The letters of Margherita Datini to her husband, "the merchant of Prato," are virtually impossible to put down. Margherita is never obsequious, and never holds her tongue as she chastises Francesco for staying up too late, asks about a case before the Eight of Florence, beseeches him to help friends in prison, worries over financial transactions, and updates him on his business, the harvests, and his illegitimate child (whom she cares for) when he is away. Rich in emotional life and historical particulars, the letters are a unique window into late medieval Tuscany and women’s "work." Thanks to Carolyn James and Antonio Pagliaro for their illuminating introduction and equally luminous translation.
Professor of Italian Studies and vice provost for academic affairs, New York University
The letters of Margherita Datini to her husband, Francesco di Marco Datini (the subject of Iris Origo’s popular biography, The Merchant of Prato), are here translated into English for the first time as a complete collection. They provide a fascinating portrait of urban life in late-medieval Tuscany and give us entrée to the couple’s loving but volatile relationship. One of the earliest examples of epistolary writing by a lay woman in a European vernacular, the letters reveal Margherita’s robust personality and the dilemmas she faced in reconciling conventional notions of female decorum with an energetic involvement in almost every aspect of her husband’s affairs. Her letters, mostly dictated to a male scribe, show how a determined and intelligent woman could communicate effectively in writing, despite limited literacy.
CAROLYN JAMES is Cassamarca Senior Lecturer in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University. She completed her doctorate in 2000 at the University of Melbourne. She has published two books on the fifteenth-century Bolognese writer Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti, and is presently engaged in an Australian Research Council funded study of women’s letter writing practices in the late-medieval and Renaissance periods. She is also writing a monograph on the marriage of Isabella d’Este and the Marquis of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga, based on their correspondence between 1490 and 1519.
ANTONIO PAGLIARO graduated from Melbourne University with majors in Italian and Classical Greek and subsequently completed post-graduate studies at the University of Melbourne and Sapienza - Universita di Roma. He is currently honorary research associate at La Trobe University where he was appointed lecturer-in-charge of the Italian Division in 1975. He has taught and published in various areas, including medieval and nineteenth-century Italy. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Spunti e ricerche.
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