Sunday, March 30, 2008

La Bellel Rebelle

In 1555, Lyonnais publisher Jean de Tournes released a small volume of poetry titled, simply enough, OEUVRES (WORKS). The audacity of the author's byline, however, far eclipsed the book's innocuous title: LOUIZE LABE LIONNOIZE. This collection of one dialogue, three elegies and twenty-four sonnets, accompanied by twenty-four poetic "hommages" penned by other authors, was the first of its kind: a volume of poetry written by a middle-class woman and published under her own name during her lifetime. The book caused quite a stir in Lyon and changed the course of French letters forever.

A woman author, especially one from the working classes, was virtually unheard of at the time, for practical as well as moral reasons. Noblewomen composed poetry and collections of tales, but these wealthy women had the luxury of being educated by private tutors and the time to indulge their literary leanings. How did Louise Labé, daughter of a rope maker, attain her admirable command of Latin and classical literature? It is thought she attended a convent school after the death of her mother; even so, how had she convinced the sisters to teach her more than the rudiments of reading and writing, never mind allow her access to the works of the ancients? Somehow, Louise managed to educate herself and find the time to write as she fulfilled her pressing duties as the daughter of, and later wife of another, rope maker.

Receiving an education was one thing, publishing a book quite another. For a sixteenth-century woman, publishing was as scandalous an act as prostitution. The two activities were essentially the same: a female author put her private self on public display, selling her words instead of her body. Noblewomen who published could escape society's disapprobation by having a respected male vouch for their purity; no one argued when King François's sister, Marguerite de Navarre, published her poems, plays and tales. Likewise, some women authors protected themselves by concealing their identities; Marguerite de Briet published several works in the 1530's and '40's under the pseudonym Hélisenne de Crenne. A third way of validating a woman's voice was to publish her works posthumously, after her documented virtue could no longer fall into question. In 1545, the poet Maurice Scève helped publish the Rymes de Gentille et Vertueuse Dame, Pernette du Guillet soon after the death of his friend.

Louise Labé eschewed all of these protections when she published her poems in 1555. She did seek the blessing of a noble patron, but in typical iconoclastic fashion, chose a young noblewoman, fellow Lyonnaise Clémence de Bourges, rather than an established male. Louise published her poems boldly under her own name in her early thirties, while she was most definitely still alive. Unfortunately, she did pay for her audacity: for the rest of her life she was disparaged as a courtesan, especially since she seems to have carried on a long-term liaison with an Italian banker after the death of her husband. Though slandered and disdained by the general public, Louise was well respected in literary circles; she counted many well known male poets among her friends, men who praised her verse and learning. Her contribution to literary history cannot be ignored: she showed French women how to "lift their heads above the spindle" and claim their voices in the public place.

If you read French, François Rigolot published an excellent paperback edition of Louise's poetry in 1986 (Flammarion). An English translation by Annie Finch came out in 2005 (University of Chicago Press). Five of her translations can be found online here.

In a later post, I'll explain how I used Louise Labé as a model for my main character, Jollande Carlet, in The Measure of Silence.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Interview with Catherine Delors

Catherine Delors's recently released historical novel, Mistress of the Revolution, has been garnering rave reviews all over. I had the opportunity to ask Catherine some questions about her book and the writing of historical fiction. Here is what she had to say.


1. You wrote Mistress of the Revolution as a fictional memoir. Why did you choose the memoir format rather than describing the events as happening in "real time"? What were the benefits and disadvantages of choosing this format?

I realized how difficult it would be for me, living in the 21st century, to enter the mind of a heroine who lived two hundred years ago. As you know, it is not enough for a historical fiction author to get the costumes and furniture right. The characters must also think and act in a period-appropriate fashion. For me, the best way to avoid an anachronistic feel was to read as many memoirs of the times as possible. Those first-hand accounts, written by women, and men, showed me what it was to witness the events of the French Revolution, to live them. That inspired the first-person form of my own narrative.

I had a completely different research experience with my second novel, tentatively titled For the King. It is a historical thriller based upon a real "terrorist" attack in 1800 in Paris, so I had to read many police reports. In that case, it made a third-person narrative completely natural.

2. What is your favorite scene in the book? Which scene was the most difficult to write?

My favorite scene in Mistress of the Revolution is when Gabrielle interacts with her granddaughter, and the child, whom she loves, reminds her of her late husband, who left unfortunate memories. It is the mix of past and present, of different generations of the same family, of opposite feelings.

The most difficult parts to write were the love scenes. Frankly, I did not know how far to go. So, in the first version of Mistress of the Revolution, I solved the problem by not writing any. Then my beta readers said: "great book, but there are no love scenes??" So I reread every love scene ever written since the Bible and Homer, and finally I pushed myself...

3. What was something you learned that surprised you as you researched the Revolution for your novel?

Many things! The degree of hatred towards Marie-Antoinette astonished me. I knew, of course, that she was unpopular, but I had no idea how far pamphlets went, even decades before the Revolution.

I also had the impression that being tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal meant a quasi-automatic death sentence. I had not realized that, until the Great Terror, the majority of the accused were acquitted.

4. In all phases of her life, Gabrielle finds herself subject to the whims and dictates of men. Did the Revolution do much to improve the legal status of women?

Oh, it did. In the realm of private life women demanded, and acquired, a status equal to that of men. Marital authority, which had been almost absolute under the Old Regime, was abolished. Women could now hold and inherit property on the same basis as men. They could petition for divorce on the same grounds. But the evolution did not stop there.

Women participated in the main political events of the Revolution. They were present at the storming of the Bastille, they attended the sessions of the legislative assemblies. For a while female political clubs flourished. Some particularly forward thinkers began discussing female suffrage, something that would not be implemented until the 20th century. So yes, for women's rights, the Revolution was a time of decisive progress.

5. Did writing the novel in English, your second language, pose any particular problems? Do you think the novel would have been different if you had composed it in French for a French audience?

I had plenty of experience writing in English. Legal briefs, that is. Yet legal writing in a foreign language is, I guess, as good an exercise as any.

I certainly wrote Mistress of the Revolution with an American audience in mind. For a French readership, more familiar with the setting of the novel, I might have explained less about historical events, language, or customs.

6. What advice do you have for aspiring authors of historical fiction?

Be brave! Tough, resilient, optimistic... Take a hard look at your book. Is it as good as it could be, and should be? If the answer is yes, chin up! It will happen, sooner or later. If not, you know what to do.

7. Which part of the journey from unpublished to published has been the most exhilarating? The most difficult?

The most exhilarating part of the journey was finding an agent. Two at the same time, actually. I realized then that I would have a good chance of being published. The most harrowing time is right now, post-publication: breathlessly awaiting the verdict of my readers.

8. What one thing do you hope readers gain from reading your book?

First, I do hope people find Mistress of the Revolution an involving, moving, emotionally satisfying read. If in the process they gain a better understanding of the French Revolution and its legacy, a sense of the importance of politics in everyday life, so much the better.

Thank you, Catherine, for sharing your thoughts with us. I wish you all the best as you await your "verdict." I'm sure anyone who reads Mistress of the Revolution will only have great things to say about your fine novel!

I'm Back!

Sorry for the lengthy silence. I was off visiting college campuses with my daughter and had to leave my computer at home. Now I'm back and ready to make up for lost time. {s}

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Forthcoming Interview with Catherine Delors

Catherine Delors, author of Mistress of the Revolution, has graciously agreed to answer some questions about her wonderful new novel and about writing historical fiction in general. Be sure to check back towards the end of next week to read the interview. In the meantime, start reading the novel won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sign of the Fountain Excerpt

Since I posted about printing presses the other day, I thought I'd share an excerpt that features them. This is the scene in which Jollande, the main character, meets Nicolas, compositor/poet/spy, for the first time. I hope you enjoy it!

Copyright 2007 by Julianne Douglas.

[Jollande] refused to pursue the direction of these thoughts as she bent to pick up Blaise’s apron. Smoothing its ample folds, she wandered back to the showroom. It was still empty of both staff and customers. She hung the apron from a hook and, as if drawn by an invisible lead, descended the three steps that led to the workroom proper. Her breath quickened as the familiar thrill began to tickle her. She was too tired to fight it any longer.

Two wooden presses, rising like massive portals, languished in the midday somnolence, huge screws raised, heavy boards arrested high above the frames of type set deep in the bed. Behind them, suspended from cords running the width of the room, curtains of newly printed pages swayed on currents of air, damp ink glistening. She plunged in among the leaves. Towards the back of the room she found what she was looking for. Her heart thumped as she read Ovid’s opening verse: “In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora. . .” She traced the embellished capital with an ink-stained fingertip. Would it ever be her words aligned letter by letter on the typesetter’s stick, her pages hanging to dry slowly into timelessness, her volumes offering themselves with immodest abandon on the shelves around the room? Once she would have replied yes without hesitation; now her resolve danced like the skittish sheet beneath her finger. . .

A polite cough fractured the silence. “Pardon me, madame, but customers are not permitted to enter the workshop.”

Jollande froze. She turned slowly, uncertain of whom she would find. The man’s black robe stained the wall of white pages like a puddle of spilled ink. Dark curls pooled beneath his flat cap; his neatly trimmed beard framed generous lips and softened his square jaw. His gray gaze was direct, his bland expression betrayed by the slight furrow of his brow. With the resigned tolerance of a parent herding an unruly child, he bowed slightly and gestured towards the front room. How long had he been there, watching? Whatever was he doing at the Fountain, acting as if he owned the place?

Jollande ignored the direction of his gesture and took a different path through the paper maze. “Customers,” she retorted from behind page eight, “are not usually left to their own devices.”

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Renaissance Printing Press

Here is a photo of a Renaissance era printing press. Each press is manned by a team of at least two journeymen, aided by an apprentice. One journeyman would fit the frame, or forme, filled with type set by the compositor into the tray and ink the forme with large, handled balls. The other would lay dampened paper over the inked forme, slide the tray under the screw, and turn the screw to lower the plate onto the paper and make an impression. The wet page would be hung to dry and the process begun again. An average size printing shop would have three presses in operation, a large operation five to six. One to two compositors, or typesetters, would fill the formes for each press; a proof reader would check the initial pages drawn from each forme. The compositor, and especially the proofreader, were often highly educated men, familiar with classical languages and literature.

The printing shop at the Sign of the Fountain in my novel is a small shop with two presses and one compositor. Since her godfather owns the shop, Jollande is permitted to work as a proofreader; Nicolas Vernier, a court poet working undercover to spy on the shop's activities for the Queen, assumes the role of compositor. Good thing the paper's damp, because sparks fly as these two spar over spelling.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What Do You See?

Sorry, I need your help again.

Can someone tell me what you see when you look at the past two or three entries?

Yesterday, I tried to figure out how to post a photo. There was an entry called "Photo test" that had some html code and a single sentence--the photo didn't post. So erased the content and the title and wrote an entry called "Writing a New Book" instead, but using the same editing window. When I view my blog now, I see that entry, followed by the "MOR pubs today," followed by the quiz answers. Do you still see the "Photo Test" entry? The reason I ask is because one of my viewer's entry and exit pages says "Photo Test."

If you still see it, maybe someone could tell me how to get rid of it, since I don't see it myself!

Thanks, and sorry for all the technical flubs. I'll get a hang of this eventually!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Writing a New Book

With my first book out of my hands for the time being, I've been pouring all my energies into creating Book 2. It will be interesting to see if my writing process differs this time. The Measure of Silence was written over more than a few years, in moments stolen here and there between writing and defending a dissertation and raising three children. I don't have the luxury of unlimited time for Book 2; once TMOS sells, I'll only have about a year, at most two, to submit my next manuscript.

I'm the type of writer who needs to know where I'm going before I begin. I work backwards, not in terms of the actual writing, but while plotting. I decide on the end and figure out how to get there in a given number of chapters. Although I don't write a formal outline, I do write brief chapter summaries, deciding in advance what has to happen in each chapter in order to reach the dénouement I foresee. These summaries help me keep track of the various plot lines and regulate the pacing of the book.

I'm sure "pantsters"--writers who write without a pre-conceived plan, who follow the lead of their characters and "make it up as they go along"--cringe when they read that. "Where's the creativity? What fun is it to write a chapter if you already know what happens in it?" But that's exactly where the fun does lie--in figuring out how to fit the pieces together in order to achieve the desired result. Although I know what needs to happen in a given chapter, I don't necessarily know how it happens as I set out to write it. I'm usually surprised at what characters will say or do or how details dovetail. And of course, I consider these summaries very fluid--if I stumble across a good idea while writing one chapter, I modify and change the subsequent summaries to accommodate it.

Plotting my second book is proving to be a bit more challenging than it was for the first. This time, I am building a story around actual historical events; I am trying to tie the individual story arcs of the main characters to the broader stage of the emerging nation. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm close. I'm excited to be working with this new cast of characters and intrigued by the nuggets of story they've presented. For now I'm still trying to fit the givens together; soon I'll be busy fleshing out the details and watching the novel grow chapter by chapter.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mistress of the Revolution Pubs Today!

Catherine Delors's historical novel, Mistress of the Revolution, releases today! Please check it out here. Catherine has had an amazing journey to publication, all in little over a year. You can read about it on her blog and in the many interviews she lists there.

Best wishes to Catherine on her special day!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Answers You've All Been Waiting For

Congratulations to Rachel and Nadezhda, who tried their hand at the first Renaissance quiz. I'm hoping others of you read the questions and thought about the choices, even if you didn't make a formal response. Here are the correct answers:

1. B François I.

I've said plenty about him already!

2. D All of the above.

Marguerite d'Angoulême, François's only sibling, was an accomplished author who wrote L'Heptaméron and numerous works of poetry. After her first husband died, she married Henri d'Albret and became Queen of Navarre in 1527. She was very sympathetic to the new religious ideas of the time and welcomed reformers like Calvin and Farel to her court at Nérac. She had one daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, who gave birth to King Henri IV of France. (Marguerite de Navarre is not to be confused with the Reine Margot of Alexandre Dumas's novel. That Margot was François's granddaughter and married Henri IV in 1572.)

3. A Michelangelo

Although François did invite Michelangelo to France, the artist never accepted. Leonardo, however, lived in France for three years at the end of his life and died at an estate near the château d'Amboise in 1519. Andrea del Sarto worked in France for a year in 1518 before he absconded to Florence with money François had given him to buy artwork. Cellini worked in France for a period in the early 1540's, during which time he fashioned his famous saltcellar.

4. B Lyon

Lyon was the second largest city in France after Paris during the sixteenth century, boasting a population of nearly 60,000. At the crossroad of several routes to Italy, Lyon became a center of banking, silk working, and literature. The city hosted trade fairs several times a year that attracted merchants, bankers and peddlers from throughout Europe. My novel The Measure of Silence is set in Lyon.

5. A gargantuan

Rabelais named his main character Gargantua. This character was a giant whose name has persisted through the centuries in the adjectival form gargantuan.

Did you get many correct? Rachel got three right; Nadezhda all five. Bravo, ladies! Thanks so much for participating. We'll try another quiz again sometime.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Be Brave!

It's been a day and no one's stepped up to the challenge. Come on, be the first brave soul to take the quiz! No need to answer every question. Surely you can answer one or two? The first one is a give-away. I'll bet you know more than you think you do. Answer anonymously if it makes you more comfortable. (And remember, it's multiple choice--you can guess! {s})

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Quiz #1

Okay, time for some fun!

Below are five questions to test your knowledge of the Renaissance in France. Some of the answers you will know from reading this blog; others you might know from university course work or general reading. Post your answers in a comment; in a day or so, once the comments stop, I'll post the correct answers.

NO GOOGLING ALLOWED!!! Let's see who knows what off the top of his/her head.

1. Who reigned as King of France from 1515 to 1547?

a) Henri IV
b) François I
c) Louis XVI
d) Henri II

2. François I's sister Marguerite is famous for being

a) the author of the Heptaméron, a collection of tales modeled after Boccaccio's Decameron
b) Queen of Navarre
c) patroness of several Evangelical reformers, including Guillaume Farel and Jean Calvin
d) all of the above (don't you hate that choice?!)

3. Which Italian artist did NOT work in France at François I's invitation?

a) Michelangelo
b) Leonardo Da Vinci
c) Andrea del Sarto
d) Cellini

4. Which French city rivaled Paris as a center of commerce and culture in the 16th century?

a) Rouen
b) Lyon
c) Bordeaux
d) Tours

5. Which adjective derives from the name of the giant in François Rabelais's controversial second
book, published in 1534?

a) gargantuan
b) colossal
c) grandiose
d) titanic

Have at it! Prize is the satisfaction of knowing you know as much useless information as I do! {s}

Problem solved?

This is a test. A kind reader directed me to a virtual French keyboard that should insert accent marks without random html code popping up. Someone please let me know how it looks on your end. (I never see the html code when I log into my own blog.)

François I préfère parler à l'aumônier en privé.

It's a lame sentence, but it has many accent marks!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Apologies for HTML Code

My apologies for the html code that appears to be popping up in my posts. Because I need accent marks, I've been writing my posts in Word and then copying them into Blogger. When I view my blog it looks perfectly normal to me, but several readers have told me that the code is showing on their version. I hope this hasn't made reading too difficult.

If anyone knows how to write accent marks directly on Blogger, please tell me how or tell me where to go to find out! If I compose directly on the editor, I should avoid the random code problems. Thanks!

Impressions of The Other Boleyn Girl

Meh. That was my feeling upon seeing The Other Boleyn Girl last night. Didn’t hate it, but certainly didn’t love it, either. I felt justified in my opinion after reading Sarah Johnson’s review at Reading the Past. I purposely didn’t read her review until after seeing the film and found myself nodding my head as I read. I’m not going to repeat what you can read there; what follows here are some additional reactions of my own.

It was little things about the film that bugged me, more than any of the liberties taken with the history. The convention of viewing characters through open doors and windows, for example. I understood that the art director was trying to capture the look of contemporary paintings—and in one instance I remember catching my breath because the scene reminded me so strongly of a Dutch painting or a portrait by Clouet—but by the end of the film, the constant framing of distant characters annoyed me to no end.

Then there were the frequent exterior shots of the castles—the Boleyn home, Hampton Court, the Tower of London. I don’t know when the Boleyn estate was built, but it bothered me that it looked so OLD in the film; Hampton Court, also. (I’m assuming it was Hampton Court, although I remember HC being built of red brick and the castle in the movie was gray. I don’t think it was Windsor—anyone know which castle they used?) Much rebuilding and renovating took place on older residences during the sixteenth century. I’d expect these places to look brand-spanking new, not old and crumbly. And what was it with the clouds moving at rapid speed during these shots? Such a clichéd way of showing the passage of time or the headlong course to disaster.

The music left me cold. Instead of using period music, the movie featured a score that must have been written especially for it. Again, it was overly dramatic, filled with a sense of impending doom. There was one scene of a dance at court that featured period music, but I don’t remember any others. I think proper music would have added greatly to the atmosphere and lessened the “we-know-what’s-gonna-happen-and-you-the-characters-don’t” feel to the score.

I disagree that Anne would view being sent to the French court as punishment. Ignoring the fact that she and Mary spent time at the French court long before they ever met Henry, I hardly doubt Anne would have equated being there as “exile.” The French court was noted for its elegance and sophistication; English noblewomen went there to acquire a certain refinement and were often loath to return home to the uncouth English counterpart when their stint was up. And of course, I’ll have to chalk Anne’s unflattering comments about François I as being exaggerations intended to flatter Henry by comparison.

Ah, Henry. I’m sorry, but as much as I love Eric Bana, I don’t think he fit the part. Henry had red-golden (or at least sandy) hair and was often compared to a lion. I just couldn’t accept dark and brooding Bana as the King. I also found it amusing how often he ran about the palace unattended, and seriously doubt his mistress would spend the entire night in his rooms, given that the ceremony of the King’s lever would occur at first light. And speaking of ridiculous scenes, there’s no way on earth Mary would ride off in the middle of the night, ALONE on horseback, to escape her brother and sister.

Okay, so was there anything I liked? The costumes, of course, were gorgeous, the acting solid. Nothing outrageously anachronistic destroyed the unfolding of the story; the motivations, if somewhat exaggerated, were believable. The film did a good job portraying women’s roles and the importance of begetting male heirs. And I was glad the sex scenes faded to black and didn’t become the focus of the movie. All in all, it was an enjoyable experience, but just reinforced for me the risks involved in fictionalizing historical personages. Someone in the comment trail on Sarah’s blog linked to an article by Philippa Gregory herself on the film. Well worth a read.