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Elizabeth Gale

Julia Valeria
Putnam's Sons, 1950

Reviews:

TIME: 735 AUC/19 BC SETTING: Mainly Rome, sometimes the Villa Valeria, 2 days journey N of Rome. CHARACTERS, ALL FICTIONAL: the Julius Valerius family (including Claudia, Julius’ 16 yr old niece and Lavina, widow of Julius’ brother) and the Gaius Calvinus family (including his wife Tertia and their daughters Cornelia and Antonia, and his nephews, Marcus and Titus. Red-headed 12 yr old slave, Lucipor. The only historical character, Horace, has only a walk-on part. Augustus returns to Rome and acts, but you never see him directly. NARRATOR=3rd person STORY: Julia, 16 yr old daughter of very wealthy and noble Julius Valerius in 19 BC, thwarts a (vague) plot against Augustus, off in the East, clears her father of a charge of treason, and avoids marriage to a scheming plotter, Titus, with the help of his cousin/her friend (and, by the end of the book, husband), Marcus, a military tribune under Julius. BACKGROUND COMPARISONS: Julia, like Pomponia in Golden Peacock, is a vigorous 16 yr old, quick-witted, brave, learned, rich, wanting a choice about whom she will marry, a childhood friend. Both girls have lost their mothers (as has Claudia). * 7. Lavina, Julia’s kind & intelligent aunt, doesn’t know the name of Lucipor, though he is a household slave. * 10. Julia wonders how far the innkeeper will go in his "trickery" in reading omens.(149 has more skepticism about haruspicy). We see a country villa, a slave chain gang, then to Rome to a city house w/ atrium, peristyle (an entrance way that sounds like it came from Trimalchio). You see all the house as Lavina makes a tour of inspection. The house has a complete bath: frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium, laconicum. and 150 household slaves. * 29. Horace, a friend of the family but a walk-on has just heard of Vergil’s illness at Brundisium. H. refers to him as "half of my soul" (as in Golden Peacock). Seal ring & use of seal on waxed tablets important in story. * 134. Julia & all her young female friends went to the school of a learned freedman. * 136. a betrothal (Claudia marrying a man her father’s age). Later the wedding preparations, ceremony & procession to groom’s house. * 187ff One theme is that rich masters (even good ones) know nothing about the lives of slaves or common people. Julia, on the run & in hiding, sees more of common life. ODDS & ENDS: * 140. Aug returns quietly without a triumph because of unrest & death of Vergil (who left unfinished what Aug hoped would = Hebrew Bible) * 142 & later: Julia impressed by Psalm 23, sung by their new Hebrew slave Ruth * 176. Slave attack on villa near end; cf similar attack at opening of Golden Peacock - in both a 16 yr old girl flees for her life * 204. Author mentions the fuller’s earth used in cleaning clothes, omits mention of urine. Julia’s widowed aunt is going to marry at the end her long-time suitor, partly because Augustus is about to come out with legislation directed at promoting marriage/making celibacy less profitable. QUESTIONS: At this time, would Julius be a praenomen? Lavina a name? (Lavinia?) Would Calvinus be a nomen (rather than a cognomen?) * 12. Did Romans believe a black cat crossing your path was a bad omen? * 74. Women wearing tight leather girdles to appear slim? ATTITUDE TO AUGUSTUS: * 124-5: author/narrator says people look forward to Aug’s return from eastern campaign - "returning hero...every plan carried out perfectly...not spilled a drop of Roman blood..." * 229. Julius Valerius (who’s just been cleared of treason charges by Aug) says: "Augustus, fair-minded as always and with the welfare of Rome first in his thoughts..." No real depiction of Augustus beyond "good" COMMENTS: A pleasant, untaxing read, targeted at younger readers, but high school readers would still enjoy it, perhaps girls more so than boys. Plenty of background of detail & custom. The central conspiracy against Rome & Augustus is weak & undeveloped, too vague, but the main characters are reasonably developed, esp the females. The men are noble and kind, but they’re just not around much. (Mench; unpub)

- Fred Mench, 11/27/2005

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