Lately, I have been reading a lot of Italian fairy tales as a kind of inspiration and preparation for the new novel I am working on, a companion to The Innamorati. As the plot is a renaissance road trip with a young woman in search of herself and her trickster companion (to create a little drama along the way), I have been imagining who she might encounter as she trudges southward from Tuscany in the north towards Calabria at the heel of Italy's boot.
Among the fairy tales I have been reading there appears a creature who is rarely ever seen for she is merely a place holder in the climatic tension of the story's finale: she is the bride the Prince almost marries, because he is too foolish, too enchanted, or too impatient (not waiting those seven years) and impulsively plans a wedding with the wrong woman. Of course, the heroine bride arrives in the nick of time, challenging the Prince to recall his vows of love. The Prince is chastened and then furious, turning to the almost bride (and sometimes just married bride) and denouncing her -- as if it were her fault he screwed up. And she is summarily packed off to her home without fanfare. In one of my favorite ballads, Lord Bateman, the bride's mother complains mightily at the affront to her daughter (of whom we never hear a peep). But Lord Bateman now emboldened by the arrival of his true love, "pounded his fist on the table and he broke it in pieces one, two three, saying I'll forsake all for the Turkish lady, she has crossed the whole wide world for me." To be fair, Lord Bateman does financially compensate the banished bride -- but still, it has to sting.
So what happens to those banished brides -- not the deceitful and disguised brides, they always meet with bad ends -- but those brides like poor Anne of Cleves determined too ugly (and "too swarthy") by Henry the Eighth and sent home as unsuitable. Since we never get their side of the story, or the what-ever-happened-to-that-young-woman?, the writer in me couldn't resist wondering what those women might do to reclaim themselves if given a chance in a novel. A young writer I know suggested they went home with a huge sigh of relief -- imagining that such weddings to total strangers would have been scary enough to contemplate.
But from a narrative point of view, that's no fun -- especially after reading the Lost Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales of Laura Gonzenbach, I know that the Italians -- or at least the Sicilians-- are firm believers in spectacular revenge. So I couldn't help but think of a sisterhood of Banished Brides coming together and taking their fury on the road to extract some form of punishing compensation. A band of marauding almost-brides offering to my young heroine roadside companionship and rancorous cautionary tales about men in general. (Although I suspect the trickster traveling with her would not be able to resist the temptation of meddling with those dangerous women.) Well...there's a few chapters to meditate on and then to write.
Art in order from top to bottom: John Bauer, Edward Burnes Jones, Sandro Botticelli, and Artemisia Gentileschi