Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Much has been written in recent months about the role social media has played in fomenting and facilitating the Arab spring, allowing revolutionaries to express their views and coordinate their actions. According to a detailed feature article in the 17 December 2011 issue of The Economist, social media, albeit of a different kind, played an identical, pivotal role in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. "How Luther Went Viral" traces the spread of the German ex-monk's ideas through quickly-printed, widely-circulated pamphlets, crude and graphic broadsheets, and re-worded popular songs. Just as modern digital media fan the simmering discontent of those opposed to authoritarian regimes, the sharing of print media in sixteenth-century markets and town squares helped precipitate the Protestant revolution. Today's "[s]ocial media are not unprecedented; rather, they are the continuation of a long tradition." A fascinating and worthwhile read.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Anne was winnowing the gossip her ladies had gathered when Boulogne threw open the door.
“Mille pardons, madame.” The painter's heavily accented words belied the sketchiness of his bow. He displayed his arms, bent upright at the elbows, as the excuse for his tardiness: “It takes time to wash the stuff of my labors from my hands.”
The cleanliness of Boulogne’s hands never failed to amaze her; unlike Maistre Roux, whose extravagant dress only accentuated his paint-rimed nails and unkempt hair, Boulogne was a model of fastidiousness. Slight as a switch and hardly a thumb’s length taller than she, every pleat of his somber tunic neatly tucked into a plain leather belt, the master painter might have passed for a simple clerk, save for the dusky pearl, large as a swallow's egg, that dangled from one ear. With his bulging eyes and reedy voice, Boulogne found himself dismissed by courtiers without consequence, by ladies without longing. But his hands—those slender, fluttering hands that never bore the stain of his toil—attracted Anne like no others. François’s hands ruled a kingdom, but Boulogne’s held time in their thrall.
She shook off an image of the painter's hands on her skin. If she’d ever entertained thoughts of pursuing the experience, François’s thinly veiled threats had banished them. “Don’t let them dry," she warned Boulogne, ”for your reprieve will be short. The King grows impatient with the unfinished state of the pavilion.”
Boulogne flicked his hands in the air, unleashing a plaint that accompanied them to her private chamber. “It is not I, but the Florentine who delays us! I paint the ceiling bice, he tells me it must be smalt. ‘Change those primroses to carnations,’ he orders, ‘the satyrs to centaurs. And the sky, we’re no longer looking north, but south. Those constellations are wrong, wrong, wrong!’ I erase and adjust and cater to his whims while he dines with the king and turns His Majesty against me. Le Roux treats me worse than a lackey, I who trained at the side of the great Giulio Romano in the Palazzo Te!”
Anne’s hands settled on her waist. “Le Roux’s primacy might seem unassailable, yet there is a way to win the king’s favor, if you’re willing to try.”
“And what way is that?” His tirade had displaced a lock of lank hair; he smoothed it back behind his ear. “The royal bedchamber, the baths, these very walls—I’ve surpassed myself with each new task, yet still His Majesty overlooks me.”
“It is simple. You must offer the king something Le Roux cannot.”
He contemplated her, his lips pursed, dark eyes intent. “Something tells me you have discovered what this thing is.”
“Of course,“ she said, her eyes never leaving his. “A portrait. Of me.”
Boulogne snorted. “With all due respect, madame, Maistre Clouet has taken your likeness many times.”
What she envisioned had no comparison to the elder Clouet's staid renderings. She placed a hand on Boulogne's arm. “A portrait of me,” she repeated, and paused to lean in close. “Bathing.”
(copyright Julianne Douglas, 2011)
Friday, October 14, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Friday, September 30, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Given historical fiction's recent explosion in popularity, it's hard to keep up with all the new titles publishers turn out each month. However, there are many older novels well worth reading. I'm always thrilled to come across an older book that escaped my attention when it first came out yet has the substance and sparkle to compete with newer titles.
One such book is THE FRENCHWOMAN by Jeanne Mackin. Published by St. Martin's Press in 1989, this novel tells the story of Julienne, a poor seamstress who uses her wits, skills and determination to become one of Marie Antoinette's favorite dressmakers. Foreseeing her own arrest, the Queen entrusts Julienne with a jewel meant to ensure the future of the young Dauphin. Pursued by agents of the various factions seeking to keep the Dauphin from regaining the throne, Julienne flees the blood-soaked streets of Revolutionary Paris for the wilderness of Pennsylvania, where French exiles are building a haven for the queen they hope to save. But until Julienne frees herself of the burden of the secret and surrenders the lost world the flawed diamond represents, love and security continue to elude her.
My reading of Catherine Delors' MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION and, more recently, Michelle Moran's MADAME TUSSAUD whetted my appetite for historical fiction set during the French Revolution, and THE FRENCHWOMAN did not disappoint. A parallel with Moran's book made Mackin's all the more interesting: whereas Marie Tussaud collaborates with the famous dressmaker Rose Bertin in clothing her wax figures, Julienne actually works as a seamstress in Bertin's shop. It was interesting to experience Bertin's establishment from both an exterior and interior perspective, as well as compare how the two authors depict the commanding figure of Rose Bertin, the creator of many of Marie Antoinette's most famous gowns. Other characters, such as the Duc d'Orléans (Philippe-Égalité) and Robespierre, figure in both books and invite interesting comparisons on how authors interpret and recreate characters from the historical record.
The fact that Julienne, the illegitimate daughter of a prostitute, transforms herself into a successful business woman who frequents the Queen's chambers at Versailles, gives the author ample opportunity to explore and depict many levels of Parisian society. Mackin's descriptions of each are detailed and convincing. Especially intriguing is the final section of the book, which takes place on the Pennsylvania frontier. I discovered this novel while searching for information on historical Azilum, an actual French settlement built expressly to house the Queen and her children, whom royalists hoped to smuggle out of France, and was pleased with what I found. Mackin does an excellent job of depicting the French aristocrats' determined if somewhat ludicrous attempts to preserve and sustain the glamour and refinements of their previous existence in the rude, snowbound cabins of Pennsylvania, where wolves howled outside the very doors. The author handles the exiles' psychological motivation--their intense devotion to the monarchy and sincere hope of sheltering the Queen and her children, as well as their reluctance to abandon the past--with respect and a sensitivity that makes it thoroughly believable to a twenty-first century reader.
Narrated by Julienne in the first person, THE FRENCHWOMAN presents a good balance of historical detail and psychological density. Chief among Julienne's difficulties are her ability to trust and her incapacity to forge a healthy love relationship when she has so many things to hide. Although at times the jewel as a plot device seems a trifle forced, on a thematic level it adds great richness to the story. Symbolic of many things--a damaged monarchy; adherence to an outmoded way of life; shameful origins and closely-guarded secrets; unattainable dreams--the jewel is the weight that centers the book and draws together the rays of Julienne's past, a past she must cast off if she hopes to revel in the bright, clear light of the future.
I borrowed this book though interlibrary loan, although it appears available for purchase through used book outlets. This is one book that definitely deserves to be reissued. Jeanne Mackin has written other historical novels and currently writes Louisa May Alcott mysteries under the name Anna Maclean. You can learn more about Ms. Mackin and her work at her website.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
This has been a difficult week for me--my oldest son left home for his first year of college a day after my daughter departed for her third. Both attend schools on the other side of the country; as we can only afford to fly them home for semester break, I won't see them in person until Christmas. As I watched my daughter disappear past the security checkpoint at the airport and the taxi whisk my son away to begin this new chapter in his life, I thought my heart would break. Good thing my six-year-old was there to hold the pieces together with one of his crushing hugs.
Goodbyes are always difficult, but at least I know--barring some extraordinary event--my children and I will be reunited in December. In the meantime, we can talk on the phone, text, even see each other via Skype. I have photographs I can look at, videos I can watch. When I think about the numerous means I have to make their absence less absolute, I can't help but wonder at how much harder it must have been to say goodbye centuries ago.
With travel as difficult and as slow as it was in the sixteenth century, journeys stretched past weeks into months and even years. Weather determined the condition of roads and the courses of ships, making an exact date of return impossible to predict. Brigands, accidents, illness, and war threatened to make any absence permanent. Letters, the only means of communication between those separated, took weeks or months to arrive, if they ever did. Portaits were a luxury; most people had to rely solely on memory to recall their loved ones' appearance and expressions.
It is easy to imagine situations for which a goodbye might have been forever. Sons and husbands marched off to battle, where a pike thrust, a cannonball or a bout of dysentery could easily thwart their return. Explorers and merchants embarked in creaking ships on treacherous seas to uncharted lands. Marriage removed daughters to far-off places to bear children, subjecting them to the dangers of childbirth. Today, we have multiple means of instant communication to reach out to loved ones at any given moment; in the past, a cloud of near impenetrable uncertainty engulfed the departing traveler at the horizon.
One can postulate the ways the people of the time coped with this uncertainty. As no one knew any different, perhaps they accepted it with calm resignation as the normal course of life. Many most likely found peace in their faith, entrusting their loved ones to divine protection. Others may have been distracted from their worry by the more pressing concerns of daily life. Some must have fretted, others pined. Imagining their responses--placing myself in the shoes of an emigrant to the New World, for example, who knows she will never again return to the land of her birth--helps me put my own feelings into perspective. Harsh as a present-day separation might seem, it little compares to those of the past.
As my children leave on their separate journeys, I rejoice in their courage and the opportunities that await them in the New Worlds they will inhabit. I, too, have a journey of my own to make, one that leads deep into an imagined world of kings and castles along practical paths of word counts and deadlines. Who knows, I might even find time to update this neglected blog on a more consistent basis! Trusting fate will be kind, I wish my children and myself Godspeed, knowing we will see each other soon and have much to show for our separation. In the meantime, ever grateful for your loyal companionship, I invite you to continue to accompany me on my writerly journey.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Friday, July 15, 2011
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Friday, June 24, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Friday, June 3, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
What led to writing Queen By Right?
Thank you for hosting me today, Julianne, and for letting me tell your readers about my new book! I needed a fourth book to fulfill the second part of my second contract with Simon & Schuster and as it seemed I was telling the York-family story during the Wars of the Roses through my three other books, I felt compelled to begin at the beginning of that story with the matriarch of the family, Cecily Neville, duchess of York. Besides, Cecily had "spoken" to me during the writing of Daughter of York and I thought then she would make for a compelling read. She a wonderfully strong woman who was right there with her husband, Richard, with whom, history appears to think, she had an unusual love match.
What research do you do for the books?
Most important for me is doing research by walking in my characters’ footsteps. I travel to those places where history tells us they were associated with. Until I have seen the places they lived, walked, loved and worked, I don’t get a feel for them. At Raby Castle, where Cecily Neville grew up, I was grateful to have a private tour with the present descendant Lord Barnard's executive assistant who showed me to a part of the castle that is not on the usual tour but where the castle historian believes Cecily and her sister, Anne, would have been housed. She also photocopied old genealogy charts from the castle archives that are incredibly detailed. That's just one instance of how kind and helpful historians/archivists are when you approach them for help. I talk to historians and curators, search archives, spend a lot of time in museums and libraries and use the internet to fill in a few gaps (but I don’t rely on that too much! It’s not always very accurate.) And I am proud of the library of resource books I have collected over the years. I research right up until I complete the last page; it is pretty much ongoing.
Do you have any anecdotes worth sharing during the research of Queen By Right?
I would have to say that an afternoon spent with the woman who owns Brancepeth Castle about 12 miles from Raby Castle BTW was the more unusual event of my research for the book. My oldest friend in UK and I traveled north to Yorkshire and Co. Durham for a double dose of research for The King's Grace and Queen By Right. Through a fellow Richard III Society member, who lives in Durham, I was given the phone number of the owner of Brancepeth (it was Cecily’s father’s, the earl of Westmorland, family seat and certainly on my list of places to visit). I called Margaret and asked if I could possibly talk with her about the castle and have a look around. She was very gracious and invited us for tea the next day. The castle is MASSIVE, and we were told to go into the Brancepeth village post office which was housed inside the gatehouse and ring for Margaret. Turns out she bought the castle on a whim--it was going for a song, and began renting bits and pieces of it as apartments. She was also the village postmistress! And if you have ever watched Masterpiece Theater and can recognize an eccentric elderly English lady when you see one, then you will know what an entertaining afternoon we had. We knocked on the huge oak door and were let in by a young man who did odd jobs. He waved us in the direction of Margaret's quarters--through a lofty and very draughty hall--and said she was expecting us. We walked through the open door into another enormous room only to see Margaret coming out of the bathroom still adjusting her underwear. "Oh, do come in!" she enthused, smoothing down her thick wool skirt. "Let's have a cup of tea before I show you around." It was here I learned that second-wife Joan Beaufort had not been welcome at Brancepeth with Ralph Neville's children from his first Stafford marriage, and Margaret was quite disdainful about my interest in Cecily (one of Joan’s brats, she scoffed!). She was an enthusiastic tour guide and I felt so lucky to have been given a glimpse into this private castle.
What are you currently working on?
I have a contract for a fifth book with Touchstone at Simon & Schuster and it will complete the York family series. It's about Jane Shore, one of Edward IV's mistresses.
Where are you based?
I moved to the US with a flatmate in my early 20s to work as an executive secretary in Manhattan. Forty years later, plus two marriages, two children and eight moves to different states and one three-year stint in Paris with the US Embassy, I am now living in Newburyport, MA, an historic seaport on the mouth of the Merrimac River about 25 miles north of Boston with my husband, Scott.
How does it feel to see your fourth book published?
Friday, May 13, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The Princess of Montpensier, Bertrand Tavernier's gorgeous historical drama set in sixteenth century France and based on the eponymous novel by Madame de Lafayette, opens this Friday in US theaters. When the film opened in Europe last May, I longed for an American showing. Now I'm hoping to be lucky enough to find it in a nearby theater. If not, I'll have to wait for the DVD, but at least a DVD is assured now that the film is showing in the States. You can view the English trailer here. Film Journal International ran a wonderful interview with Tavernier here. The reviews are uniformly exceptional. If anyone is lucky enough to view the film, please come back and share your impressions! I'm off to see if I can find it in an area theater.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Friday, April 1, 2011
Friday, March 18, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Author Michelle Moran shares some thoughts about the subject of her new novel, MADAME TUSSAUD.
MADAME TUSSAUD: The Woman
by Michelle Moran
When most people hear the name Madame Tussaud, the first thing that comes to mind are the eerily lifelike waxworks which crowd her museums throughout the world. But who was the woman behind the name, and what was she like in the flesh?
Madame Tussaud’s story actually began in 18th century Paris. While most people know her from her famous museum in London, it was in France, on the humble Boulevard du Temple, where Marie first got her start as an apprentice in her uncle’s wax museum, the Salon de Cire. At the time, the Boulevard du Temple was crowded with exhibits of every kind. For just a few sous a passerby might attend the opera, watch a puppet show, or visit Henri Charles’ mystifying exhibition The Invisible Girl. The Boulevard was a difficult place to distinguish yourself as an artist, but as Marie’s talent grew for both sculpting and public relations, the Salon de Cire became one of the most popular attractions around. Suddenly, no one could compete with Marie or her uncle for ingenious publicity stunts, and when the royal family supposedly visited their museum, this only solidified what most showmen in Paris already knew — the Salon was an exhibition to watch out for.
But as the Salon’s popularity grew, so did the unusual requests. Noblemen came asking for wax sculptures of their mistresses, women wanted models of their newborn infants, and – most importantly – the king’s sister herself wanted Marie to come to Versailles to be her wax tutor. While this was, in many ways, a dream come true for Marie, it was also a dangerous time to be associated with the royal family. Men like Robespierre, Marat, and Desmoulins were meeting at Marie’s house to discuss the future of the monarchy, and when the Revolution began, Marie found herself in a precarious position. Ultimately, she was given a choice by France’s new leaders: to preserve the famous victims of Madame Guillotine in wax, or be guillotined herself.
Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution is the story of Marie’s life during one of the most tumultuous times in human history. Her survival was nothing less than astonishing, and how she survived makes for what I hope is a compelling read.
Check out Michelle's blog at michellemoran.blogspot.com