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Maggie O’Farrell On “The Marriage Portrait”

Maggie O’Farrell Looks for Stories Hiding in Plain Sight

Her latest book, “The Marriage Portrait,” imagines the life of the girl who is thought to have inspired Robert Browning’s famous poem “My Last Duchess.”

By Elizabeth A. Harris

When the author Maggie O’Farrell was 6 or 7 years old, she loved writing secret messages in lemon juice and revealing them by toasting the paper over a candle. Then one day, she set the front of her hair on fire.

“It didn’t stop me doing it,” she said of her lemon juice hobby. “It just made me a little bit more careful.”

O’Farrell has always been drawn to hidden stories and overlooked histories, she said. That focus has become especially pronounced in her two most recent novels: “Hamnet,” about Shakespeare’s wife and children, and her latest book, “The Marriage Portrait,” which imagines the life of the 16-year-old who is thought to have inspired Robert Browning’s famous poem “My Last Duchess.” (“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive.”)

“The stories that are written in white,” O’Farrell said of unseen narratives, “are the ones that interest me.” Read the full piece at the New York Times.

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