Sometimes what you read between the lines is just as important as the words you see on a page.
I was drawn to history from a young age, especially historical fiction like Little House on the Prairie and All-of-a-Kind Family. Straight history was a thrill to me as well — an endless and complicated saga of ambition, pride, and romance. Like so many avid readers, I approach history from a place of imagination. History presents us with an opportunity to travel through time, if only in our own mind.
This blurring of fact and imagination is what compels me to write historical fiction. Publishing was a dream come true, and now I see writing as a calling. Conservative histories shy away from speculation, which too often leaves the inner lives of women out of the story. Through fiction, however, authors can fill in the historical record with nuanced thoughts and emotions. Novelists can take what information we do have and fill in the blanks with our imagination. Historical novelists are guessing, but we’re making educated guesses. I think it brings us closer to the truth than leaving the voices of women silent.
Natalya Goncharova, the young wife of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, is the main character in my new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow. I believe her story deserves to be told.
Natalya was sixteen when she met Alexander and only twenty-four when he died on a cold winter’s day, after dueling to defend her honor. Gossips claimed this seemingly frivolous young woman had caused the death of Russia’s greatest poet through her excessive flirtations. There were rumors that she had an affair with another man and wanted the tsar himself to keep her as a mistress. Her behavior had driven her jealous husband to an untimely death. This narrative was a retelling of an unfortunate, age-old myth: beautiful women take great men down.
I never thought Natalya was as insubstantial as some history books would have us believe. Her looks and charm attracted male attention, including that of the all-powerful tsar, but this struck me as not her fault. I can’t imagine any woman at court would dare snub the tsar if he chose to flirt with her. Furthermore, I found it hard to believe a literary genius like Alexander Pushkin would marry a woman who lacked intellect. More recent evidence suggests Natalya had an active mind and made at least one attempt at her own poetry.
Natalya was a young woman who lived long ago and whose historical reputation suffered because she couldn’t tell her version of the events that led to her husband’s death. I have strived to recreate and imagine her relationships with her mother and sisters, the pressure to marry, her grand passion for Alexander, the tumultuous marriage that followed, and her journey toward making a new start after he died. Natalya’s life may have been shaped in many ways by her connection to a great poet, but that makes her no less deserving of her own story.