Manuel is a man of many talents; an art historian and professor, he is also an exquisite storyteller. When he meets 16-year-old Luc ' a on an outing from her boarding school, he offers to narrate a story of dire consequences ' that of the Spanish Queen Juana of Castile and her legendary love for her husband, Philippe the Handsome.
Promised to Prince Philippe the Handsome to solidify ties between the Flemish and Spanish crowns, Queen Juana immediately fell in love with her betrothed with all the abandon and passion of her fiery personality. Theirs was one of the most tumultuous love stories of all time.
But Juana, who was also one of the most learned princesses of the Renaissance, was forced to pay a high price for being headstrong and daring to be herself. Those at court who could not fathom Juana as heir to the throne of the most important empire of its day conspired against her and began to question her sanity. Eventually she came to be known as Juana the Mad. But was she really insane, or just a victim of her impetuosity and unbridled passion
As the novel unfolds, Luc ' a and Manuel become enmeshed in a complex psychological web that seduces and incites them to relive Juana and Philippe's story, and eventually leads them to a mysterious manuscript that may hold the key to Juana's alleged madness.
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September 19, 2006
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Excerpt from The Scroll of Seduction by Gioconda Belli
Manuel said he would tell me the story of the Spanish queen, Juana of Castile, and her mad love for her husband, Philippe the Handsome, but only if I agreed to certain conditions.
He was a professor at Complutense University. His specialty was the Spanish Renaissance. I was seventeen years old, a high school student, and from the age of thirteen, since the death of my parents in a plane crash, I had been at a Catholic boarding school run by nuns in Madrid, far from my small Latin American country.
Manuel's voice rose densely within me, like a surging tide on which floated faces, furnishings, curtains, the adornments and rituals from forgotten times.
"What conditions " I asked.
"I want you to imagine the scenes I describe for you in your mind's eye, to see them and see yourself in them, to feel like Juana for a few hours. It won't be easy for you at first, but a world created with words can become as real as the shaft of light that at this moment illuminates your hands. It's been scientifically proven that whether we see a lit candle with our eyes open or imagine it with our eyes closed, the brain has an almost identical reaction. We can see with our minds and not just our senses. In the world I'll conjure up, if you accept my proposal, you will become Juana. I know the facts, the dates. I can place you in that world, in its smells and colors; I can make you feel its atmosphere. But my narration ' because I'm a man and, what's worse, a rational, meticulous historian ' can never capture ' I can never capture ' what's inside. No matter how I try, I can't imagine what Juana felt when she set off, at sixteen, on the armada's flagship, accompanied by one hundred and thirty-two vessels, to marry Philippe the Handsome."
"You said she didn't even know him."
"She'd never laid eyes on him. She disembarked in Flanders, escorted by five thousand men and two thousand ladies-in-waiting, to find that her fianc ' was not at the port to meet her. I can't imagine how she felt, just as I can't begin to conceive of her innermost thoughts when she finally met Philippe at the monastery in Lierre and they fell so suddenly, so thoroughly, so violently in love that they asked to be married that very night, so anxious were they to consummate a marriage that had actually been arranged for reasons of State."