On Setting My Novels In Renaissance Italy, by Michael White
Almost all of my historical mystery novels are set in Renaissance Italy.
The practical reason for this is that many of my non-fiction books are biographies of famous people who lived in that country at that time and so I have done some of the research. But there are other more personal reasons for this choice.
First, I adore Italy and I’m inspired by the Renaissance. Growing up in England I was lucky enough to travel to Italy frequently, so I guess it seeped into me.
I know that life during the Renaissance, even if you were a staggeringly rich individual such as Cosimo de Medici or the Pope, was not easy. It was a stinking, polluted cesspit of a world. Disease and pestilence were never far away. There were no antibiotics, no democracy to speak of, few opportunities to travel, the division between rich and poor was enormous, and corruption was endemic. To cap it all, if you were at all radical or intellectual you would have the Church breathing down your neck.
But even so, there is something inescapably romantic about 15th and 16th century Italy. Even the poorest Renaissance person was surrounded by profoundly beautiful buildings and art. Naturally very few got to see the art, but (thanks to the Church) the architecture was there for all to admire.
But did people even notice it, I wonder? Perhaps it is just that we 21st century observers look back and think how wonderful it must have been to see the Duomo being built or St Paul’s ascending into the skies of old London.
I always try my best to get into the heads of the people who populate my historical novels. I know that we have to let them exist in their own timeframe and not to impose our moral and ethical framework upon them, but I cannot help but wonder what it would have been like to live in say Florence in 1552.
There is no doubt that if you were to go back in the tardis you would have the most pleasurable time of it if you were a wealthy nobleman, or even better, a cardinal or a pope. They had the best of everything and they were happy to ignore the imperatives of the Church, because, somehow money exempted them.
For the common man, things were very different. Life during the Renaissance was particularly shorty, nasty and brutish. It was not for the faint-hearted… nor the poor.
Michael White’s author website: www.michaelwhite.com.au
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