Sarah Dunant talks about Renaissance convents

Tue Aug 4, 2009 10:12am EDT
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By Natasha Elkington

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - What was it like for girls in 16th century Italy to be imprisoned in a convent for the rest of their lives? Writer Sarah Dunant uncovers the lives led by almost half the daughters of noblemen at the time in her novel.

With inflation soaring, aristocratic families could not afford dowries for more than one daughter and so sent any others to the Catholic Church to marry the "ultimate son-in-law" -- Jesus Christ.

"Sacred Hearts", the last historically accurate novel in Dunant's Renaissance trilogy, is told through the eyes of a defiant young woman who ends up in a convent because her family disapproves of her illicit love affair.

Dunant's previous books, "The Birth of Venus" and "In the Company of the Courtesan", received major acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic and became international bestsellers.

The British author, who is touring North America, spoke about her latest novel:

Q: Why are you fascinated with the Renaissance period?

A: I have been writing novels set in the Italian Renaissance for about the last seven to eight years and they have been asking a very simple question, which is what on earth would it have been like to be a woman during the Renaissance because the role call of the famous are all men.

Q: In your understanding, what was the reasoning for families giving their daughters to the Church?   Continued...

<p>Author Sarah Dunant poses for the photographer at Charter House in London in this undated handout photograph made available August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Charlie Hopkinson/Little, Brown Book Group/Handout</p>