Here’s what everyone wants to know about the book Goddess, and about Julie d’Aubigny.
Was she real?
Yep. Hard to believe, I know. But here’s a summary of her real life story.
But how much did you make up?
Many of the stories told about Julie are impossible to verify. I spent years researching her life, and still don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. But I’ve based the life on what seems credible and those stories that, even if they aren’t true, are now part of her legend.
I made up most of the conversations and details – the incidents in the ‘duel’ with Thevenard, for example, and of course the interior worlds of Julie and the people around her. The only main character I invented was the Comtesse, who is based on several society women of the time.
What we don’t know, and what I had to imagine or interpret, was what kind of person Julie really was, how she felt about her life and how the people around her responded – all those facets of a person’s emotional life. Everyone loves the story of the convent arson and escape, for example, but I wanted to explore how she might actually feel after trying to burn down a convent, going on the run, and eventually losing the first person she loved. The legend doesn’t bother with the aftermath: I imagined grief and guilt and remorse. Sure, it’s all terribly exciting. But how would you feel later – weary, hungry, condemned to death, and eventually alone?
What kind of research did you do?
I spent five years on this project, researching and writing. I researched all the usual aspects of the past we need to know when we write historical fiction: people, places, food, vocabulary, religion, and in this case opera and performance, swords and fencing styles, and fashion.
I visited Paris, Versailles, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Marseille and Brussels; I explored theatres and palaces and laneways and convents; I spent hundreds of hours in archives, museums and libraries in France, England and Australia; and I walked the streets and towns where she might have walked to try to see or imagine the buildings, the perspective, she might have seen.
Importantly, for this project, I also investigated theoretical approaches to the history of gender and sexuality, literary histories around stories of warrior women and cross-dressing; and academic studies from many fields of fashion, Baroque performance and attitudes to women – especially women like La Maupin, through history and in the early modern era.
I have also documented her opera performances, more comprehensively than has ever been done before.