The Enchantress of Florence is yet another testimony to Rushdie’s acknowledgement of the power of the feminine. The mysterious Mughal princess Qara Koz is the titular character, who traverses continents and empires as a war booty and stirs the hearts of men wherever she goes. The novel tells the story of a European traveller “who arrives at the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar claiming to be the child of a lost princess, and beguiles the emperor with his tales of this great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery.” (Stephenson, 2008, p.35) Qara Koz and Vina Apsara can also be linked to prominent female characters in Rushdie’s other works, both fictitious and historical.
“In Jodha and Qara Koz, Rushdie creates memorable female characters to join the ranks of Aurora Zogoiby in The Moor’s Last Sigh, Jamila Singer in Midnight’s Children and India Ophuls in Shalimar the Clown. Qara Koz or Jodha exist primarily to please the men around them, and use their powers of enchantment–and entrancement. In Florence, we meet Machiavelli, the prince of intrigue; Ago Vespucci, cousin of Amerigo (after whom the New World is named); Ottoman janissaries; the Medicis and the monk Savonarola; we also get a second-hand glimpse of Elizabeth the virgin queen.” (Tripathi, 2008, p.57)
All novelists draw their literary content from their personal experiences and one can expect such infiltrations in Rushdie’s novels. Infamous for having gone through four failed marriages, it is an interesting exercise to read Rushdie through the feminist lens. Does the failure of four marriages betray a poor grasp of the feminine psychology, thereby lessening the credibility of the female characters he portrays? There is no straightforward answer to this question as Rushdie was living under exceptional circumstances (living undercover due to the threat of assassination) for a large portion of his adult life. (Hitchens, 2008, p.135) Nevertheless, based on what the great author himself has revealed in his recent interviews, he undertook the Enchantress of Florence project as a way of getting through his divorce with his fourth wife Padma Lakshmi. It is not at all surprising that a writer would resort to a subject that is a source of ailment in order to experience a catharsis. Hence the character of Qara Koz can be read through the feminist lens at various levels.
From an interview Rushdie gave to Hannah Stephenson, we learn the source of his strong female characters. His theme of powerful women was not difficult for him to research, he says:
“”I’ve always been interested in strong female characters, as I’ve known quite a lot in my time. I come from a family in which there’s a lot of them. I have three sisters and no brothers. My mother and my aunt were in many ways forceful characters.” He writes of a world in which male power was dominant, of absolute rulers and great warriors. Within that world, women demonstrate a different kind of power – that of sensuality and witchcraft. “Men are often hopelessly dependent on the women in their lives,” he says, admitting he is speaking from personal experience.” (Stephenson, 2008, p.35)
Shifting focus to The Ground Beneath Her Feet, one could find analogies in the feminist study of Vina Apsara, for she is equated to the mythic Eurydice, with Ormus Cama serving the role of Orpheus. Ormus and Vina’s love story has strong resonance to the Greek myth not just because of the centrality of music to their lives and their relationship, but also because of their status as ‘outsiders’. For example, Ormus’ connection to the other worldly realm is expressed through his dual existence, whereas Vina is shown to be the “queen of darkness” playing dangerous games with death. The comparisions between Eurydice and Vina is extended even to their deaths. For example, the manner in which Vina is swallowed by a gaping hole in the quake-hit earth, Eurydice was plunged underground in the mythic story. (Chun-Yen Chen, 2010, p.51) The tag of outsiders is further emphasized through their experiences of