‘Masquerades disclose the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our life.’ So wrote Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, and for me his words perfectly encapsulate the power of a masquerade.
In my novel Masquerade, one scene stands out as my favourite: a masked ball:
In the glow of a warm late-spring evening, with crisp linens, flickering candles, the house’s special sangria, champagne and glorious tapas generous enough to make a meal, El Pavón tonight was the most romantic place on earth. The great ballroom, the terrace and the garden gradually filled up with a host of glamorous people in more or less elaborate disguises. It resembled a scene from Verdi’s opera, Un Ballo in Maschera. In this world of fantasy, of illusion and surprise, despite the formal mood, dress and setting, men and women were offered a chance to reveal everything that was normally left unexpressed for the rest of the year. As she stood alongside her parents, welcoming the first guests, Luz was struck by the liberating power of this glittering camouflage. ‘It’s so much easier to have fun under a false identity …’
Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by masked balls. This fascination stems from a memory in my childhood.
When I was almost eight, my parents, my sister and my governess were coming back from Italy on the Italian liner Esperia. On the eve of us docking in Alexandria, a masked ball was organised. All day there reigned an atmosphere of excitement and festivity on the boat. Wall sconces, columns and cornices were being decorated with garlands of flowers and balloons, and tables in the main dining room were set with an array of cotillions, party favours: whistles, wonderful multicoloured paper hats and rolls of serpentine ribbons. Beautiful ladies and handsome men, including my parents, were busy trying on fabulous costumes and masks that conveyed a feeling of enigma that piqued my imagination.
Of course my sister and I were not allowed to attend the ball, which deeply upset me. My governess, Zula, promised that if we napped in the afternoon and also went early to bed, she would wake us up at around eleven o’clock at night to let us have a peek at the ball. Oh the excitement! My sister and I did as we were told and Zula kept her promise. Once we were bundled up in our pyjamas and dressing gowns, she took us up to the ballroom where we stood behind a column watching, fascinated by the grand spectacle. Guests were laughing, talking, drinking, and dancing, twirling in a rainbow of costumes, some of them representing fairy tales that we recognised, others exhibiting rich clothes of the kings and queens whom we had read about in our history books. All of them were wearing masks, which conveyed a surreal air of mystery and romance which has stuck in my mind all my life. I wondered as I watched: who were the people, and how were their masks changing how they interacted?
My character Andrès puts it best when he receives Luz’s invitation to the ball:
His glance held soft mockery, glittering with mischief. ‘A masked ball, hey? What an ingenious idea. Everybody has something to hide and it’s so much easier to have fun when under a false identity, don’t you agree? Though Oscar Wilde, I think it was, said, “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth”.’
What better protection can you have than to hide behind a mask in order to court, mystify, to be yourself, uninhibited and incognito, and to indulge in acts you wouldn’t do otherwise?
Masquerade: the driving force in my new novel – and a wonderful excuse to don an enigmatic, alluring mask!
To date, Hannah has published four novels: Burning Embers, ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’, set in Kenya; the award-winning Echoes of Love, ‘an epic love story that is beautifully told’ set in Italy; and Indiscretion and Masquerade (from the Andalusian Nights Trilogy), her fieriest novels yet. She is currently working on her forthcoming book, Legacy, the final title in the trilogy, which is due to be published in spring 2016.
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