The Dark Lady’s Mask~ A Book Launch & A Botanical Perfume

DLM

 

Hello everyone!

I’m excited to share the news of my friend Mary Sharratt’s new book with you. Her research on Hildegard of Bingen brought us together online in 2011, when she was kind enough to give me travel and research tips just as I was preparing for my own trip to Germany to see my longtime bestie and traveling companion, Brandi! (I’ve long desired to be a Hildegard-of-Bingen-Pilgrim!)

My longtime blog followers might also recall that Mary also made a guest appearance on my blog when her book Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard of Bingen was published.

And now she has written a compelling new book on Aemilia Lanier, an author who fascinated me last year in my “Women in Literature” class at Sierra College!

In honor of Mary’s new book, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, which has come out today, I have designed a custom scent called “The Dark Lady.” The ingredients have been taken directly from a Shakespearean-era aromatic recipe for a sweetbag (sachet) that has been magically transformed into a botanical perfume by yours truly. It will be the prize in a forthcoming contest Mary will have on Amazon, in keeping with her new book…

Follow her on social media, below, to stay tuned on the contest details!
And now — over to Mary!

Unmasking the Dark Lady
by Mary Sharratt 

April 23, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with worldwide celebrations to mark his legacy. But what about the women?

My motto as a novelist is “writing women back into history.” I’ve long been frustrated by the fact that the average intelligent, literate person can’t name a woman writer before Jane Austen. The Dark Lady’s Mask is my love letter to literary pioneer Aemilia Bassano Lanier, England’s first professional woman writer. I want to draw her out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

I first discovered her when researching the lives of Renaissance women. The daughter of an Italian court musician who may have been a Marrano, or a secret Jew living under the guise of a Christian convert, Lanier was one of the most highly educated women of her era. She certainly had the talent and expertise to write plays or secular poetry. However in England at that time, the only genre considered acceptable for women was religious verse. Lanier’s female literary predecessors like Mary Sidney wrote poetic meditations on the Psalms.

But Lanier turned the tradition of women’s devotional writing on its head. Her epic poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail God, King of the Jews), published in 1611, is nothing less than a vindication of the rights of women couched in religious verse. Dedicated and addressed exclusively to women, Salve Deus lays claim to women’s God-given call to rise up against male arrogance, just as the strong women in the Old Testament rose up against their oppressors.
The possibility that Lanier may also have been the mysterious Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets only adds to her mystique.

My intention was to write a novel that married the playful comedy of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love to the unflinching feminism of Virginia Woolf’s meditations on Shakespeare’s sister in A Room of One’s Own. How many more obstacles would an educated and gifted Renaissance woman poet face compared with her ambitious male counterpart?
In The Dark Lady’s Mask, I explore what happens when a struggling young Shakespeare meets a struggling young woman poet of equal genius and passion.

If Lanier and Shakespeare were, in fact, lovers, would this explain how Shakespeare made the leap from his history plays to his Italian comedies and romances—the turning point of his career? Lanier, after all, was an Anglo-Italian trapped in a miserable arranged marriage. The names Aemilia, Emilia, Emelia, and Bassanio all appear in Shakespeare’s plays. His Italian comedies are set in Veneto, Lanier’s ancestral homeland. What if Shakespeare’s early comedies were the fruit of an active collaboration between him and Lanier?

These two poets had such radically different character arcs. We all know about Shakespeare’s rise to the glory that would enshrine him as a cultural icon. But there was no meteoric rise for Lanier. Though she eventually triumphed to become a published poet, she died in obscurity and has only recently been rediscovered by scholars.

I find it fascinating how the strong, outspoken women of Shakespeare’s early Italian comedies, such as the crossdressing Rosalind in As You Like It and the spirited Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, gave way to much weaker heroines and misogynistic portraits of women in Shakespeare’s great tragedies, such as frail, mad Ophelia in Hamlet. This change in tack leads me to wonder if the historical Shakespeare actually did have a bittersweet affair with a mysterious, unknown woman that cast a shadow over his later life and work.

I hope that The Dark Lady’s Mask can redress the balance and give Aemilia Bassano Lanier the accolades she deserves. Whether or not she was Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, she was certainly his literary peer.

Mary Sharratt’s novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, is released April 19 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. For a chance to win a free copy, “like” Mary Sharratt’s author page on Facebook and leave a comment on any post there before June 21. Five winners will be announced on Midsummer’s Eve, 2016.

Mary Sharratt, author of
THE DARK LADY’S MASK: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2016

“An exquisite portrait of a Renaissance woman pursuing her artistic destiny in England and Italy.”
-Margaret George, internationally bestselling author of Elizabeth I

www.marysharratt.com

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Getting to Know Your Botanical Perfumer…

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Recently, at The Phoenix Rose boutique in Nevada City, CA, a young customer asked me about my collection of botanical perfumes that are displayed at the counter. As she smelled each perfume, she looked up the ingredients in the little burgundy book that accompanies my collection, written out very lovingly and carefully, in my own hand. She wasn’t at all ashamed to say, out loud, that she she had no need to buy my perfumes. She felt she could just recreate the scents she liked for herself. And probably, she said, thinking aloud, she would start selling her own perfumes, too. She slipped one of my business cards in her purse. “How hard can it be?” she said. She looked at the price tag on my 1/2 oz minaret bottle of The Green Mantle. “Seventy Dollars?!?!” she said. “Oh my god. That’s a fortune. I am definitely going to start selling my own perfumes.”

She proceeded to describe a blend of her own that she also had in mind. I pointed out that, should she proceed in making this perfume, she would probably give herself or her clients a severe case of sunburn due to the high level of photosensitive oils in the recipe. I wasn’t surprised to hear that she had absolutely no idea what I was talking about… But I was, indeed, alarmed!

Our encounter, as irritating and insulting as it was, brought up several key points for me. First and foremost, it served as a potent reminder to know who you are buying your natural products from. Essential oils are beautiful, precious and romantic things. They are sensuous, exotic, seductive and extremely tantalizing! But they are also extremely powerful, and need to be used wisely. Safely. And respectfully.

This young, green girl also inspired me to muse upon the value and substance of my own background and experience. And what lies behind my $70.00-80.00 price tag. (A sum which I feel to be quite modest, as I intentionally price my creations for accessibility.) I found myself musing over what, exactly, made me the botanical perfumer I am today.

Behind a carefully-cultivated nose, and my arabesque aesthetic, is quite a practical education. And about fifteen years of hard won experience! For those of you not familiar with my background, here is a brief recap…

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In a nutshell, I’ve studied with Mandy Aftel, Jeanne Rose and Kurt Schnaubelt. And I’ve mentored with Suzanne Catty for many years. (If you do not know these people by name, you can search for the considerable list of books they have published, between them!) I managed a wholesale essential oil company for seven years. I’ve been a botanical volunteer in the Huntington Botanical Gardens, Pasadena, for three years, mentoring with the Head Gardeners there, while also studying herbalism via Rosemary Gladstar’s excellent program The Art & Science of Herbalism. I have an academic background in art history and plant folklore, am well-traveled and have studied the contents, the history, the recipes, and even viewed original pages of medieval herbals. Then there is my very own tabletop still, The Alambiccus Gaggia. And my intensive year of study in the art of making spagyric tinctures under the tutelage of a master teacher (This was one of the most rigorous and demanding things I have ever done!)

I have also taught seasonal classes on plant folklore, been invited to lecture to large groups of people, and have appeared on two nationwide television shows. And all of these experiences have become, magically, intellectually, and alchemically, a part of my work today…

(Yes, how hard can it be, really!? Hmm.)

You can visit my web site for a brief clip from my 2007 television appearance on Noelle Katai’s aromatherapy-inspired show “Everybody Nose” where I discuss candle making with beeswax, herbs, spices and essential oils. The full episode still airs on Veria tv, as well. Email me for details.
(But – no laughing at my funny green apron, please!:)

And if you are searching for some other skilled botanical artisans, I am happy to make some recommendations. I know many talented, qualified artists who create beautiful, professional, plant-based products that are works of purity, integrity and value.

My aromatic cookbook The Fragrant Kitchen: Culinary Recipes from a Botanical Perfumer also has a substantial Resources section at the back. It includes: a book list, helpful organizations, reputable sources for purchasing tools and ingredients, and a list of skilled artisans who I know, trust and love.

My thank-you coupon, 10% off of orders for Arabesque customers and subscribers, continues in my Etsy shop. Coupon code is *arabesquearomas* upon checkout.

With love, and gratitude.
~Kirsten

Pictured above:

Me, in the Huntington Botanical Gardens, Pasadena CA 2008-9. Photo by Mara West.

My arabesque insignia, hand-colored by me.

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