Heretical Songs is a book of historical fictions written by an author with an admitted aversion to historical fact.
The first two stories in this collection, "Mahler's Last Symphony" and "The Poet's Sister" play on rumors about the domestic lives of Gustav Mahler and William Wordsworth. Mr. White toys with the thought of Alma Mahler's infidelities and Dorothy Wordsworth's incestuous rage.
In the next two stories, "Rossetti's Blessed Lady" and "Claude," two great men of art and life, D.G. Rossetti and Claude Debussy, are treated with more dignity. Delightful cameo appearances are made by the notorious pansexuals Algernon Awinburne and Eric Satie.
Finally, in "The Heretical Singing of Pietro Carnesecchi," the novella which caps the book, the author takes advantage of the obscurity of the historical figure (who was executed by Duke Cosimo of Florence) to present Carnesecchi as a man with Bruno's past, Savonarola's future, and the character of Tomasso Campanella, the great Magician to the Pope.
"A collection of short stories
leading up to the eponymous novella, Heretical Songs was a
worthwhile and enjoyable book. The author seems to be quite in his
element—sculpting lofty intellectualizing, fanciful conjecture,
and carnal innuendo into a truly unique look at the unseen lives of
some famous public figures. While the prose was at times overwhelmed
by its own vaguely sophomoric cleverness, the stories never truly
faltered and I was deposited at the end of the book having fairly
enjoyed the ride." —A reader
What was married life with Nora like? Would you believe me if I told you it was simply more of the same? For me, literally, it was a different way of being the same. Well, there were two significant changes and I'll begin this new chapter in my life by describing them to you.
First there was no move Love. Thank God. We received news while in Scalands that Love had gone into brain fever. He had contracted some sort of inflammation of the spine. As our good friend Morris wrote us:
"The number of illnesses in our circle is terrible at present. Love, as you may know, is in the most precarious state with brain fever. He fell ill nearly a month ago with what was diagnosed as of all things, the quinsy and resulting pyaemia and would not be alive now had not those symptoms disappeared and been replaced by a fearful attack of Melancholia which kept him lying in bed without speaking (except in monosyllables) for three whole months. And now the brain fever. He is a Proteus of disease."
Perhaps it was cruel of me to be glad of Love's illness. But I was glad that it kept him at a distance from myself and Nora. Well, wouldn't a Florentine rejoice to hear that a plague had been shut within the gates of Pisa? Let the Pisan rot in my place! And, as I have already said, Love himself was a sort of disease, or at least dis-ease, a bringer of discomfort to my life.
As for the first days of our marriage, Nora and I were not so depraved, nor so sick-at-heart as to fail to finish our vows and we did so on our wedding night in Scalands. I, at least, was determined to learn a lesson from the experience of Thomas and Lucy Love. But I also admit that the sight of Nora's bright nudity the day before (in that precipitous perching position before Love) had burnt itself into my memory. I wanted to see it again. I would see it again on that night. Since she was mine. Nora, I can only say, agreed to it. Who gives a damn about Nora anyway?
Have you ever seen flesh so limpid that the bones show through as clearly as grinning faces on the other side of a windowpane? Nothing was enough. If I hadn't forced myself to fall asleep, seek consolation in dream, I would have ended by devouring her (really), or at least murdering her in her sleep. Nothing is ever enough.
I suppose it's superfluous to say that we had long ago passed the time when we could have made love eagerly, with intensity and innocence.