Lucrezia Borgia and her scintillating sex scandals

Lucrezia Borgia was a cold-hearted bitch, according to author John Faunce. The facts about Lucrezia’s scandalous life as the bastard daughter of Pope Alexander VI are well-documented. The details about Lucrezia as a woman, however, are left out of the history books. John Faunce tries to fill in the gaps, writing in the first person in his novel Lucrezia Borgia. Sadly, he fails. The result is that the true Lucrezia, buried beneath Faunce’s awkward storytelling, comes off as a shallow, one-dimensional brat.

Lucrezia’s real life reads like a fifteenth century soap opera and made a great foundation for this book. Lucrezia’s father, Rodrigo Borgia, became pope at a time when the Vatican was steeped in political intrigues and nepotism, not to mention sex. Lucrezia and her brother Cesare were the two most infamous of Rodrigo’s children.

Cesare was known for his ruthless pursuit of power and for fits of rage. Lucrezia’s place in Borgia history was that of the spectator and occasional pawn. Anny Latour, in her nonfiction book The Borgias, tells of Lucrezia’s life as one dramatic episode after another. She married her first husband to secure a military alliance for her father. After the murder of her older brother Juan, she was called home and the marriage was annulled on the grounds that she was still a virgin. At the time of her annulment, she was pregnant with the child of Spanish messenger, who soon after turned up dead. Alexander tried to hush the scandal by claiming the child was Cesare’s by an unknown woman. Instead, it sparked rumors of incest between Lucrezia and both her brother and father.

For her second marriage, Lucrezia married a man she actually loved. The lovebirds were disrupted when he was found stabbed near the Pope’s home and named Cesare as his attacker before passing out. He recovered partially before being choked to death inside the Pope’s chambers by an unknown assailant.

Faunce researched his book extensively and included detailed passages in the narrative. One passage describes the need for Rodrigo to have his sexual organs officially felt up in order to establish that he is a biological male. This ceremony, Faunce’s Lucrezia tells us, was the result of a tenth-century incident whereby a supposedly male pope gave birth during a Christmas ceremony. This, however, is one of the rare passages that Faunce communicates well. Throughout most of the book, he awkwardly crams historical references into Lucrezia’s narration.

Faunce seems to want to make a good woman out of Lucrezia Borgia. His Lucrezia gushes with joy throughout her childhood whenever her father comments about her sexuality. When Lucrezia is taken from her mother by soldiers, not to be seen again for years, and when she is publicly deflowered on a marble slab as part of a wedding ceremony, she remains silent and unemotional. These missed opportunities to humanize her shape her into a heartless, decidedly twisted woman.

Even worse, Faunce’s trite faux-literary style makes it hard to even understand what Lucrezia is supposed to be feeling. Lucrezia is tranformed into a woman obsessed with SAT vocabulary words and long clunky metaphors. At a feast, she describes one dish as ‘Friulian piglet as stuffed with truffle as any piglet might wish in her piggy vision of Heaven.’ She is also a woman not satisfied until her story is told using three or four adjectives in front of every noun. There are only so many times one can use the words like ‘octagenarian’ and ‘apocryphal’ before they ruin the story.

Faunce’s writing leaves much to be desired, but the life of Lucrezia Borgia satisfies even the most ravenous appetite for scandal.

One Comment

  1. I actually just completed the novel myself, and I completely agree as this was a very hard read. Definitly not the kind of book you want to read in bed as you will more than likey fall asleep after the first or second paragraph. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the novel but not enough to pull out a dictionary after every sentence.