Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nancy Storace: A survivor of domestic violence

Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, I thought it appropriate to share a section from So Faithful a Heart which deals with the violence that Nancy suffered at the hands of her husband, John Fisher (a marriage that was arranged by her mother to supposedly further her career). Nancy was only 18 years old at the time. Nancy survived the ordeal, and eventually Fisher was banned from Vienna by Nancy's employer, Joseph II, the Emperor of Austria.

John Fisher was a tall, slender, handsome man with cool, slate blue eyes, a head full of dark, thick hair with slight graying at the temples, and an austere, almost noble bearing. He was forty-one years old when he came to Vienna, nearly three times Nancy’s age. An old friend of the Storaces from their theater days at Vauxhall, Fisher had served as the principal violinist when Stefano was the director of the orchestra there. When he came to Vienna on sabbatical from Oxford, he immediately found Nancy and her mother with the intent to re-establish ties with his old friends. Nancy’s fame, especially her good standing with the Emperor, could prove lucrative for him.

Nancy didn’t remember him, for she was far too young at the time that he and her parents were friends, but she’d heard her mother speak of him on several occasions, and always very fondly. She had mentioned that he had a tendency toward self-importance and pontification, believing everyone was entitled to his expert opinion whether or not they asked for it, but most generally people shrugged it off. What she didn’t know was that after he was widowed only shortly before he came to Vienna, he had taken to strong drink as well as to whoring and had earned a reputation in Oxford as a drunkard and a man of violent outbursts. What no one knew was that this sabbatical was forced by the university heads. Perhaps some time away would cool his temper and save his tenure.

It was a cruel stroke of fate that Nancy’s first passionate encounter, the one that would usher her into womanhood and leave her feeling beautiful, respected, and loved, would be followed by the most brutal and humiliating experiences of her life. The man whom Nancy promised wasn’t as bad as the gossipmongers claimed turned out to be her worst nightmare.

The abuse began immediately. In fact, Fisher turned into a different person the instant they took their vows. As soon as they arrived home he began barking out orders to the maids to have his things moved into Nancy’s bedroom.
“Schnell!” he shouted as the young maids went running, hauling his heavy belongings through the apartment. “Things are going to change around here! No more of your indolence, or your backtalk, you German swine!”

When one of the maids dared to raise an objection, he replied with a box on the ears, and it wasn’t unusual for him to pick up a nearby chair, a vase, or anything within his reach and hurl it at the offending girl. Elizabeth took to hiding in her room, never daring to raise an objection however much she regretted the match she had orchestrated. Of course he never laid a finger on her, but Nancy and her poor maids didn’t fare as well.

The first beating took place only two days after their wedding, when Nancy and Michael came back to the apartment after going to the Milano with other members of the company following a performance. They were laughing over his inebriated state and Michael, in a fit of drunken gaiety, buried his face in Nancy’s bosom. Nancy pushed him off of her, taking his arm and walking with him up to his own apartment, where she helped him get settled in for the night so he could sleep it off. When she returned to her own apartment, Fisher met her at the door with a leather strap in his hand and hit her with it, calling her a whore.

By the middle of April word of the beatings had gotten out to the Viennese gossipmongers, for Nancy had been taken out of several performances due to her injuries. They knew it was only a matter of time before Rosenberg grew impatient with Nancy’s frequent absences. She did the best she could to keep up with the grueling rehearsal and performance schedules, which were especially busy that spring and summer. She wasn’t going to allow herself to be replaced if she could help it. If nothing else, Nancy was determined.

Fortunately there were some weeks spent at Laxenburg, the Emperor’s summer palace and hunting grounds, where Fisher, being a spouse, wasn’t invited. Nancy enjoyed a little respite then and was grateful for the time away from both work and her husband. Upon her return to Vienna, however, she found the situation at home was as bad, or worse, than before.

She hadn’t seen Mozart the entire spring or summer, for after the night when she returned late with Michael, she was afraid to go out to the casino or to the Milano. It didn’t matter how early or late she returned, though, because Fisher always found a reason to be angry with her, so she was subject to his foul moods on a daily basis.

When he dragged her into their bed and forced her to submit to her conjugal duties—and unspeakably vile debaucheries—she closed her eyes and escaped to a place where she was loved and adored, and treated with respect and tenderness. She imagined being with Mozart in a lush, expansive garden with trees and a softly flowing river, lying in the grass. There, he made tender love to her on the daisy-strewn lawn, the birds and the breeze their only music, and the sky their only witness.

There were also times when she felt a sense of overwhelming guilt over her thoughts of him. What if she really was like other actresses and nothing but a common whore? Sometimes she believed that Fisher’s treatment of her was penance for her sin of loving a married man. Fisher always called her a whore; what if he was correct? And although she was neither a Catholic nor religious, she sometimes walked to St. Michael’s to sit in one of the back pews where no one would see her, and pray to God to forgive her for loving a man who belonged to someone else.


  1. Hello there, again!
    It really pisses me off knowing that a woman is beaten up by man. Not point of comparison at all. Men are stronger by nature and their physical strenght is bigger than women´s.
    In my country we have a saying about this matter, "La mujer no se toca ni con el p├ętalo de una rosa" (No woman is meant to be touched not even with a rose petal)

  2. Hello, Jorge!

    So good to see you here again. :)

    I must confess that these passages in my book were some of the most difficult to write. Later on in this same chapter I go on to describe the worst beating that Nancy received from Fisher, and how it nearly killed her and led the Emperor to banish John Fisher from Vienna. It's a harrowing scene and when I had finished writing it, I sat at my computer and wept.

  3. Unfortunately domestic violence against women keeps on happenning in all the corners of the world, too sad!