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Blood and Beauty: The Borgias; A Novelby Sarah Dunant
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the novel’s title, Blood and Beauty. Why do you think the author selected this title?
2. Sarah Dunant has trained as a historian and says that it is very important for her to get the facts right for the story to work. When you are reading the novel does it matter to you one way or another if it is “true” to history? Or is the fact that it is a good story more important?
3. How much do you think Lucrezia changes from the beginning of the novel to the end? Do you think she ultimately lost her love for—and her faith in—her family? Do you feel she truly found herself by the end of the book?
4. Lucrezia and Cesare have a very fraught relationship. At one point, Cesare comments: “[Lucrezia] is struggling to hate me as much as she loves me.” (322) Do you believe there is ever a time when they truly hate each other? Do you think Cesare acts out of love for Lucrezia—that he actually believes he is serving her best interests—or that he uses loving her as an excuse to carry out his own agenda? Do you think he might’ve been a better politicial if he could’ve let his feelings for her go?
5. Do you believe it’s true that in the Borgia world, kindness was equated with weakness? Why or why not?
6. Michelotto, Cesare’s trusted guard, is one of the most enigmatic characters in the book. He happily kills on command, but reaps no clearly visible benefit. What do you think his motivation was? Do you think he simply enjoyed being a part of each move on Cesare’s chessboard?
7. There are various examples of marriage, romance and sexual relationships in this novel. Based on your reading, what do you make of the attitudes about marriage during this time? What about attitudes regarding fidelity, sex and love? Do you think a woman’s main source of power at this time came from how well she could manipulate her marriage (or sexual relationship) to her own advantage?
8. At one point Cesare says to Jofré, “But remember. You have to know when to step out of the way, before you sink the dagger into the bull’s neck.” (214) This is a very interesting statement, given that the bull is the Borgia family symbol. Do you think in some ways, Cesare was acting against his family members (especially his father) under the guise of furthering the Borgia name? That not being his father’s favored child made him wish to take revenge as much as it made him want to win approval?
9. Do you believe it was Cesare who arranged for Juan’s death? Why or why not?
10. Sancia and Lucrezia were both in somewhat similar situations (thrust into marriages based foremost on the political advantages the matches offered their families), yet their reactions to their circumstances were quite different. Do you think this strengthens or weakens their bond? Consider also that both women fell for the other’s brother in your discussion.
11. In your opinion, who was the true master in the political maneuverings of the Borgia family, Rodrigo or Cesare? Why?
12. How do you think each member of the Borgia family viewed God? For a family whose power came from the Church, were you surprised by their seeming lack of piety? Or do you think they truly believed God was behind them in their goal to unite Italy under their banner?
13. What did you think of the conclusion of the novel? Did it turn out as you expected? Were you satisfied?
14. At the close of the novel, Burchard reflects, “ ‘The Pope ran from window to window to see her. Because he misses his daughter so.’ That is what those who saw it will say about the moment . . .” (500) Do you think that much of what we consider historical fact has been shaped by impressions, by gossip, by what people believed—and said—about a particular moment, rather than what was actually true? If so, how accurate do you think our image of the Borgia family is today? And how do you feel differently having read the novel?
15. There has been a great deal written about the Borgias, not to mention television shows, movies and even video games centered around them. What do you think is so fascinating about this particular family and the era in which they lived? Was there anything in the book that surprised you?
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