My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The story of Artemisia Gentileschi happened a long time ago. Sadly, it could have happened today, and it probably did.
Artemisia lives in her father’s house, and she paints. She paints for her father, who’s a talentless hack, and his name is signed to her work. Then, he hires a tutor for her. Artemisia is initially charmed by her teacher, then repulsed as it becomes clear he sees her mainly as a piece of meat. Of course he rapes her–how dare a woman refuse the advances of a man?
I spent a lot of this story wondering if it really NEEDED to be in verse. Then, I hit the aftermath of the rape, and–much like the poetic structure itself–I started to unravel. McCullough is using verse as a visual, and sometimes conventional structure cannot contain the emotions that MUST be put to the page. I think that’s the case here.
I also, for a while, wondered if Artemisia wasn’t a little too anachronistic–if she wasn’t a little too bold for a woman of her time, a little unbelievable. Things were different back then, after all, or so I keep being told. These things (rape?) were more accepted back then. Women were property. That’s just the way it was.
And then I started to wonder if the much more horrifying truth is that things were not different at all.
Overall, this is a beautifully put together story. It’s also true, which makes me feel sad yet fierce, because if Artemisa can survive, then so can we.
(Note: this is particularly triggering content, so please take care of yourself if that’s a concern).