16th century rulers, Anne of Brittany, Burgundy, Europe, female leaders, female political leader, France, historical fiction, History, Margaret of Austria, Margaret of Habsburg, Netherlands, Paris, Renaissance
Words with a Wordsmith: Rozsa Gaston
Rozsa Gaston : “History matters.”
Are there TV shows or films that have influenced your writing?
Yes. I saw The Red Balloon (1956) at our local library when I was a young girl. I was immediately enchanted with Paris. The movie has no words and there are no words to describe how deeply it moved me. The boy in the movie was poor. He lived in a small apartment in a dirty rundown section of Paris. Yet I was moved by Paris’s beauty and charm in every scene.
When I was 19 I went to Paris for the first time as an au pair and lived in a maid’s garret on the top floor of a building. No hot water, shower or bath. A Turkish toilet (don’t ask). Just like the boy in The Red Balloon chasing his balloon in the streets of Paris I spent that year chasing beauty all over Paris.
What do you worry about in your work?
I tend to avoid conflict and always seek happy endings. Yet novels are built upon conflict. To write a good novel you need lots of conflict before you can get to the happy ending. In my Anne of Brittany series I was challenged to touch upon the less positive aspects of my heroine’s character. Now that the series is done, I have moved on to Margaret of Austria, who experienced plenty of conflict during her years as governor of the Netherlands from 1507-1530.
As governor of the Netherlands she was responsible for administering Habsburg rule over 17 different territories that comprise today’s Holland and the Benelux countries, as well as Burgundy (now folded into France). She batted heads with many of her legislators, each of whom wished to maintain privileges for their respective regions.
My challenge is to refrain from writing a puff piece on Margaret of Austria, but rather to offer a balanced view of how she managed her position, both good and bad. I hope I will lead my readers to a satisfying ending, coming away with a deep appreciation for this historical figure.
What brings you great joy as a writer?
It brings me great joy to read a passage from one of my books a year or two after it came out and realize there’s a certain voice to the prose that is all my own.
A second source of joy is to hear from readers of my Anne of Brittany series that they had never heard of Anne of Brittany before and are fascinated to discover her story. I hope the same will be true of Margaret of Austria once my new book comes out. I feel connected to a larger purpose by bringing to life the stories of these female Renaissance rulers who played such vital roles in early 16th century Europe. History books have only sketched them in. My goal is to fill in the gaps and bring their personalities to life for readers of today.
Do you speak a second language? Do you think differently in that language? Does it influence your writing?
Yes. I speak French passably, not fluently. I think differently in that language. When I speak French my personality becomes more feminine, refined. I feel more myself. The challenge is to translate French phrases into English in a way that maintains their subtlety, shifting the English-speaking reader’s sensibility. The French language reflects its culture, utterly different from that of English-speaking countries. When researching historical figures in French texts, fascinating differences between Anglophone and Francophone worlds emerge, particularly in the area of pleasure.
The French celebrate pleasure, the English-speaking world feels guilty about its pursuit. The French pursue pleasure in eating, in creating beauty in their surroundings, in giving and receiving pleasure.
When I read texts covering Francis I and his 16th century Renaissance court I came across many passages about men’s preoccupation with providing satisfaction to their ladylove. There would be references to men boasting of how many times they pleasured their ladylove. My eyes opened and the scales fell away. If there were similar texts in English, either the subject would not be mentioned at all or any male boasting would have been about how many times they achieved satisfaction, not their female partner.
What was the inspiration for your most recent book?
While researching Anne of Brittany’s story I came across mention of Margaret of Austria as an 11-year-old, raised at the French court to become queen to Charles VIII of France. Charles jilted Margaret to marry Anne of Brittany, who was very kind to her despite having taken her place. When Margaret returned to the Netherlands, Anne of Brittany and Margaret of Austria stayed in touch. Both were interested in creating a Habsburg hedge around France, to curb its dominance. Both women were instrumental in the seminal development of what has now become the European Union. Both began their lives as pawns of powerful men and both emerged to become powerful players themselves on the European political stage.
Rozsa Gaston writes historical fiction. She studied European history at Yale, and received her Master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University, including one year at Institut des Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po), Paris.
She worked at the United Nations, then at Institutional Investor before turning to writing full-time. After beginning her writing career she worked as a columnist for The Westchester Guardian.
Author of the four-volume Anne of Brittany Series, Gaston won the Publishers Weekly 2018 BookLife Prize in general fiction for Anne and Louis, Book Two of the series.
Gaston lives in Bronxville, New York, with her family and is currently working on Margaret of Austria: Governor of the Netherlands and Early 16th Century Europe’s Greatest Diplomat. She is a member of and former guest expert at the UK Tudor Society and a founding member of France’s Splendid Centuries Facebook page.
Her motto? History matters.
Anne of Brittany Series:
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Rebecca D’Harlingue writes about seventeenth-century women taking a different path. Her award-winning debut novel,The Lines Between Us, takes place in Spain, Mexico, and modern-day St. Louis, Missouri.
Rebecca DharlingueMay 27, 2022
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Denise DeVries4 days ago· 2 Likes
I loved the Red Balloon too!
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