place herself between these people and disaster, over and over again, no matter the cost.

Giacoma at San Francesco's deathbed (Josep Benlliure y Gil, 1855-1937)


And now that you've met Giacoma, I urge you to read about the main characters created by my five "taggees" as they come up over the next couple of weeks.  Here they are, in order of appearance:

Judith Schara, author of Spiral, a historical time travel novel set in modern England and in the world of a Druid from the 5th century BC, the first book in her Spiral in Time series.  Judith will be posting on April 26 here on her blog.

Alana White, author of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, a historical mystery set in Florence (Florence!  Yes!) in 1480.  Alana will be posting as a guest here on my blog on April 28, but you can learn more about her work in the meantime by going to her website.

Kim Rendfeld, author of The Cross and the Dragon, a historical novel and love story set in the time of Charlemagne's reign, and the upcoming The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a companion book to her first.  She will be posting on April 28 or 29 here on her blog.

Jess Wells, author of historical fiction including A Slender Tether (three tales, one of them featuring Christine de Pizan, all set in Europe's Little Ice Age during the middle ages) and The Mandrake Broom, as well as ten other books.  Jess will be posting on April 29 here on her Red Room blog.

Prue Batten,  author of the historical novels Book of Pawns and Book of Knights, the first two books in her Gisborne Saga, set in Europe on the cusp of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and also of The Eirie Chronicles, a historical fantasy series.  Prue has posted here on her blog.

Thanks to all of them for agreeing to be tagged in this blog hop, and I'll be looking forward to reading their posts.

 Images in this post are all in the public domain by virtue of being well past the date of copyright expiration, except the first photo of the fresco of Giacoma from the Lower Basilica, which is my husband's work.


Unknown said...

Tinney that's an absolutely great blog. I'm really looking forward to reading your next book.

Tinney Heath said...

Thank you, Louise. I'm about halfway through the first draft at this point, so it's going to be a while, but it's flowing pretty well at this point (knock on wood, or touch iron, as they say in Italy!).

Anonymous said...

Shared and tweeted, Tinney - fascinating - love to read about less well known folk. And i can empathise re writing - I'm still only part-way through 1st draft of my sequel to TotT, maybe 2/3rds? Hoping I can crack on now as life has a habit of intervening.

Anonymous said...

I am captivated by your book. I like your expansion on the story of a little-known person who was closely affiliated with a famous one, and who balanced intriguing challenges that continue to face us today. I especially like the way that you described this that "messes up her life," yet you present it as what made her life so interesting and important.

I'm glad I found you. I traced the way back to the source of this tour, via you, as I prepare to accept my invitation by posting on Monday June 16.

Tinney Heath said...

Thank you -- I'll look forward to reading your post on June 16. I liked the way the questions on that blog hop were designed. They seemed to work well for many different kinds of books.

Deb Atwood said...

What a fascinating portrait of Giacoma you paint! I love discovering ways in which women influence history--both overt and subtle.

Your images are gorgeous, too.

Tinney Heath said...

Thanks, Deb! I learned of Giacoma's existence about two weeks before we were planning to leave for a trip to Assisi, so it was just perfect timing. And one of the things I enjoy most about writing this blog is finding the images that work with my topic.