Sunday, August 14, 2011

When Love Won't Die: The Continuing Story, Afterword & Acknowledgments

The greatest challenge a writer faces when creating an historical fiction piece based on the lives of real people is the balancing of the actual historical facts with good story-telling. Often the cold, hard facts fail to meet the criteria that make for a good story with the rises, peaks, and falls in the proper places. That was not the case with the life of Anna “Nancy” Storace, for her life was so packed with famous people and events that I had to choose which notable historical events and figures to highlight and which ones to give slight mention to or no mention at all. To say Nancy Storace led an interesting and exciting life is a vast understatement, and it has been both an honor and a sheer pleasure to devote the better part of thirteen years in getting to know this amazing, fascinating and courageous woman. I have to admit that now that I’m finished with the telling of her story, I’m really going to miss her. 

After becoming familiar with this incredible character through both academic and personal research, it is baffling to me that only one biography has been written about her. It’s by a British lay music enthusiast and researcher, Mr. Geoffrey Brace, and it is here I will thank Mr. Brace for his exhaustive research and for compiling and organizing the facts and events of her life into one, concise work. Brace’s book, Anna…Suanna: Anna Storace, Mozart’s first Suanna: her life, times and family (Published by Thames Publishing 1991), has been invaluable to me and has served to provide the factual “skeleton” upon which I have structured both So Faithful A Heart novels.

My greatest disappointment in Brace’s work, however, is in some of the incorrect data and the deliberate omission of the event towards the end of Nancy’s life which appeared to be a major catalyst in the progression towards her final illness and death. In an apparent effort to press his own admitted agenda of separating Storace from the belief held by some of the most noted Mozart historians (most notably Alfred Einstein), that there at least existed an emotional affair between Mozart and Nancy (Brace himself even admits that both of Mozart’s first biographers, Joseph Lange and Georg Nissen claimed that Mozart was in love with Nancy), Brace failed to make even casual mention of the maid’s testimony at Storace’s death inquest regarding the visit from the two “German” men and their demands that Nancy hand over the “letters from Vienna”.

I also found other facts that were skewed to apparently manipulate the reader to his view, as well as some other statements that were simply based in poor research, the two most glaring regarding Nancy’s close friendship with Lady Emma Hamilton. The first is where he stated that Nancy most likely attended Admiral Horatio Nelson’s funeral and sat with Emma. It is a well-established fact that Lady Hamilton was forbidden to attend the funeral of Lord Nelson, so it is more likely that Nancy either didn’t attend at all or, if she did, sat near her common-law husband, John Braham, who sang at the funeral. The other was at the end of the book where he states that Emma Hamilton attended Nancy’s funeral on 2 September, 1817 which would have been impossible as Hamilton died in exile in Calais, France on 15 January, 1815. These two glaring errors, along with Brace’s apparent need to skew and omit important details and facts made it difficult to trust anything in the book that wasn’t backed-up with hard documentation.

Brace was also very free about casting value judgments on the relationships between Nancy and various important people in her life such as her brother, Stephen, her son, Spencer, and her common-law husband of twenty years, John Braham, labeling them as bordering on an “unhealthy closeness” and using terms such as “pathetic devotion” in regards to her commitment to Braham. I’d personally like to know how Brace found himself so in the midst of these relationships that he could make such judgment calls, and how, after he had gleaned so many facts about Nancy Storace that screamed otherwise, he could ever say that this woman was “pathetic” about anything. The truth is that there wasn’t a pathetic bone in the woman’s body; Brace’s own research proves it. He had the facts (well most of them anyway), but his insights into the facts were pitifully lacking.

History has long taken a hard, and I will add unfair view of strong, independent, successful women like Anna Storace. One of the most unfair views that seem to run common among historians familiar with Storace’s life and career is the idea that she was involved in a “string” of unsuccessful love affairs. In Nancy’s nearly fifty-two years she was only involved in three, what can be documented and proven, “love affairs”, (aside from her disastrous marriage to John Fisher, which I don’t in any way count as a love affair). The three were with Francesco Benucci, who was Mozart’s original Figaro, the Spanish composer Martin y Soler, and the English tenor, John Braham (I don’t include Mozart because no affair between them has been documented other than through hearsay and circumstantial evidence, although I believe there is plenty of both to establish the probability of an affair and that it was one of the two most significant in her life). How anyone could judge these affairs as unsuccessful is beyond me. Were they unsuccessful simply because they ended?  I’d like to know what the criteria were in making this judgment.

The obviously most significant documented love affair was with John Braham. It lasted twenty years, produced a child (who grew up to be an educated and respected member of British society), brought in a tremendous amount of material wealth to both parties, and in Braham, produced one of the greatest singers Great Britain has ever known. If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is! The relationship ended badly, but its tragic ending in no way diminishes its duration and accomplishments. Again, how does one define success in a love relationship—simply by one that ends only in “till death do us part”? I’ve known many a marriage that lasted fifty years or more that didn’t produce half the amount of success created in the twenty years that Nancy Storace spent with John Braham.

I’d also like to fill my readers in on some of the factual details concerning the fates of both Braham and the couple’s son, Spencer. According to Brace, after Braham’s marriage to seventeen-year-old Frances Bolton, he went on to have six children and to die in 1856 a “pillar of Victorian society.” He was regarded as the finest tenor England had ever known, and also according to Brace, continued with his rather disingenuous and cynical attitude towards his profession as a musician by playing up to whatever audience for which he happened to be singing at any given time. Lack of integrity continued to follow him through the rest of his life and in all aspects of his life, including his relationship with his son, Spencer.

William Spencer Harris Braham was fifteen years old (not fourteen, as Brace miscalculates in his book), at the time of his mother’s death. Spencer was never reconciled with her death; going on to blame his father for the decline in Nancy’s health that led to her demise—something for which his father never forgave him. Apparently Nancy never did find the copy of the Last Will & Testament she searched for, and perhaps destroyed it by accident, along with the “letters from Vienna” on the day to which her maid, Miss Walthen (“Emma” is a name I gave her after my inability to find her actual first name), testified at Nancy’s death inquest. Because Nancy’s will was never changed, the bulk of her massive estate was not passed on to Spencer as she intended, and the ₤2000 designated to Braham in the older will, did go to him. However, Braham in this case did do the right thing and gave it back to his son in the amount of ₤150 annually. Spencer struggled in school for several years after his mother’s death, but eventually did go on to obtain both a B.A. and M.A. from Oxford. With the help of his father, he obtained a post in the clergy and married in 1851, changing his surname to Meadows (the name of his wife’s family), to rid himself of any connection to his father. It was quite obvious that the animosity between them lingered on until Braham’s death. Spencer, too, had six children and when he died in 1883, he held the post of rural dean of Chigwell, Essex

Finally, I would like to express my thanks to the people who have worked with me, inspired and encouraged me, and lent their help and expertise:

First, I would like to thank my daughter, Lauren Weaver, for lending her knowledge of the French language as well as helpful information and an excellent timeline outlining the periods of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.

Special thanks go to Dr. D. Allen Scott for writing the Foreword to this book. There are certain people who come into your life and you know from the moment you meet them that they’re there for a special reason. Allen is one of those people to me. I can honestly say that without Dr. Scott’s encouragement and inspiration, neither of my So Faithful A Heart novels would have been written.

As always, I appreciate the unending love, support, expert advice, listening ear, patience, and professional assistance of my life partner, S.K. Waller. There is no greater joy than sharing one’s life and work with one’s best friend.

Last but not least, my heartfelt thanks go to the lovely, talented, warm, spirited and courageous woman whose life and career inspired these novels, Anna “Nancy” Storace. I only hope I did your story justice, Signora. Thank you for a life well-lived and for choosing me to be your messenger. Brava, Prima Buffa!

K. Lynette Erwin
Summer, 2011

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