Sir, – Ruth Morse’s belittling review of my novel The Enchantress of Florence (April 4) would carry more weight if she had read the book more carefully and knew a bit more about her subject.
First, the schoolgirl howlers. As the “enchantress” Qara Koz is clearly and repeatedly described in the text as the sister of the emperor Akbar’s grandfather, the first Mughal emperor, Babar, she would obviously be Akbar’s great-aunt; yet twice in Professor Morse’s review she is called his aunt. Also, even more laughably, Morse describes the emperor Jehangir, Akbar’s son, as the architect of the Taj Mahal. But the Taj Mahal, as every Indian schoolchild and Western tourist knows, was built by Jehangir’s successor, Shah Jehan. It is difficult to take a critic seriously when her inaccuracies are of this order.
Next, the ignorance. I did not invent the Mughals’ excessive fondness for opium, or Jehangir’s rebellion against his father, or the scheming world of the royal harem; nor is it my idea that the senior – and, yes, sexually inactive – women of the Mughal court were figures of authority; nor did I falsify the nature of the marriage of Niccolò Machiavelli and his wife Marietta, which was characterized, as all historians agree, by her devotion and his philandering. These are matters of record, and it’s surprising that Ruth Morse doesn’t know it.
Finally, the prejudice. Underlying her review is a primitive feminist attack whose thrust is that I take “revenge” on women in my books, which collectively amount to an “assault” on the female sex. Like all beating-your-wife accusations, this is hard for me to disprove. I can only deny it, and point to the many readers, many of them female, who have greatly appreciated the strength of the female characters in my work, from Amina Sinai to Aurora Zogoiby and Vina Apsara. And I must hope that my novel will find more generous and less clumsy readers than Professor Morse.
c/o Wylie Agency, 17 Bedford Square, London WC1.