Among contemporary novels, my favorites are always set sometime in the past. I just can’t get interested if the setting is one that I recognize and can judge for myself. It doesn’t seem compelling to me to hear what my peers have to say about the world that we share. I consider myself to be an astute observer of human nature and of culture, of our current way of life. I don’t need to be inside my neighbors’ heads. Life would be unbearably noisy if I didn’t content myself with my own thoughts. Likewise, I consume the news, but never the op-eds. I form my own opinions. I watch movies and episodic television, but never read reviews. What I seek is an escape from the world that I know, as well as anybody can.
Historical fiction takes me on an incredible journey back in time, to the past – a foreign country, to be sure – where everything is mysterious, from the most enormous political questions of the day to the most minute quotidian realities. I enjoy descriptions of picturesque or sublime landscapes no longer extant on earth, food no longer eaten, clothing so luxurious it hurts, battles fought and won over issues easy to understand and empathize with. The cadence of obsolete speech charms me; the philosophical discussions of our ancestors weren’t mere parlor games, as they seem to be today, but genuine explorations of the human condition. The stakes seemed higher in the past, and people lived more viscerally, with a greater understanding of what it means to be mortal on this earth.
My favorite books are always, also, novels of manners. How can a small everyday infraction, something that runs counter to expectations, ripple outwards in a closed society so that it creates great scandal and great conflict? How does the individual and his or her desires survive within closed cultural systems? Contemporary fiction often dispenses with manners, finding them irrelevant to our modern world; many people today certainly have tossed old conventions aside. But historical fiction still mines these eternal questions. In the past, much of importance could transpire at a dinner party. It is my pleasure to pull up a chair to that table, soak in the vastly different atmosphere, study the unfamiliar scene, and feel that something there is really happening.
About Matilda Empress
A novel of the medieval queen who lost her empire and her heart.
Matilda, a twelfth-century Empress of the Holy Roman Empire and daughter of Henry I, is twenty-four years old and a widow. She returns to inherit her father’s double realm of England and Normandy, but is promptly married against her will to Geoffrey, a minor continental nobleman. Absent from England at the time of her father’s death, Matilda loses her throne to her cousin, Stephen, despite their ongoing and secret love affair.
For almost twenty years, anarchy reigns throughout the empire, and their illicit passion fluctuates between hatred and obsession. The only hope is the Empress’ growing faith and their illegitimate son, whose rightful claim to the English throne could finally halt the bloody, endless war.
In the vein of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, Matilda Empress illuminates the real history of the early English monarchs, while exploring what is at stake when a strong woman at the center of great upheaval refuses to play by the rules laid out for her.
Lise Arin has a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Columbia. She is thrilled to be publishing her first novel of historical fiction, Matilda Empress, on March 14, 2017. She lives in New York City with her husband and children.