Reviews of Disobedient by Elizabeth Fremantle


A Novel

by Elizabeth Fremantle

Disobedient by Elizabeth Fremantle X
Disobedient by Elizabeth Fremantle
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  • Published:
    Aug 2023, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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Book Summary

A riveting novel based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi—the greatest female painter of the Renaissance—as she forges her own destiny in a world dominated by the will of men.

This is the ring that you gave me, and these are your promises.

A young woman is put on trial. She has accused her painting teacher of the darkest betrayal - he accuses her of being an immoral liar. What really happened, and why will this trial scandalise seventeenth-century Rome?

Rome 1611. A jewel-bright place of change, with sumptuous new palaces and lavish wealth on constant display. A city where women are seen but not heard.

Artemisia Gentileschi dreams of becoming a great artist. Motherless, she grows up among a family of painters - men and boys. She knows she is more talented than her brothers, but she cannot choose her own future. She belongs to her father and will belong to a husband.

As Artemisia patiently goes from lesson to lesson, perfecting her craft, a mysterious tutor enters her life. Tassi is a dashing figure, handsome and worldly, and for a moment he represents everything that a life of freedom might offer. But then the unthinkable happens. A violent act that threatens Artemisia's honour, and her virtue.

In the eyes of her family, Artemisia should accept her fate. In the eyes of the law, she is the villain.

But Artemisia is a survivor. And this is her story to tell.

1. Beatrice Cenci

Rome, September 1599...

The studio smells of minerals and linseed. It is silent, save for the rhythmic grinding of the pestle and mortar as an assistant mills pigments at a bench: gaudy splats of colour, glossy with oil.

Artemisia sits motionless. She is trussed up uncomfortably, like a joint of mutton, in a puce silk dress that belongs to another girl. A loose wire in her jewelled headband torments her.

She musters all her self­discipline to keep still, waiting for the moment her father turns away to discuss something with the assistant. Quick as a fly, she digs her nails into her scalp – an instant of blessed relief.

"Don't move," he blasts. She snatches her hand back into position. It must be true, his warning that he has eyes in the back of his head. She squints at the dark hair hanging to his shoulders, wondering how those invisible eyes can see through such a mane.

She has taken the place of a child whose portrait he is finishing. Artemisia ...

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The prose pays tribute to the subject's art in its own subtle yet effective way, painting vivid scenes with words much like Gentileschi would with her brush. Despite capturing a sense of time and place so well, and sticking closely to factual accounts of the events, Fremantle keeps her focus firmly on the personal, human aspect of Gentileschi's story, lending it a timeless, universally relatable quality. Consequently, Disobedient is just as likely to stir passionate art historians as it is those who have never heard the name Artemisia Gentileschi before...continued

Full Review (664 words)

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

The Times (London)
This is [Fremantle's] best work, her equivalent of Gentileschi's painting Judith Slaying Holofernes. Disobedient is vivid, unflinching and sometimes justly furious.

The Daily Mail (UK)
Dazzling. Fremantle breathes new life into history: Artemisia is a powerful protagonist, and Disobedient is taut, fast-paced and as painterly as its heroine's canvases.

In a novel as vivid and powerful as the paintings made by its main character, Fremantle tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, Renaissance artist and feminist icon. Imbued with historical detail and suffused with imagination, this is an exceptional work of biographical fiction.

Donna Edwards, The Associated Press
Elizabeth Fremantle deftly paints Artemisia [Gentileschi]'s painful but inspiring story in her latest biographical fiction, Disobedient. The attention to detail –– so necessary in a narrative filled with painters –– is absolutely engrossing. Disobedient was everything I'd hoped for and so much more. Fremantle has immense talent and tells the story of an amazing and inspiring woman with wit and certainty.

Foreword Reviews
Based on real-life events, Disobedient is narrated from Artemisia's perspective. One of the few women of her time to be given an opportunity to work as a painter, Artemisia is still considered one of the most important artists of the Baroque era. Disobedient honors the artist's perseverance and fight for artistic freedom.

Fremantle fleshes out the painter's artistic calling, friendships, inner world, and navigation of life after a sexual assault with sensitivity and expressive, engulfing prose.

Author Blurb Alison Weir
I could not put this book down. Every woman – and man – should read it. Shocking, gripping, Fremantle has crafted a tale that vividly evokes Baroque Italy by portraying a strong, assertive women. Splendid!

Author Blurb Costanza Casati, author of Clytemnestra
An unputdownable, empowering story of revenge, ambition, and how women overcome adversity. Reading this book feels like being immersed in Artemisia's art: her passionate need for revenge, and the exploration (and condemnation) of male voyeurism. With a fierce heroine at its heart, Disobedient places Artemisia as one of the greatest painters in history.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Buchanan, author of Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman and The Museum of Broken Promises
A great female artist struggling for her voice and for justice is brought to powerful life. Brilliantly researched, rich in detail, grippingly written, Disobedient is the novel Elizabeth Fremantle was born to write.

Author Blurb Eve Chase, author of The Birdcage
An unforgettable book––visceral and lush and fierce. The last few pages left me gasping. An absolute triumph.

Author Blurb Jennifer Saint, bestselling author of Ariadne
Artemisia's life was extraordinary, and so is this book. I was swept away by lush, evocative prose. An unforgettable, moving and important story told with great skill and care.

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Beyond the Book

Gentileschi's Masterpiece: Judith Slaying Holofernes

Judith Beheading HolofernesJudith Slaying Holofernes — also referred to as Judith Beheading Holofernes — is widely considered the masterpiece of Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c.1656), the protagonist of Elizabeth Fremantle's novel Disobedient. It depicts the Biblical tale of the widowed Israelite Judith, with the help of her maidservant Abra, killing the Assyrian general to free her people from his siege on the city of Bethulia.

The tale of Judith was popular among artists at the time, but Gentileschi's depiction is noted for being perhaps the most graphic and realistic ever put to canvas, with a marked emphasis on the physical strength and mental determination of her heroine, as well as the resulting bloodshed.

Judith Beheading Holofernes second versionThere are, in ...

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