This week, Vanessa Couchman takes over the blog to tell us about the story behind her second Corsica novel, The Corsican Widow.
I am a self-confessed history nut. I’m lucky, then, to live in Southwest France, which is absolutely steeped in history. Some of my novels and short stories are set in the area where I live.
But I have also been captivated by the savagely beautiful island of Corsica in the Mediterranean. I can’t get back there often enough, although this year, sadly, I suspect we won’t have the chance.
The two novels so far in my Tales of Corsica series are based on true stories. The first, The House at Zaronza, we stumbled across when staying in a guest house on the Corsican coast. The owners discovered love letters walled up in the attic, giving an intriguing glimpse into the story of two star-crossed lovers in the 1890s.
After writing The House at Zaronza, I intended to write a sequel. One day I will, but I was derailed by finding a fascinating fragment in a history of Corsica written in the 19th century.
This concerned a wealthy widow in 18th-century Corsica, who became pregnant by her shepherd and was sentenced to death. She was unable to marry him without dishonouring her family, because he was her social inferior – a grave matter in Corsica. She was allowed to spend her last few days with her family, at the end of which she drank poison prepared by her own mother!
Today, this verdict seems unbelievably harsh, although we know that honour killings go on in other societies even in the 21st century. The Corsicans are a proud and vengeful island race and have always been extremely attached to the idea of honour. A challenge to the family honour was at the root of many vendettas between clans.
Also, attitudes towards women were strict and public morality was rigid. Women who lost their virginity before marriage and, worse, became pregnant, were severely punished, either by the authorities or by their own families. These “crimes” could incur public humiliation, banishment, murder by their own families or a death sentence.
Apart from the fragment I discovered, I was unable to find further details of this sad story. No doubt time has drawn an impenetrable veil over them. But I found the tale intriguing, and it wouldn’t leave me alone. So I used it as the foundation for The Corsican Widow.
Realising that a modern audience might find aspects of the story unrealistic (even though they were true), I adapted it to make it less stark. Parts of the story are set in 18th-century Marseille as well as on Corsica itself.
This was a period of great turbulence for Corsica, which struggled to free itself from the yoke of its Genoese masters and set up an independent republic. Ultimately, the Corsicans failed, and France took over the island from Genoa in 1768. Corsica has been French since then. But Corsica is also of itself, a place apart. And it’s the ideal setting for dramatic stories involving powerful emotions.
The Corsican Widow is available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon, and is also free to borrow in Kindle Unlimited.
Copyright © Vanessa Couchman, Ocelot Press 2020. All rights reserved.