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Mozart’s Wife
ISBN 0-7414-0661-6

By Juliet Waldron
Review by: Michelle Humphrey

06/06/05

Don’t let the anachronistic cover fool you (a gray photograph of what looks like your college roommate sleeping) – Mozart’s Wife is the well-researched fictional account of Konstanze Weber Mozart. An eighteenth-century woman who is all too aware of her cultural restraints, Konstanze learns to play the games that will insure her survival, whether she is shrewdly one-upping a pawnbroker to pay the bills Mozart blithely accumulates, or strategizing, after her husband’s death, in the guise of an inconsolable widow.

Waldron’s prose feels safe and rarely reaches poetic heights, but her version of Mozart’s Austria is tantalizing – everywhere, the plot winds into runaway marriages, adulterous affairs and unholy alliances between virgin opera-singers and much-older noblemen. Just as the French Revolution is hinted at in the chapters, so are Waldron’s jabs at this world order. Repeatedly, she contrasts the intellectual domain of men to the hidden female sphere of the body, where women daily preside over dangerous pregnancies and infant death. Waldron’s approach reveals the desperate truth of the latter realm, but at times she writes with humorous effect, as when Signor DaPonte notes: “a man should be in another city while his woman gives birth…a lady friend of his once gave birth while they were in a gondola running away from her husband and…he’s never entirely recovered from it.”

While Konstanze speaks of sensuality in broad strokes, brays more than she murmurs and doesn’t show her introspective side, she and her circle are still the most complicated characters. Her mother is the dramatic brawn who gathers enough money from social loopholes so her fatherless family can survive; she is also the discreet heart keeping watch over the birthing scenes. Aloysia, seductive as the goddesses on the opera house ceiling, revels in her sexuality and approves of Konstanze’s svelte-and-wealthy choice for adultery. Yet, unlike Mozart, she is not so glib and dismissive that she feels unreal. Her ambition as a singer is more resonant than Mozart’s ambition to compose – she is also a source of enlightenment for Konstanze, teaching her contraceptive tricks for her widowhood years.

Most of the men, on the other hand, are flippant to the point of caricature. Cristoph von Hagen, the arrogant womanizer forever chasing after Konstanze, is so one-dimensional that readers will hear the theme of silent-film villains whenever he appears on the page. Nonetheless, Waldron tells this story with enough momentum to make a satisfying read, and proves that historical romance is her niche.

 

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