Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Castrato, Musico, Singer - Books about eunuchs

Today I am talking about three books about eunuchs, all set in the past, one in the half mythical past, complete with wizards.

The first is one of the most beautiful looking books in my collection, beautifully written by Anne Rice. Ms. Rice became famous for her vampire books, but to me, the haunting beauty of 'Cry to Heaven' is her best and should be more recognised.

Editorial review:
In this mesmerizing novel, the acclaimed author of THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES and the LIVES OF THE MAYFAIR WITCHES makes real for us the exquisite and otherworldly society of the eighteenth-century castrati, the delicate and alluring male sopranos whose graceful bodies and glorious voices brought them the adulation of the royal courts and grand opera houses of Europe, men who lived as idols, concealing their pain as they were adored as angels, yet shunned as half-men.
As we are drawn into their dark and luminous story, as the crowds of Venetians, Neopolitans, and Romans, noblemen and peasants, musicians, prelates, princes, saints, and intriguers swirl around them, Anne Rice brings us into the sweep of eighteenth-century Italian life, into the decadence beneath the shimmering surface of Venice, the wild frivolity of Naples, and the magnetic terror of its shadow, Vesuvius. It is a novel that only Anne Rice could have written, taking us into a heartbreaking and enchanting moment in history, a time of great ambition and great suffering--a tale that challenges our deepest images of the masculine and the feminine.
The hero of this story is Tonio, who is castrated at the age of fifteen in order to remove him from the line of succession to a powerful family. He became a Castrato, worshipped for his voice. It is set in Italy, at a time when Castrati were not uncommon.

The Bells: A Novel

In this book, Moses is not referred to as a Castrato, but a 'Musico.' They were known, but where he lived,  it was seen as something abhorrent.  Moses knew a great deal of shame. He was ten when it was done, in secret, and of course, without his consent.  He kept it hidden from the one who did his best to look after him.

Editorial Review (an excerpt)
The celebrated opera singer Lo Svizzero was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps where his mother served as the keeper of the loudest and most beautiful bells in the land. Shaped by the bells’ glorious music, as a boy he possessed an extraordinary gift for sound. But when his preternatural hearing was discovered—along with its power to expose the sins of the church—young Moses Froben was cast out of his village with only his ears to guide him in a world fraught with danger.

Rescued from certain death by two traveling monks, he finds refuge at the vast and powerful Abbey of St. Gall. There, his ears lead him through the ancient stone hallways and past the monks’ cells into the choir, where he aches to join the singers in their strange and enchanting song. Suddenly Moses knows his true gift, his purpose. Like his mother’s bells, he rings with sound and soon, he becomes the protégé of the Abbey’s brilliant yet repulsive choirmaster, Ulrich.

But it is this gift that will cause Moses’ greatest misfortune: determined to preserve his brilliant pupil’s voice, Ulrich has Moses castrated. Now a young man, he will forever sing with the exquisite voice of an angel—a musico—yet castration is an abomination in the Swiss Confederation, and so he must hide his shameful condition from his friends and even from the girl he has come to love. When his saviors are exiled and his beloved leaves St. Gall for an arranged marriage in Vienna, he decides he can deny the truth no longer and he follows her—to sumptuous Vienna, to the former monks who saved his life, to an apprenticeship at one of Europe’s greatest theaters, and to the premiere of one of history’s most beloved operas. 

And then there is Kattan (or Rhys.)  This book is set in a Middle-Ages type civilisation, though it has elements of fantasy. Wizards play a part, though I think the plot could have worked just as well without magic. Katt was known as a Singer, not a Musico and not a Castrato. This prince  was castrated at the age of four in order to remove him from the line of succession to a kingdom. The rest of his immediate family were killed. After spending a few years in a religious house, he became a wanderer, at first with a protector, and then alone, being given or traded away as a valued commodity, to other kings and noble families. 

The Singer's Crown
Editorial Review:
Prince Kattanan duRhys was in direct line to the throne—until his royal family was cruelly slaughtered by a usurping uncle who spared the life of his "favorite nephew" but left the boy mutilated and incapable of claiming his birthright.Nearly a decade on, Kattanan is a harmless wanderer—a coveted prize—serving many different masters. But now the singer's simple life is threatened by chaos and dark wizardry, by his impossible secret love for the betrothed Princess Melisande . . . and by an obligation of the blood that forces Kattanan to pursue vengeance and a crown he's not certain he wants.

Characteristics of these three eunuchs.

1. Tonio grows up to have an active sex life, and both Moses and Kattanan fall in love and wind up marrying. While not spelled out, they are shown to be satisfactory lovers.

2. Tonio and Moses grew tall as Castrati were supposed to be tall.  It is not stated that Kattanan grew especially tall. The reason for great height in castrati is supposed to be that the epiphyses, or growth plates, do not seal over as quickly when a male is castrated, resulting in much longer limbs and a greater height.     

3. Tonio and Moses had swelling chests with a great lung capacity. Castrati were supposed to be like this, but as a result of extensive breathing and singing excercises, not directly as a result of their status as eunuchs.

4. Courage. Tonio and Moses were shown to be as brave as any man, but the author depicted Kattanan as someone delicate, who spent his youth always afraid. I was irritated with this 'hero' as he was always crying and shivering and even fainting.

5. Beauty. Tonio, Moses and Kattanan were all shown as having a great deal of beauty. Moses was told he was to made 'an angel.'

Compare to Shuki, hero of my novels, 'Not a Man' and 'The King's Favourite.'

1. Shuki has no sex. He has no need or desire for sex. He is the same as a neutered cat, dog, sheep or horse, who hardly ever show any desire for sex unless castrated after sexual maturity.

2. Castrati were always depicted as very tall, and maybe they were. But the pictures of eunuchs of China do not show tall men, and when animals aside from humans are castrated, it makes little difference to their height. (I once saw a reference that a gelding might grown an extra inch or two over his uncastrated brother.) I don't know how much this idea of very tall eunuchs is founded in fact.
I have made Shuki just 5' 7" and slightly built. It suits the stories.

3. I did not endow Shuki with a swelling chest, although in his twenties, he did develop small breasts, as many eunuchs do, even when they are castrated late in life, for example, because of prostate cancer.

4. Courage. There is a certain writer who is always referring to his brave characters as 'having two big brass ones.'  In my opinion, it is juvenile to think that 'balls' or Testosterone has much to do with courage, though it does have quite a lot to do with aggression and quick temper.

With Shuki, he is even-tempered, though he can certainly become angry, just the same as any of us can become angry. And Shuki has a great deal of courage.

5. Beauty. If a man grows up, but his face does not firm up into masculinity, he will appear more delicate. An if he does not grow whiskers, then his face will stay more smooth, like a woman's.  There is no reason, however, why he should appear especially beautiful rather than merely effeminate.

Shuki is very beautiful. That is not because he was castrated, rather that he was castrated because he was a beautiful child. His master wanted him to 'stay beautiful.'

'Not a Man'  the first story in the Shuki Series.

‘Not a Man’ is set in an unnamed country of Arabia. Shuki is aged ten, and a ‘bed-boy.’ His master wants his beautiful boy to stay beautiful, so arranges for him to have ‘a small operation.’ This traumatic event changes forever the life of a clever, determined boy.

Shuki learns to manipulate his master. He learns to read and write, he gets his master into the habit of giving him large sums of money, and he makes friends with the master’s sons.

Shuki becomes more beautiful with every passing year. His master becomes more possessive, more jealous, and Shuki is guarded. When his master takes him to England, he escapes and starts a new life with the money he’s saved. He is fifteen.

Lorraine Cobcroft, Rainbow Writer:
2012-07-04 - "Not a Man'' reviewed
Looking for a startling different novel that will transport you into a foreign world and enlighten you about cultures and beliefs most likely vastly different from your own?  M.A.McRae is an amazing talent - an Australian author whose writing will definitely make an impression.  The theme is confronting - even shocking - but the story is told with tact and empathy. Shuki, the boy from the slums who is castrated to serve as a bed-boy will win your heart. You will struggle to hate his master for the awful sin he committed, because you will understand the culture that shaped his beliefs and lifestyle and you will see that he is kind and caring, and he genuinely loves his boy. Journey with Shuki to London and Oxford. Cry for him when he suffers brutal torment. Celebrate his cunning, his intelligence, his courage and his many victories, and admire the way he helps drive reform to improve the lives of others. This an inspiring story by a master of the storytelling craft. Unforgettable!

'Not a Man' and 'The King's Favourite' are available as paperbacks and as ebooks.
Look for them on Smashwords and on Amazon.

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