Was it worth it? Almost certainly.Two days of archival trudging; eyes that won’t focus no matter what pair of glasses I wear; a back that hurts like a bastard from perching on an ancient and weary archive chair; and a wild goose chase that currently features the goose waggling its feathery behind as it disappears behind a convent door. But I have turned over all the obvious stones, and some of the less obvious ones, and I can now say with confidence that the Este archives don’t readily have the answer to my “research question.”
Oh, I have found Francesco Viola, and I have found Suor Leonora, but not in the same place at the same time. I’ve even found Giaches de Wert clinging to a duchess’s petticoats – metaphorically speaking, and not the duchess you might think – but I didn’t find what I’d hoped to find, and that’s a pity.
The lesson here, dear reader, is that archival work is about Serendipity, aka the archive angel, but she doesn’t like to be rushed. Sometimes serendipity is about not finding things, because it may be that you’re not meant to find them yet. So I can’t get all upset about spending money on a plane ticket and a hotel because a) I don’t have to lose any more sleep over what might be in the archive, and b) just because I haven’t found what I wanted doesn’t mean that I will never find it, and doesn’t prove that it doesn’t exist.
Also, the archive angel just may be, just may be, telling me to just finish the book, already. When I consider all the leads I could be chasing, and the other archives and libraries I could be visiting, in order to get a better picture of just what was happening in Ferrarese convents in the late sixteenth century, I start thinking that I don’t just need an apartment in Modena, I need one in Ferrara, Florence, Mantua and Rome, too. When it comes down to it, I don’t need a break anymore, I need perspective.
In the course of the trip I’ve got know my girls just a little bit better, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it? For instance, I now know that the Duchess of Urbino was a vicarious benefice collector, and seems to have been only too willing to plead on behalf of her pet priests to gain another small source of income. And that the Dowager Duchess of Mantua and her daughter, the Duchess of Ferrara, plotted together to keep the family peace during an unseemly row between their respective dukes – just doing what the women of the family have done for centuries. Objectivist scholars might be horrified at the notion of “getting to know” the research object, but I’m well used to horrifying certain subsets of the academic community. And it helps me stay interested – if I didn’t think they were real women, I might not care so much.
So when I finally downed tools for the day, I went and got a nice glass of prosecco, and was unexpectedly rewarded with a very, very late lunch. Really, it’s not so bad.
And you never know what I might find tomorrow.