#marywrites Biblioteca Joanina

Oh, this is going to be hilarious. I don’t even think I’m going to be able to do it justice, but I’m really going to give it my all because you guys to deserve to know what a truly wholesome dumbass I am.

Back in August ’21, I first got the idea for researcher & librarian. I dreamt up Frederick Hanscomb Wright III in an absolute whirlwind of madness, which is so fitting for his character, and I wrote a short story hoping that would get the urge out until I could actually devote time to him, but that is the most laughable thing I’ve ever done, and I chaos wrote his entire duology in four months. I honestly think that sets the stage really well for what happened because it shows you how batshit I am in general, but how much worse it gets when Freddie’s in charge because the two of us together is just–everything is blown out of proportion.

Freddie is a researcher–one of my CPs asked me if this is a real job, and I don’t think it is, but given everything else with this damn novel (my other CP cackled over how much the Vatican is going to one day hate me, it’s wonderful), I am a-okay with giving Freddie a fake job–who has an anonymous donor (don’t even, we all know who it is) that gives him a whole heck ton of money if he a) will solely focus on studying how to summon demons (LOL) and b) will do it in Portugal. Now that I write that out, I see how unbelievable it is.

Obviously, I need a library, and because I want to set it in Portugal, I’m off to Google so I can figure out where exactly a badass library is located, and the Biblioteca Joanina is easily the most famous library in Portugal, so I could have just gone sure sounds good, but it’s also got a portrait of John V, which will tie things together so neatly for Freddie’s anonymous vampire donor, and it’s just a match made in heaven. We’re headed to Coimbra because duh.

My sweet brain saw that the Joanina didn’t like having pictures taken inside it and assumed that was the reason why the only picture I could ever find was of the giant ass portrait of John V. I saw the outside plenty, which makes this even more hilarious, but I only ever saw the long red carpet leading up to a grand piano beneath a gold gilded portrait of John, and I thought the library is eight-five times bigger than that.

After I told Erin this story, I asked her if she thought there was actually a library as big as the one that I wrote into Freddie’s story, and she just laughed at me. I don’t want to know how big the Library of Alexandria actually was, I really don’t, because my version of the Joanina absolutely pales in comparison to what I think Alexandria was, and that is WILD now that I know how the world actually works. Y’all, I’m talking, like–absurdity. You’d have to read the entirety of Freddie’s duology to truly understand how enormous I thought the Joanina was, so I’ll try to boil it down:

The front doors are the only thing I got right, and I pictured people walking in through those grand front doors to a massive, cathedral-like main hall. There would be a reception area with a huge circular desk where they would eventually figure out a tubing system like they’ve got in the Bodleian (oh my HECK, let’s blame all of this on Deborah Harkness I wishhhhhh but even she understood libraries are not bigger than the universities they’re attached to). There was a giant grand staircase behind it, beneath which stacks upon stacks of bookshelves were located, complete with a door that led downstairs into a subterranean archive of ancient and fragile texts. Each floor of the library had wings on either side that held multiple reading rooms that were named after different countries–I really honestly and truly called something the Italian room and put all religious texts in it, you’re welcome, can we please also talk about the Russian room being where all Slavic lore was stored because clearly that needed an ENTIRE ROOM–and that could hold a minimum of three to four giant, old oak tables. And okay, technically, I did also get John’s room right because I set it at the ground floor, but behind the grand staircase, and it was meant as a sort of display room rather than one that saw a lot of work because I thought a red carpet rolled out to a grand piano beneath a truly massive portrait must surely just be a place meant for hoity toity conversation with, I don’t know, diplomats and kings??

You’re really not ready for this.

LOOK AT HOW SMALL IT IS. How did I see images of the outside and think it was infinitely bigger on the inside?? Like, we’re really talking sixteen times bigger. Half the size of the university of Coimbra bigger. An actual monstrosity, and, in reality, you could fit the Joanina inside of the ballroom in a palace.

I don’t even know what to say other than I laughed myself straight up breathless when I finally realized it. The series of texts and videos that I sent Sara are downright stupid. I was convinced right up until I saw the outside of the library after being inside that I just wasn’t allowed to see the rest of it, but then–and you can see this in the video I was recording for Sara, and it’s beautiful–I walked outside, all excited and joyful, actually paid attention to the size of the building, and had a big ole wait a minute moment.

The library in my head does not exist anywhere on the planet. Maybe if you put all of the grand libraries together, you might get close to the size. And I’m really trying to figure out where I went wrong. My public library is pretty big, and that’s really my only frame of reference other than seeing the outside of the large library in Boston, so maybe that’s it? But I don’t believe that because I saw pictures of the outside of the Joanina, and I made up some bullshit excuse about why I couldn’t find any other pictures of the inside because there’s only one room, and I really thought those two things added up to being twelve libraries smooshed together.

Look at this naïve little child. I wish I could upload videos on WordPress because they’re even more hilarious. Like, honey. You’re so cute.

So, here’s the thing. The Joanina is actually just the hall with John. It’s three fairly standard size rooms with not that far away ceilings–here’s the thing I actually want to know, there are supposed to be bats living in this library, and that’s really the thing that made me go oh yeah this place could fit a family of dinosaurs comfortably, how are there bats, HOW–that have a single six foot reading table on either side of a long red carpet that does, in fact, lead up to a piano that is not that grand beneath a massive golden gilded portrait of John V. It is as ostentatious as I wrote it to be, but it’s also about 2% of the size that I thought it was, and that begs the question–what the heck am I going to do?

Not a whole lot, as it turns out. There is a non-zero chance that I could fit Freddie’s story inside the actual Joanina. He makes out with Hugo in the stacks in the early 1920s, and that is just not happening in this library in real life. Half the book takes place in some mythical Greek room where Freddie occasionally naps beneath the Alexander table after he’s stolen books from the archives and snuck up tea from the kitchen–I FORGOT I PUT A KITCHEN IN THERE, I’M DECEASED–and that’s just not even close to the reality. There are no reading rooms. There is no subterranean room for ancient texts. There are not nearly enough books for the amount that Freddie reads there over the course of several years. There is no way that an all-out brawl could happen, and it wouldn’t disrupt the entire library. There’s just–I’d literally have to write a different book that didn’t actually take place in a library.

But, at the same time, I think it’s really kind of adorable how wild my imagination ran with what the Joanina could be, and I want to lean into that. My plan is to put some kind of note at the beginning of the book that clarifies that my Joanina is almost entirely embellishment, and that while the real library does exist in my book, it exists as a single room inside of a much, much larger library. The Joanina, in Freddie’s book, is its own character, and I don’t want to take away from that. My Joanina looks exactly like the real one, just amplified across so much more space, and you could honestly just copy & paste the real one a stupid amount of times, and that would be my Joanina, and I want to keep that earnestness. It’s fitting not just with Freddie, but I think it speaks to the beauty of libraries and how much space they can take up in our hearts.

It was far from as big as I thought it was, but I think it’s undeniably sweet that I took this tiny little place and expanded it so much inside my imagination that it became an universe unto itself.

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