Tulip Feverby Deborah Moggach
Seventeenth-century Amsterdam, a city in the grip of tulip mania and basking the wealth it has generated. Cornelis, an ageing merchant, commissions a talented young painter to preserve his status and marriage on canvas. At the sittings, as a collector of beautiful things, Cornelis surrounds himself with symbols of his success, including his young wife, Sophia. But
Seventeenth-century Amsterdam, a city in the grip of tulip mania and basking the wealth it has generated. Cornelis, an ageing merchant, commissions a talented young painter to preserve his status and marriage on canvas. At the sittings, as a collector of beautiful things, Cornelis surrounds himself with symbols of his success, including his young wife, Sophia. But as the portrait grows, so does the passion between Sophia and the artist; and as ambitions, desires and dreams breed an intricate deception, their reckless gamble propels their lives towards a thrilling and tragic conclusion.
The Christian Science Monitor
The Independent on Sunday
"Spirited and ingenious...Clever, spry, and sad in equal measure."
"Moggach reproduces the coded language of 17th-century Dutch art with subtle artfulness. At the same time, she tells a truly thrilling love story."
The Financial Times
"Moggach's writing is as vivid as a splash of Vermeer's lemon yellow."
"A gorgeous novel: both funny and tragic, full of sharply drawn characters and equally sharp insight into the transforming power of lovewhich can be as destructive as it is addictive."
- Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
- Publication date:
Read an Excerpt
Trust not to appearances.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.
--Jacob Cats, Moral Emblems, 1632
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 begrateful 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 protégés."
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.
Meet the Author
Deborah Moggach was born into a family of writers and has had fifteen novels published. She continues to successfully adapt her own and others' work for film and TV, including Close Relations, Stolen and Seesaw.
Her most recent novel, Final Demand, is a poignant and beautifully written follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Tulip Fever. Deborah lives in north London.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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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.
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.
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.
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach follows a young woman named Sophia as she is married to an elderly man, Cornelis, whom she married because her family was poor and needed the money he had. Set in 1630s Amsterdam, this wasn’t something out of the ordinary, but one feels for the character as she doesn’t truly love him, the age difference being significant and she simply wanted to help her family out. Cornelis wants an heir but she, some reason, doesn’t ever get pregnant. Deciding to instead have a painting done of themselves, Cornelis hires a young painter named Jan van Loos. Jan and Sophia become close and create a very elaborate plot in order to escape her marriage with Cornelis and be able to live somewhere where no one could find them. In order to do this, they decide to invest in the tulip business that was like a fever in Holland, everyone going crazy for the flower. This story was written very well, its plot very elaborate and a lot of twists, leaving you on the edge of your seat. The characters were well developed, and I can’t wait to see Christoph Waltz play Cornelis in the movie that is to come to theaters next year. I just hope he twirls his mustache a bunch again… I learned a lot about Holland that I didn’t know, and found myself imagining the city very well. Deborah Moggach was very descriptive and I think did a lot of research on the era and on the city. Although the story isn’t true, I found it to be plausible and it made me curious as to who this artist really was. The story reminds me “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”, inspiring a story from a painting, and the relationship of the model and the artist. The only problem I had was with the shift in characters and sometimes in perspective. Sometimes it is in first-person and other times it is in third-person. It took a while getting used to. I am a person who doesn’t care for adding new perspectives part way through, but I didn’t let it ruin the story. I did not see the ending coming and found that it wrapped up the story nicely. All in all, I give the novel a 4.5/5, having been a very interesting love story, but the perspectives drawing away from connecting with the character. If you like a historical romance, pick this story up! Original review posted on A Bibliophile's Reverie
Kiss your hand three times, post this in three books, and look under your pillow