The Viper of Milan by Marjorie Bowen


Word PressThis isn’t a particularly good historical novel – two generations of the Visconti family have been mixed up, and a lot of the story’s more imagination than fact – but it’s quite interesting from a … hmm, what’s the word for historiography of historical novels?!  Whatever the word is, it’s interesting from that viewpoint!

In terms of the book itself, it’s supposed to be about the battle for power between Gian Galeazzo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, and Mastino della Scala, Duke of Verona.  Mastina della Scala actually died nearly 40 years before GGM Visconti was even born.  Valentina Visconti (referred to in this book as “Valentine”), who famously married the Duke of Orleans, is shown in this book as having her marriage arranged by her brother, whereas in actual fact the marriage took place whilst her father was still ruler of Milan.  So it’s rather sadly lacking in historical accuracy!  However, the style of writing is interesting.  It’s all thee and thou and melodrama – the sort of things that young female authors (Marjorie Bowen was only 16 when she wrote this) in novels are often laughed at for writing; but this book was a huge bestseller in its day, and its portrayal of treachery and deception is, albeit in a very melodramatic way, quite impressive.

It’s also interesting that several publishers rejected the book because – shades of some of the comments which Emily Bronte got, although Marjorie Bowen was writing this in the early 20th century – they thought it was inappropriate for a 16-year-old girl to have written a book containing so much violence.

Expect theatrics.  Don’t expect historical accuracy.  But this isn’t a bad read, especially as you can get it for free in Project Gutenberg.   And the story of the book, perhaps more so than the story in the book, is really very interesting.



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