The stripes of the tigress cross Lucrezia’s face like the bars of her cage shadow the tigress’ fur. Both the girl and the tigress are, in fact, caught and imprisoned in a cage made by others. The tigress meets her death when someone accidentally leaves the door between her cage, and the lions’, open. And I read on, hungrily, to see how Lucrezia will die. For from the very beginning of the novel it is known that her husband intends to kill her.
Lucrezia de Medici has become engaged to Alfonso Ferrara, a man to whom her sister was to be married before she died. When Lucrezia first meets him, he scrunches his face into the face of a mouse, and I think he is charming. This opinion holds with his engagement presents: a painting of a stone martin, as Lucrezia loves both painting and forest creatures, and a ruby encrusted belt.
But as the chapters alternate between a charming country home and a fortress to which he has taken her, I see that his words of adoration bear little meaning. For he is a man who will not be questioned. His authority is complete, and his wishes are fulfilled with the help of his loyal consigliere.
Not all of his wishes can be granted, though, for he has never fathered a child. This is quite significant to the heir he must produce if his line is to continue; it is threatened by his sister’s marriage. And, if there is anything Alfonso, Duke of Ferrera, cannot bear it is being threatened.
Maggie O’Farrell’s writing is as exquisite as it is in Hamnet. The scene becomes alive under her gentle touch, the emotions are felt as clearly in my own heart as they must be in the characters’. I read The Marriage Portrait with a thudding heart, alternated with wonder, and I think it is a marvel.