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Tulip Fever

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Overview

A tale of art, beauty, lust, greed, deception and retribution — set in a refined society ablaze with tulip fever.

In 1630s Amsterdam, tulipomania has seized the populace. Everywhere men are seduced by the fantastic exotic flower. But for wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort, it is his young and beautiful wife, Sophia, who stirs his soul. She is the prize he desires, the woman he hopes will bring him the joy that not even his considerable fortune...

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Tulip Fever

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Overview

A tale of art, beauty, lust, greed, deception and retribution — set in a refined society ablaze with tulip fever.

In 1630s Amsterdam, tulipomania has seized the populace. Everywhere men are seduced by the fantastic exotic flower. But for wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort, it is his young and beautiful wife, Sophia, who stirs his soul. She is the prize he desires, the woman he hopes will bring him the joy that not even his considerable fortune can buy.

Cornelis yearns for an heir, but so far he and Sophia have failed to produce one. In a bid for immortality, he commissions a portrait of them both by the talented young painter Jan van Loos. But as Van Loos begins to capture Sophia's likeness on canvas, a slow passion begins to burn between the beautiful young wife and the talented artist.

As the portrait unfolds, so a slow dance is begun among the household's inhabitants. Ambitions, desires, and dreams breed a grand deception — and as the lies multiply, events move toward a thrilling and tragic climax.

In this richly imagined international bestseller, Deborah Moggach has created the rarest of novels — a lush, lyrical work of fiction that is also compulsively readable. Seldom has a novel so vividly evoked a time, a place, and a passion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Sumptuous prose ... reads like a thriller."
The New York Times Book Review

"An artful novel in every sense of the word ... deftly evokes 17th-century Amsterdam's vibrant atmosphere."
Los Angeles Times

"Need a brief escape into a beautiful and faraway world? Deborah Moggach's wonderful Tulip Fever can offer you that."
New York Post

"Taut with suspense and unexpected revelations."
Entertainment Weekly

"Elegantly absorbing."
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although Moggach, a well-known TV writer and prolific novelist in her native Britain, has published here before, this book, a bestseller at home last year, is the one that is likely to be her breakout on this side of the water. It is yet another story set in 17th-century Holland involving a real-life artist, Jan van Loos. But whereas such books as Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring concentrate on an artist's work, this is a headlong romantic drama that uses the painting of a portrait simply as a jumping-off point. Van Loos comes to paint Sophia, the pretty young wife of wealthy burger Cornelius Sandvoort, which starts a train of events that will irredeemably change all their lives. Sophia and the artist fall hopelessly in love; the Sandvoorts' servant, Maria, is having a child by a man who, thinking himself betrayed by her, has run off and joined the navy; meanwhile, Cornelius has always longed for a child. Out of these circumstances, the infatuated couple formulate a plot, but one that depends on getting together a great deal of money in a short time; hence, the frenzied speculation in the value of new and rare breeds of tulip that gives the book its title. Moggach puts all this together in a series of brief, breathless chapters--packing in skillfully presented facts, atmosphere and color--each told from a different point of view: even the hapless drunk who brings the whole scheme crashing down around Jan's and Sophia's ears is given his moment in the limelight, and the figure of the elderly, cuckolded lover is for once sympathetically drawn. The Amsterdam of the period is brought almost physically alive, and a wistful postlude looks back at all the romantic anguish from a serene distance. This is popular fiction created at a high pitch of craft and rapid readability. Movie rights sold to Steven Spielberg. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Cornelis Sandvoort is a successful merchant in 1630s Amsterdam. Widowed, he marries the much younger Sophia, the eldest daughter of a family that has been left impoverished by the death of the father. They have a somewhat happy life shared with their servant Maria. However, this joy is turned upside down when Cornelis decides to have their portrait painted by Jan van Loos, who brings unexpected passion to Sophia, whose actions impact all their lives. Though Moggach provides wonderful descriptions of Amsterdam, the book plods along to an anticipated ending that is somewhat disappointing. Listeners will get bogged down in the tedious conversations and meandering subplots, narrated by Rula Lenska, that add little to the story. Some editing might have made this better and more gripping. Those with a love of regency and other kinds of historical romances may enjoy this. Otherwise, not a necessary purchase.--Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Ruth Johnstone Wales
Too bad this charming book doesn't have illustrations - it has everything else: romance, erudition, passion, comedy, greed, suspense, intrigue, history, and a message. Nicely written, too.
The Christian Science Monitor
Publishers Weekly
Although Moggach, a well-known TV writer and prolific novelist in her native Britain, has published here before, this book, a bestseller at home last year, is the one that is likely to be her breakout on this side of the water. It is yet another story set in 17th-century Holland involving a real-life artist, Jan van Loos. But whereas such books as Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring concentrate on an artist's work, this is a headlong romantic drama that uses the painting of a portrait simply as a jumping-off point. Van Loos comes to paint Sophia, the pretty young wife of wealthy burger Cornelius Sandvoort, which starts a train of events that will irredeemably change all their lives. Sophia and the artist fall hopelessly in love; the Sandvoorts' servant, Maria, is having a child by a man who, thinking himself betrayed by her, has run off and joined the navy; meanwhile, Cornelius has always longed for a child. Out of these circumstances, the infatuated couple formulate a plot, but one that depends on getting together a great deal of money in a short time; hence, the frenzied speculation in the value of new and rare breeds of tulip that gives the book its title. Moggach puts all this together in a series of brief, breathless chapters-packing in skillfully presented facts, atmosphere and color-each told from a different point of view: even the hapless drunk who brings the whole scheme crashing down around Jan's and Sophia's ears is given his moment in the limelight, and the figure of the elderly, cuckolded lover is for once sympathetically drawn. The Amsterdam of the period is brought almost physically alive, and a wistful postlude looks back at all the romantic anguish from a serene distance. This is popular fiction created at a high pitch of craft and rapid readability.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385334921
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/10/2001
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 284,400
  • Product dimensions: 4.98 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Moggach is the author of twelve previous novels. She lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

Sophia

Trust not to appearances.
— Jacob Cats, Moral Emblems, 1632

We are eating dinner, my husband and I. A shred of leek is caught in his beard. I watch it move up and down as he chews; it is like an insect caught in the grass. I watch it idly, for I am a young woman and live simply, in the present. I have not yet died and been reborn. I have not yet died a second time — for in the eyes of the world this will be considered a second death. In my end is my beginning; the eel curls round and swallows its own tail. And in the beginning I am still alive, and young, though my husband is old. We lift our wine flutes and drink. Words are etched on my glass: Mankind's hopes are fragile glass and life is therefore also short, a scratched homily through the sinking liquid.

Cornelis tears off a piece of bread and dips it into his soup. He chews for a moment. "My dear, I have something to discuss." He wipes his lips with his napkin. "In this transitory life do we not all crave immortality?"

I freeze, knowing what is coming. I gaze at my roll, lying on the tablecloth. It has split, during baking, and parted like lips. For three years we have been married and I have not produced a child. This is not through lack of trying. My husband is still a vigorous man in this respect. At night he mounts me; he spreads my legs and I lie there like an upturned beetle pressed down by a shoe. With all his heart he longs for a son — an heir to skip across these marble floors and give a future to this large, echoing house on the Herengracht.

So far I have failed him. I submit to his embraces, of course, for I am a dutiful wife and shall always be grateful to him. The world is treacherous and he reclaimed me, as we reclaimed our country from the sea, draining her and ringing her with dykes to keep her safe, to keep her from going under. I love him for this.

And then he surprises me. "To this effect I have engaged the services of a painter. His name is Jan van Loos and he is one of the most promising artists in Amsterdam — still lifes, landscapes, but most especially portraiture. He comes on the recommendation of Hendrick Uylenburgh, who as you know is a discerning dealer? Rembrandt van Rijn, newly arrived from Leiden, is one of his proteges."

My husband lectures me like this. He tells me more than I want to know but tonight his words land noiselessly around me. Our portrait is going to be painted! "He is thirty-six, the same age as our brave new century." Cornelis drains his glass and pours another. He is drunk with the vision of ourselves, immortalized on canvas. Drinking beer sends him to sleep, but drinking wine makes him patriotic. "Ourselves, living in the greatest city, home to the greatest nation on the globe." It is only me sitting opposite him but he addresses a larger audience. Above his yellowed beard his cheeks are flushed. "For doesn't Vondel describe Amsterdam thus? What waters are not shadowed by her sails? On which mart does she not sell her wares? What peoples does she not see lit by the moon, she who herself sets the laws of the whole ocean?"

He does not expect an answer for I am just a young wife, with little life beyond these walls. Around my waist hang keys to nothing but our linen chests, for I have yet to unlock anything of more significance. In fact, I am wondering what clothes I shall wear for my portrait. That is the size of my world so far. Forget oceans and empires.

Maria brings in a plate of herrings and retreats, sniffing. Fog rolls in off the sea and she has been coughing all day. This hasn't dampened her spirits. I am sure she has a secret lover; she hums in the kitchen and sometimes I catch her standing in front of a mirror rearranging her hair under her cap. I shall find out. We are confidantes, or as much confidantes as our circumstances allow. Since I left my sisters she is the only one I have.

Next week the painter will arrive. My husband is a connoisseur of paintings; our house is filled with them. Behind him, on the wall, hangs a canvas of Susannah and the Elders. The old men peer at the naked girl as she bathes. By daylight I can see their greedy faces, but now, in the candlelight, they have retreated back into the shadows; all I can see is her plump, pale flesh above my husband's head. He lifts a fish onto his plate. He is a collector of beautiful things.

I see us as a painting. Cornelis, his white lace collar against black, his beard moving as he eats. The herring lying on my plate, its glistening, scored skin split open to reveal the flesh within; the parted lips of my roll. Grapes, plump and opaque in the candlelight; the pewter goblet glowing dully.

I see us there, sitting at our dining table, motionless — our own frozen moment before everything changes.

After dinner he reads to me from the Bible. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass..."

But I am already hanging on the wall, watching us.

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Reading Group Guide

1. What is tulip fever?

2. Tulips, flowers, and petals play a far greater role in the story than as simply a trading commodity. How? Why?

3. "Turn the paintings round and enjoy their beauty, for they shall outlast us all," writes Cornelis in his final note. How is this ironic?

4. In the 1630s, Amsterdam society was very hierarchical. Why is it that the lower class characters triumph in their goals and happiness? Do they want something so different from what the upper class protagonists want?

5. Jan tells his apprentice that "all painting is deception," and yet when painting "Naked Woman on a Bed" he tells Sophia that, "this painting will not lie, it will tell the truth." Ultimately which is true? How are the paintings in the book truthful or deceptive?

6. A water motif runs throughout the book. What is its significance? Why do you think the author chose to include it so prominently?

7. Cornelis, so proud and admiring of his city of Amsterdam, is the only one to leave it behind. Why?

8. Which proves more seductive: love or tulips? Which proves more destructive?

9. Religion and belief are present throughout the book. In the end, although all the characters have sinned, one (Sophia) turns to the church and one (Cornelis) turns away from it entirely. Why? Does Sophia make her decision based entirely on self-preservation or is there more to it?

10. Does Maria's belief in superstition suit her and guide her better than the others' practice of organized religion?

11. If, as it seems at its most simplistic, the novel shows us that "the wicked shall be punished," why do Maria and Willem end up the way they do?

12. If Willem had confronted Maria rather than joining the Navy, what options might have been open to Sophia and Jan? Did, in essence, Willem cause everyone's downfall?

13. Do you think Sophia and Jan did the right thing in planning to indulge their love rather than their obligations? Could they have been successful if circumstances had been different?

14. How does author seem to feel about parental love versus romantic love? Cornelis is deprived of both kinds — twice, which impacts him more?

15. Does Maria's belief in superstition suit her and guide her better than the others' practice of organized religion?

16. If, as it seems at its most simplistic, the novel shows us that "the wicked shall be punished," why do Maria and Willem end up the way they do?

17. If Willem had confronted Maria rather than joining the Navy, what options might have been open to Sophia and Jan? Did, in essence, Willem cause everyone's downfall?

18. Do you think Sophia and Jan did the right thing in planning to indulge their love rather than their obligations? Could they have been successful if circumstances had been different?

19. How does author seem to feel about parental love versus romantic love? Cornelis is deprived of both kinds — twice. Which impacts him more?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2002

    I'm ready to visit Amsterdam now

    After reading this and Girl with a Pearl Earring I am so eager to visit the same canals and pathways these authors so vividly describe in these books. The first four chapters went a little slow for me but then I became immersed in the book from then on and was upset because I had to put it down one evening. Of course I finished it the very next day.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 14, 2012

    well crafted book

    I am finding the works by Deborah Moggach to be original, well written, and of great variety in topics. For those who like historical novels, I would recommend any of her books. This one takes place during the great tulipmania in Holland. It is well worth a look.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    fabulous

    This is a great book. Historical characters, mysterious twists, a page turner. I have been to Amsterdam, one of my favorite places, this book just makes it come to life.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2014

    Get a pink ipad

    Kiss your hand three times, post this in three books, and look under your pillow

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2010

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