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History Buff is a site
for history lovers everywhere. It is also a site very interested in women
of the past. Although I (sadly) no longer have time to continue these interviews, here is an archive of Q&As about women's lives
in history. And please feel free to stop by History Buff's
sister site for archaeological discoveries making news today. Enjoy!
historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the
past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
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Friday, February 1, 2008
Q&A With Historical Fiction Author Susan Fraser King
* In your most recent novel LADY MACBETH, your protagonist is nothing like the infamous Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare's play. What drew you to her story?
The historical evidence that surrounds her is fascinating. When I began the research and saw some exciting aspects of her story, I wanted to know more, and the story grew from that curiosity. One Latin document directly refers to her, and much of the rest has been extrapolated by historians based on events around her, and what is known of the men in her life, including Macbeth and others. Her bracket dates are not known exactly, but she likely married as a young teenager, when her father Bodhe, a prince of the royal Celtic line, was still alive. Her son Lulach, born in 1032/33, was the son of Gillecomgan of Moray, her first husband--who was killed in 1032, probably leaving his wife pregnant and vulnerable to Macbeth's ambitious plans. She and Macbeth were married for 25 years and ruled Scotland for 17 years, and though they never had a son (two young sons disappear from their line, probably early deaths), Macbeth never set her aside, though it would have been customary when children were not produced. She was likely still alive in 1050 when Macbeth went on pilgrimage to Rome--he would never have left his country unless he had a capable regent ruling in his place. This (and other evidence) suggests cooperation between them, and strong loyalty around them.
The circumstantial evidence was compelling--this young queen was not the hand-wringing harridan of Shakespeare's play. She was a young woman in a traditional Celtic culture, and her marriage was a longterm relationship that began in conflict and probably developed into respect and responsibility. Macbeth is now viewed as a decent early king of Scotland, and he seems to have had the support of his peers. His queen seems to have shared that.
Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth is so widely known as a villainess, and is so infamous and well known, that taking this on was intimidating at first. Once I began researching and putting the story together, I knew that my Lady Macbeth (who would not have been called that in her own time) would be very different from Shakespeare's fictional lady. So I felt free to go for it.
* How much of your novel is based on fact and how much is fiction?
Fiction is a great vehicle for facts and historical theories, and a good amount is known regarding the time, the culture, the events in general that involved Macbeth and his queen, and the other warlords of the time. Historically we can guess what motivated them because we know that this, or that, happened -- but we don't know what they actually did, said, felt, thought. It's a challenge to balance fact, fiction and story structure so that a novel isn't overly reliant on fact (risking dry informative passages) or on fictionalizing (which can wander away from the historical framework, unless that is the aim of the book). If the goal is accuracy and authenticity combined with an interesting story--as mine was, for Lady M--then that balancing act is really important.
* Tell us something surprising about women in 11th century Scotland.
So in the years before medieval elements changed Scotland, it's reasonable that an 11th century Scottish woman--particularly in Highland regions--would have been familiar with the fighting arts as well as household arts. Women, particularly in early Britain, Scotland, and Ireland, were expected to fight alongside men if defense of home and region was needed. And it was often needed, with the Vikings to one side and the Saxons to the other, and all manner of local feuds and rivalries in between. My Lady Macbeth is a product of her time and her society, and understands war as part of life, regardless of gender.
*How did you research LADY MACBETH, which draws heavily on medieval Scottish culture?
* Are you working on another book, and if so, will it also be set in Scotland?