Cowell, Stephanie 1943-
COWELL, Stephanie 1943-
PERSONAL: Born July 25, 1943, in New York, NY; daughter of James Mathieu (an artist) and Dora Abraham (an artist); married Theodore Cowell, July, 1968 (divorced, 1981); children: James, Jesse. Religion: Episcopalian.
CAREER: Writer, opera singer, historical lecturer.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, International Guild of Women Writers, English Speaking Union.
AWARDS, HONORS: Seventeen magazine fiction contest winner, 1963; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1996, for The Physician of London.
Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1993.
The Physician of London (sequel to Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest), W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
Marrying Mozart: A Novel, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
Translator of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, for Strawberry opera ensemble.
SIDELIGHTS: Stephanie Cowell is the author of Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest, a historical novel set in Elizabethan England. It is the story of a young actor who grows up as an apprentice with a London theater company in the late 1590s and his lifelong search for science and God. The book takes him through close acquaintances with William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, as well as through the Irish wars, the plague, and the building of the original Globe Theater. It is the story of one man's search for grace as well as a panorama of the Elizabethan age. "Ms. Cowell's cast is rowdy, kindhearted, and sanguine, as is her portrait of the London stage," commented Maria Simson in the New York Times Book Review. Wendy Smith of the Washington Post Book World noted, "Cowell colorfully evokes the intellectual and artistic ferment of Renaissance England and nicely captures … its vigorous language."
In the sequel, The Physician of London, set in the years between 1617 and 1648, Nicholas Cooke is again the protagonist, but Cowell focuses on the figure of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford. A member of the Privy Council of King Charles, Wentworth sacrificed himself to save the crown. A Publishers Weekly contributor praised Cowell's portrayal of Wentworth "as a brilliant, complex man," and added that other historical figures, including William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and medical pioneer William Harvey are "equally well-depicted." The reviewer noted that the narrative is built on period details, and is a glimpse into the growing field of science, the conflict between the landed gentry and the Stuarts, and religion.
The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare begins in 1564, with Shakespeare the boy apprentice to his father, a glover, and ends when he is thirty-one, having deserted his wife and three children and still unsettled in his career. In between, Cowell sets his development against a historical background and in the theaters, taverns, brothels, and other settings of daily life through which Shakespeare and friends like Ben Johnson and Christopher Marlowe tread. Cowell adheres to the theory that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets for his patron, the Earl of Southampton, as an expression of friendship. She names musician Emilia Bassano as the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, the mistress who, when she had a relationship with the Earl, broke Shakespeare's heart.
A Publishers Weekly critic noted that "part of the pleasure of reading this book is Cowell's measured, graceful language, easily reproducing the cadences of seventeenth-century English." BookBrowser's Kathie Nuckols Lawson wrote that Cowell "has taken what little we know of Shakespeare and filled in the gaps, fleshed out the facts, and come up with the sensual, high spirited, impoverished poet we have cherished through the centuries."
Cowell's Marrying Mozart, described as a tale "as rich and unhurried as eighteenth-century court life," by a Publishers Weekly reviewer, is told through Sophie Weber to Mozart biographer Vincent Novello. Through Weber we learn how Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came to live in the household of Fridolin and Marie Weber, parents of four beautiful and talented daughters, Josefa, Aloysia, Constanze, and Sophie. Mozart and his ambitious mother visit the Webers in 1777 after he leaves the employ of the Archbishop-Prince of Salzburg. Fridolin, a struggling music teacher, dies, and his wife begins to seek appropriate (wealthy) husbands for her daughters. Mozart soon becomes engaged to Aloysia, but he is unable to marry her until he is financially able. The drawn-out engagement ends when she becomes pregnant by another boarder, a painter, and goes off with him. Heartbroken, Mozart flees the home in Mannheim to concentrate on his work, but he later returns to marry Constanze, with whom he shares a long and happy relationship. Library Journal's Kathy Piehl wrote that Cowell "vividly brings to life not only the Webers and the Mozarts but also dozens of minor characters and their era."
Cowell told CA: "I was born in Manhattan and have lived there all my life. During my adolescence I wrote a great deal, and at the ages of nineteen and twenty won prizes twice in the Seventeen magazine competition; I also was published in literary and English magazines. In my early twenties I ceased to write and began to train my voice for opera. I did not write anything but historical lectures for the next twenty years, but had an eclectic career in the arts.
"I began to write again quite suddenly because two characters kept waking me up in the middle of the night. At that time I put aside my singing career, took a job in desktop publishing, and began to write novels.
"Concerning the writing of my first published novel, Nicholas Cooke, I fell in love with Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era early, reading all his plays by the age of fifteen. Nicholas Cooke began one day when a quarter page paragraph came to me about an adolescent boy in London in 1593, and which developed into a full manuscript within the next fifteen months.
"Certain periods of history have such fascination for me that I cannot keep away from them. I have read whole books for one evocative moment of an age. I am deeply moved by antique objects or places; if I am very quiet before them, the people who once touched them become in some inexplicable way present for me. My novels are historical, but more than that they are about the search for the deeper self and where we ultimately belong. I work only on my computer as my rapid handwriting is illegible even to myself.
"My advice to aspiring writers is to share your writing as much as possible and if you are looking for a publisher, tell everyone. Nicholas Cooke was actually discovered at a church supper by a W. W. Norton executive. Become a member of a writers' support group; mine was formed from a class with our mentor, Madeleine L'Engle. Learning to write takes a long time and cannot really be taught. It is self-forged through the most personal longings of the individual spirit."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of Marrying Mozart: A Novel, p. 229.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2003, review of Marrying Mozart, p. 1370.
Lambda Book Report, October, 1997, Jim Marks, review of The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare, p. 9.
Library Journal, August 28, 1995, review of The Physician of London, p. 102; April 1, 1997, Keddy Ann Outlaw, review of The Players, p. 124; January, 2004, Kathy Piehl, review of Marrying Mozart, p. 152.
New York Times Book Review, November 7, 1993, Maria Simson, review of Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest, p. 20; November 19, 1995, Robin Tzannes, review of The Physician of London, p. 26; May 4, 1997, Lauren Belfer, review of The Players, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, February 24, 1997, review of The Players, p. 63; January 26, 2004, review of Marrying Mozart, p. 229.
Sewanee Review, summer, 1996, George Garrett, review of The Physician of London, p. 456.
Washington Post Book World, September 9, 1993, Wendy Smith, review of Nicholas Cooke, p. 11.
BookBrowser, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (March 7, 1999), Kathie Nuckols Lawson, review of The Players.
Stephanie Cowell Home Page, http://www.stephaniecowell.com (April 13, 2004).*