History is an ever-plentiful source of literary inspiration. So much so that many contemporary subgenres blur the line between historical knowledge and fictional accounts to reimagine icons of the past. A notable example of this phenomenon is the biographical fiction genre, which breathes new life into legendary historical figures with some creative liberties.
Along these lines, all the rage this week is the new Marilyn Monroe biopic, starring Ana de Armas. The film is developed from Joyce Carol Oates’ biographical fiction novel, Blonde. Like its literary counterpart, the project focuses on channeling the spirit of the beloved actress, model, singer, and socialite, as authentically as possible. In continuation with the celebration of the new biopic, here are three new releases inspired by remarkable heroines in history.
by Maggie O’Farrell
We open in Florence, Italy, during the 1550s, where Lucrezia de Medici is content with her place at the Palazzo. She is free to wander the halls, marvel at its treasures, and pursue her artistic pursuits. That is, until her older sister dies the day before her wedding to a prominent ruler. Expected to take her sister’s place and wed Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara, the young duchess is swiftly thrown into the troubled political court. Stuck in a marriage she did not choose, with the future of the Ferranese dynasty resting on her shoulders, Lucrezia’s story is one of resilience, tragedy, and historical intrigue.
In 2020, Maggie O’Farrell made an award-winning splash in the literary world with Hamnet. Continuing in her literary niche of fictional retellings with historical roots is The Marriage Portrait – an immersive drama set during the Italian Renaissance. The author draws inspiration from the real-life Lucrezia, whose story is too often forgotten. O’Farrell herself eventually went to go visit Lucrezia’s final resting place and was told by the nuns that “no one has ever asked to see her tomb.” Surely, this captivating retelling will reinvigorate our historical memory, paying proper homage to the young Duchess.
Coffee Shop Read
by Ann Mah
Before she was Jackie Kennedy, the First Lady of the United States, she was Jacqueline Bouvier, a student at Vassar College. This historical fiction novel recounts the story of her junior year spent abroad. Circa 1949, a twenty-year-old Jacqueline arrives in Paris and is swiftly infatuated by the City of Light, absorbed in all its art and culture. The engrossing journey that follows provides deeper insight into a renowned historical heroine as well as France’s complicated post-war political landscape.
If you need a mental escape to Paris, this transportive novel is just the thing! Rich with historical detail and a vibrant invocation of one of the most enduring First Ladies, Anne Mah’s newest release is an absolute treat. Blending elements of romance with historical nuance, Jacqueline in Paris captures a vital and lesser-known chapter of the style icon’s life before her publicized time in Washington.
by Kate Atkinson
Shrines of Gaiety drags us into the whirlwind of Roaring Twenties London. Distinctly, it introduces us to the queen of the nightclub scene, Nellie Coker. With a vibrant personality and unwavering determination to advance her six children, Nellie is a force to be reckoned with. Though, beneath all the glitz and glamour, there is a persistent threat to her top-ranking position. Evidently, a nightclub empire, at the height of an era fueled by dancing, drugs, and debauchery, comes with its fair share of enemies.
In what The Guardian calls an “exuberant nightclub saga,” this stand-alone novel draws upon the autobiography of real-life “Night Club Queen,” Kate Meyrick. Within, Atkinson brilliantly implores a wide cast of characters for one wild ride through the 1920s. If you want a historically-insightful read that interweaves mystery, romance, and comedy, then Nellie is the fierce literary heroine you simply have to meet!
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