Last summer, editor-in-chief Carolyn Turgeon invited me to write an article on St. Hildegard of Bingen for the medieval-themed winter issue of Faerie Magazine. Since I’d traveled to Bingen in 2014 to research Hildegard for THE BOOK OF GOTHEL, I was excited about the assignment.
St. Hildegard is a fascinating, complicated figure. Over the past four years, I’ve read her visionary texts and correspondence. I’ve visited her holy sites in Germany, developing my own interpretation of her life, work, and personality, so that her character in my novel would be historically accurate. Writing a nonfiction article about her was challenging, because of the way I wanted to weave in my personal experience on my research trip with historical facts about her life, a number of which are up for debate… I’m positively delighted with the layout! The article is paired with images of illuminations from Hildegard’s visionary texts and photographs of the places I visited on my trip. It’s wonderful to have this piece about St. Hildegard and my experience researching her out in the world. I remain grateful to the Sustainable Arts Foundation, for believing in THE BOOK OF GOTHEL enough to give me the award that made my research trip possible. And I’m thankful to Carolyn and all the other folks at Faerie for their work on the article. The medieval issue of Faeriecan be found in Barnes & Nobles everywhere. You can also purchase the issue in which the article appears online here.
I am so grateful to Vermont Studio Center, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation for making fellowships for parent artists available at VSC. Without mine, I wouldn’t have been able to spend the last two weeks hard at work on my novel-in-progress! I met so many wonderful writers and artists, and the final draft of THE BOOK OF GOTHEL is almost finished!
The below photos are from photographer Howard Romero’s studio portrait project.
I’m grateful to a number of people to be packing my bags this week! There’s the National Endowment for the Arts, which funded the two-week fellowship and stipend I’ve received to Vermont Studio Center to work on my novel-in-progress, THE BOOK OF GOTHEL. There’s my Dean, who was kind enough to allow me to participate in the residency despite the fact that it begins during final exam week. There are my colleagues at Lake Superior State University, who agreed to administer my finals. There are my students, who have been so supportive of my absence. And there are of course my husband and daughter, who are being, perhaps, most supportive of all.
It has been a real challenge to maintain a balance between work and creative time, this year, since I’ve been serving as chair and teaching an overload, so this fortnight of dedicated time to focus on my manuscript is much-needed. I have about two thirds of the novel rewritten — this is the third draft, if you’re counting — and with all the dedicated time, I’m expecting to actually finish the rewrite. By the end of the two week residency, I hope to be line editing a printed copy of the whole manuscript. I finished the first draft at Vermont Studio Center when I was there for a month in 2015, so returning there to finish feels like coming full circle.
My travel itinerary on Saturday will be a little intense — both Vermont Studio Center and Sault Sainte Marie are pretty remote — but I’m looking forward to the quiet of Maverick Studios, to celebrating winter solstice in the snowy wilderness of Vermont, to seeing the Gihon River freeze. I’m looking forward to listening to my cleats prick the icy ground, after I suit up to leave my studio for a brisk walk to work through a narrative problem. I’m looking forward to quiet time, to thinking time, and to sending the full manuscript off to the agent who asked to read it when I’m through.
I just finished a month-long writing residency at Vermont Studio Center, where I spent each day writing in a beautiful studio with a view of the Gihon River and attended readings, slideshows, and talks almost every night. Especially fascinating was visiting poet Sherwin Bitsui‘s seminar on translation and the way language carries culture, and visiting novelist Matt Bell‘s talk on revision, which was exactly what I needed to hear as I worked on my novel-in-progress. I was impressed with the level of conversation during Q&As after readings and the conversations about craft I had with other residents and visiting writers. Overall, there was a wonderful sense of community, and the campus itself is beautiful. Best of all, I completed the first draft of my novel while I was there! And now, to revise it…
In honor of Women’s History Month, today, I’m posting about one of the medieval women I’ve been researching for my novel in progress. Relatively little is known of Beatrice of Burgundy (c. 1143-1184) compared to what is known of her husband. She was about thirteen years old when she married the German king and Roman Emperor Frederick “Barbarossa,” but she was no stranger to royal titles even at that age. She had become the Countess of Burgundy at five when her father died and somehow managed to keep the title despite her uncle trying to take it from her. Imagine that–becoming Countess at five and Holy Roman Empress at thirteen. Imagine what such a woman would be like, what she would be capable of.
In most of the allusions I’ve found to Beatrice, she is mentioned for the land she owned, her childbearing, or her beauty. In Alfred Haverkamp’s Medieval Germany(1992), she is indexed three times as “Beatrice, w of Emperor Frederick”: first, with a description of the properties she owned upon their marriage; second, with a description of what happened to those properties after her death; and third, with a list of the twelve children she bore him and the marriage negotiations Frederick completed on their behalf. In Umberto Eco’s speculative novel, Baudolino(2000), she appears as the protagonist’s beautiful and unattainable love interest. A Latin poem, Carmen de gestis Frederici I imperatoris in Lombardia (1162), compares Beatrice’s beauty and brilliance on her wedding day to Venus, Minerva, Juno, and the Virgin Mary. About six hundred years after the wedding, the event would capture the imagination of two Italian painters.
Eight-hundred years after her death, these images are all that survive of Beatrice in the popular imagination. Images that focus on her beauty, her possessions, and her wedding day. Images that view her as a tool for securing land, a lasting legacy, or sexual fulfillment.
The truth, of course, is that Beatrice of Burgundy was a conscious human being with thoughts and desires of her own. In the twelve children with whom she is so frequently credited, I see a determination to maintain her position where her predecessor failed; Frederick had annulled his childless marriage to his first wife. In reports that she traveled extensively with her husband and heavily involved herself in the culture and politics of court, I see a political mind. A miniature in a 14th century Venetian manuscript depicts her arguing with Pope Alexander alongside her husband. Long after the wedding, the Emperor was accused of being “under her influence.” Such a legacy is far less likely to be the product of chance or others’ designs than it is to be the product of her own carefully constructed political decisions. Although Beatrice has most often been depicted as a pawn in Frederick’s strategy game, it’s interesting to think about what she gained from their union. He may have obtained control of the county of Burgundy with their marriage, but she gained access to the world.
I had an amazing time in Germany, researching medieval Konstanz and Freiburg, exploring city museums, hiking the Black Forest, and visiting Hildegard of Bingen’s abbey. ‘The Book of Gothel’, my novel-in-progress, is annotated to bits. Below is a gallery of some of what I saw while I was there!
I have to thank the wonderful Sustainable Arts Foundation for the grant that enabled this trip! If you’re a parent artist or writer who needs time to create or money to research a project, they are an incredible organization! I can’t say enough good things about them.
It’s spring break, so I finally have some time to start planning my trip to Germany to research The Book of Gothel. The trip is set for this summer. A few weeks ago, I bought the air tickets, and I’ve just sent off my passport renewal application…
I was thrilled to discover today that my novel-in-progress has received a 2013 Sustainable Arts Foundation Promise Award! Set in 12th century Germany and the present-day United States, ‘The Book of Gothel’ speculates about the historical roots of some of our most beloved European folktales. The grant will fund my trip to the Black Forest this summer to research the book. Here’s what the Sustainable Arts Foundation had to say about the manuscript:
“Mary McMyne’s novel-in-progress, The Book of Gothel, is one of our favorite kind of multi-layered fictions: it offers both a 12th century woman’s memoir and the story of the modern-day scholar who finds, translates, and annotates it. It is utterly inventive and a real pleasure to read. McMyne lives in northern Michigan with her family and teaches at Lake Superior State University.”