Both sisters read and review the same book, a fairy tale retelling.
The Historical Context of Gregory Maguire's Snow White Tale
Throughout Mirror, Mirror, Gregory Maguire makes use of the historical setting of Italy in 1502-1519. He references actual places, events, and people, interspersing facts with fantasy as he chooses which elements of history to use and tweak towards his own ends in forming the world and story of Mirror, Mirror. An understanding of the historical context he draws from, while not strictly necessary for reading the book, absolutely adds to a better understanding and appreciation of it.
With as few spoilers as possible, here are some of the key places and figures Maguire uses. Do note that, as Maguire explicitly acknowledges in a note at the end of the book, he has “taken certain liberties with the life stories of historical figures.” An interesting, albeit very involved, way to approach Mirror, Mirror is to take note of what details Maguire alters or embellishes in his depictions of these historical figures and places, and consider why it is that he has elected to make the changes that he does for this book.
The majority of the book takes place in an area of Italy called Montefiore. Maguire’s Snow White, embodied in the character of Bianca de Nevada, is fully fictional. ‘Bianca’ is Italian for ‘white’ and ‘nevada’ is Spanish for ‘snow-covered’ or ‘snowfall,’ so her name as a whole indicates a blended Italian-Spanish equivalent of ‘white as fallen snow.’ Bianca’s father is Don Vicente de Nevada, the established leader (don) of Montefiore.
Montefiore, a name which means ‘flower mountain,’ is an actual place—both historically and currently. Montefiore dell’Aso is a comune in Province Ascoli Piceno, and there is a castle called Montefiore Conca which is very likely the villa estate referred to as the residence for Mirror, Mirror’s Snow White.
From the arable river lands to the south, the approach to Montefiore appears a sequence of relaxed hills. In the late spring, when the puckers of red poppy blossom are scattered against the green of the season, it can look like so much washing, like mounds of Persian silk and Florentine brocade lightly tossed in heaps. Each successive rise takes on a new color, indefinably more fervent, an aspect of distance and time stained by the shadows of clouds, or bleached when the sun takes a certain position.
Basilica of San Francesco, Arezzo
The House of Borgia
The primary historical figures Maguire references are Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, whom he includes in the story as characters.
Cesare Borgia, the Duc de Valentinois, lived from 1475-1507. He was an illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, and has been described as bloodthirsty and power-hungry. He is well-documented to have been the major inspiration for Machiavelli’s The Prince. He was an Italian politician and mercenary leader who fought for power both on and off the battlefield.
Lucrezia Borgia was Cesare’s younger sister. She lived from 1480-1519. Lucrezia was described to be one of the most beautiful women of her time. She was first married at the age of 13, and went on to marry two more times. She reigned as Governor of Spoleto in her own right, although that position was usually filled by a cardinal. Lucrezia was also a prominent patron of the arts.
Cesare and Lucrezia had a brother (a third child of Pope Alexander VI), but Maguire omitted him from his depiction of these figures in Mirror, Mirror.
Sisters and writers both. Love fairy tales.
Last quarter book club pick:
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder