Written by Belinda Jack
Published by Other Press
Review by Martina S. Jones
Beatrice’s Spell is not an historical novel; in fact, it is not even a work of fiction, but I was fascinated by its premise. Beatrice’s Spell is a non-fiction book by Belinda Jack that wants to illuminate readers about the story of Beatrice Cenci, a 16 year-old girl who is executed under Papal decree in the year 1599 for the murder of her father. It is said that Beatrice’s father was brutal and cruel and raped his daughter, and it was a desire for revenge that brought beautiful young Beatrice to kill him. Beatrice, her mother, and her brother all suffered torture and execution in that brutally violent way that only the Romans could conjure, and thus began her leap into the imagination of history. Artists and authors through the centuries have been fascinated by Beatrice’s story, and Belinda Jack’s aim is to enlighten readers about how Beatrice Cenci has influenced some of the greatest minds in history.
Jack begins her story with Beatrice’s story—her execution, the trial, and the circumstances that brought her to want to kill her father. This part of the book is fascinating as we go in-depth into the world of Papal-driven Rome, a patriarchal world where man is lord and women property. I was not familiar with the story of Beatrice Cenci prior to reading this book, and I found myself amazed and deeply affected by her trials and tortures. As I was reading these first chapters I understood why Beatrice has influenced so many artists and thinkers. Who would not be touched by her story?
When Jack begins to examine those great minds that have been influenced by Beatrice the book loses power. Jack describes Beatrice’s effect on such eminent names as Shelley, Melville, Hawthorne, Harriet Hosmer, Antonin Artaud, even briefly Charles Dickens when he comments on the portrait of Beatrice he saw in Rome, and those moments are fascinating insight into how the story of a sad, abused girl has resonated through the centuries. But Jack spends too much time giving biographical information about the authors themselves and I found that distracting and unnecessary. I was not reading this book for biographical information about Shelley or Hawthorne—I was reading for information about Beatrice and her influence on art and literature.
For an introduction to the story of Beatrice Cenci and an introduction to the great minds she influenced, this book is a good starting place, though you will need to go elsewhere for more in-depth analysis. This book did pique my interest in the story of Beatrice Cenci, and perhaps that was all it set out to do.
Martina S. Jones is a Ph.D. candidate in literature at UCLA. She has had articles and stories published in journals seen internationally, and she is currently working on her first historical novel set during 19th century New England.