Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Interview: Marci Jefferson, author of ENCHANTRESS OF PARIS

Today I welcome Marci Jefferson, author of the newly released historical novel ENCHANTRESS OF PARIS (St. Martin's Press), to answer some questions about her characters and seventeenth century France.

Marie Mancini is a fascinating character. Where did you first encounter her and why did you decide to write about her? 

I actually learned about Marie Mancini while doing research for GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN. In most sources Marie is mentioned as King Louis’ first love, someone he might have married if not for his duty to his country. But a deeper study revealed a story far more complex.

Marie Mancini, author and date unknown
You cite Marie’s memoirs as one of your sources. What was it like reading about Marie’s life in her own words? What insights did you glean that you might not have found in secondary sources? Were there instances where the Memoirs complicated the path you envisioned for your narrative and how did you resolve the conflict?

Marie’s memoir is pure enjoyment. I’ve read it over and over! She lays out events in an orderly way, which is useful because biographers sometimes don’t provide details chronologically. Her narrative never complicated the novel - quite the opposite - I try to allow historical facts to structure my plots. The one complication in using her memoir as a source is that one must remember *why* she wrote a memoir in the first place. She had scandalized her family by leaving her high-born husband, fleeing Italy for refuge in France in defiance of the Pope. She needed to defend herself without offending the world powers. She set her memoir to paper to justify her actions, and it is evident in her writing that she took pains not to insult the men she had defied. She also avoids telling the whole story, respecting King Louis’ privacy and leaving researchers to read between the lines. Those fine areas between the lines - that is where the historical novelist steps in to provide answers!

Did the historical Marie truly believe she had a valid chance at becoming Queen of France? Why would she think the King would—or ever could—put his personal wishes above the needs of the nation?

King Louis told Marie he would make her his queen, and Marie believed him because she needed to believe in love. There is no other explanation for her behavior and for the severity with which her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, treated her. I believe Mazarin suppressed her, exiled her, and may have even tried to kill her because she was doing everything she could to convince King Louis that he was strong enough to act without Mazarin’s approval. Though Cardinal Mazarin won the battle, it cost him dearly. Mazarin’s health deteriorated so badly during the ordeal, he died shortly after. I wrote the novel exactly as I believe things happened.

Cardinal Mazarin, c. 1660 by Pierre Mignard
You portray Cardinal Mazarin as a cruel, thoroughly self-serving character. Did he have any redeeming qualities? Did his influence over King Louis and the queen mother yield any benefit for France?

Cardinal Mazarin is a rare example of a seventeenth century commoner bettering themselves. In his era, men and women remained within the station to which they were born. Mazarin’s father had been a commoner, raised to a position of service in the powerful Colona family in Rome. A bright young man, Mazarin impressed the right people in the Catholic Church. He became protege to Cardinal Richelieu, securing his own future in France. Mazarin used his connections to marry his common-born sisters into noble Italian families. He then moved his extended family to France, marrying his nieces into French noble families. I tried to highlight this generosity in the novel, because a villain that is all bad quickly becomes boring. But the truth is, he did these “generous” things to improve his own power connections. He employed men who were “creative” about making him money. It’s true he brought the Fronde wars to an end, but those wars started in part because of his abuse of power. One thing he did that benefited France was orchestrate a peace treaty with Spain. This damaged his income streams, as the war was one of his biggest sources of “creative” money making, and some believe he had the power to stop that war whenever he wanted. Incidentally, this peace was sealed with King Louis’ marriage to the Spanish princess, which ended Louis’ relationship with Marie, causing both his niece and the king a great deal of pain. I try to be objective when studying historical figures, but in the case of Cardinal Mazarin, the best I can say of him is that he was a political mastermind.

The numerous Mancini siblings all led interesting, unconventional lives. How do you explain their courage and/or recklessness? Which sibling intrigues you most after Marie?

The Mancini’s were bold and unconventional because they were brought up by an unconventional man: Cardinal Mazarin. None of the Mancini’s respected him, but they all strove to change their lot in life much as he had done. I almost cannot pick a favorite Mancini sister, but Hortense is certainly as remarkable as Marie.

ENCHANTRESS OF PARIS covers roughly the same time period as GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN. Did your research unearth any interesting differences between the French and the English court cultures of the mid-seventeenth century?

The primary difference between the French and English courts in the seventeenth century is religious. France was firmly Catholic, while England had been dealing with the aftermath of their protestant reformation for generations. The difference in religions make the power structures different in each court. Some Catholic aristocrats in the French court still held to a number of superstitious beliefs that drove them to seek the services of an underground ring of witches and renegade priests dabbling in the occult arts. The majority of the English court hated Catholics and were ever on-guard against plots of a Catholic take-over.

Louis XIV of France, 1661 by Charles Le Brun
Which king—Charles II of England or Louis XIV of France—appeals to you more and why? Which woman, Frances Stuart or Marie Mancini, would you trade places with if you could?

King Louis learned to be a powerful man with Marie Mancini’s help, and only seized power of his own kingdom when his corrupt advisor died. After this, Louis was emotionally distant, politically skilled but not particularly pleasant to be around. Charles II inherited his throne while his kingdom was losing a terrible war. After a period of exile, his countrymen restored him to power because they believed in him. Charles was easygoing, witty, and a master at balancing factions. King Louis spent his energy enforcing Catholicism and expanding his boundaries. Charles spent his energy keeping the peace and enforcing the need to be tolerant of other religions. For these reasons, Charles is more appealing.

Though I enjoy writing about heroic seventeenth century women, I wouldn’t dare trade places with Marie or Frances. I appreciate my civil rights too much to go back to a time when women were expected to be subservient.

Hortense and Marie Mancini, c. 1680 by Jacob Ferdinand Voet
You have now written two historical novels. What did you learn, in terms of work habits, research practices, or narrative technique while writing the first that helped you to write the second? What is the most important thing you have learned so far on your journey?

After two novels I’ve learned that all the cliches about writing are true: you have to write every day, read a lot, and cut the parts that people skim. But perhaps most importantly, persistence is just as important as talent in traditional publishing.

To celebrate the publication of ENCHANTRESS OF PARIS, Marci Jefferson is giving away a lovely faux diamond bracelet like the one below. To enter the random drawing, leave a comment with a contact email address. Entrants must reside within the continental United States. Contest will close at 9 pm Pacific Standard time on Wednesday, August 19. Winner's name will be posted Friday, August 21. Good luck! ***PLEASE NOTE: This giveaway is completely separate from yesterday's book giveaway. If you'd like to enter both contests, you need to leave a comment on each post. Thank you.

Marci Jefferson, author of GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN (St. Martin's, 2014) and ENCHANTRESS OF PARIS (St. Martin's, 2015) writes about remarkable women in history who dared to defy men. You can learn more about Marci and her books at her website.

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