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 New novel: Mistress of the Revolution 
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
Unfortunately, many people take all their history lessons from novels (or television and films), and knowing this, I think even authors have a public responsibility to at least attempt historical accuracy, otherwise why write about a particular historical period at all???

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Fri Jan 29, 2010 8:24 am
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
You must really hate "A Tale of Two Cities" then.

Dickens knew the real history well - not the least because he was good friends with Thomas Carlyle. But he had also read some of the major French sources. Nonetheless, he was building a fictional construct and exaggerated, displaced, omitted as he felt he needed to to get a good story.

It's dismaying when people take that otherwise magnificent book as history. But hell people take all kinds of things as history that aren't and fiction writers ultimately have very little effect on that.

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Fri Jan 29, 2010 5:34 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
jimcheval wrote:
It's dismaying when people take that otherwise magnificent book as history. But hell people take all kinds of things as history that aren't and fiction writers ultimately have very little effect on that.



Exactly! It drives me crazy!!!!


Fri Jan 29, 2010 6:14 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
I couldn't disagree more. Novelists, as well as other media, are considered to be opinion-makers. An excellent example of this would be Upton Sinclair, who used fiction as a method of delivery for his very real social message. And it worked; he had an enormous influence on the progressive movement and ultimately, official policy. The same could be said for Rousseau in M.A.'s time. Like it or not, fiction can be a very powerful form of public influence, and in that respect, there is a certain responsibility inherit in writing and publishing a book.

That said, the topic of this discussion was our personal opinions on this particular novel. I think it stinks, for the very reasons originally listed.

And yes, Jim, I despise A Tale of Two Cities (as stated in another thread). Aside from its historical falsehoods, it's just a silly bit of Victorian sentimental nonsense written for a news paper serial, hardly grounds for a masterpiece.

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Fri Jan 29, 2010 10:51 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
I agree that novels can be manipulative. The worst books written on MA that I've read were historical novels. The real truth about the past is difficult enough to ascertain without some subjective filter blurring things even more. Its' true that the genre historical novel is one of the most complex to get right, and I feel so reassured when I see a historical writer covered in dust from hours in the archives. I tend to read either pure biographies or novels that have no other real pretention than to tell a good story, weigh up and dissect human relations and maybe comment on or criticize the society of the time. Among these I would count two favourite writers, Thomas Hardy and DH Lawrence. That being said the goal of the novel is very different to that of the historian. Novelists such as Rousseau, Laclos and De Sade for example are all very much trying to make a point and influence the reader. Their writings, though not historical, cannot really be fully appreciated if deprived of their historical context.

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Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:22 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
I hope you don't mind if I join in.

I strongly deny twisting the facts or lying about people. On the contrary, I meticulously documented all historical facts, and did extensive research for this book. About Marie-Antoinette, the only character in my novel who actually "knows" her personally is the Chevalier des Huttes (a historical character, by the way), and he speaks very highly of her. Please keep in mind that Gabrielle, my heroine, arrives in Paris after the Affair of the Necklace, at a time when the Queen's reputation is utterly destroyed. If one reads Frances Mossiker's remarkable book, it is easy to understand how that happened (not why, this case remains a mystery to me.) About the lewd pamphlets against Marie-Antoinette, they date back from before the birth of Madame Royale (see Chantal Thomas's The Myth of the Wicked Queen.)

I did not lie when I said that Marie-Antoinette was extremely imposing and came across as haughty to strangers. The Memoirs on which I drew make that clear. The fact that she withdrew from Court and retired to Trianon to enjoy the company of a small circle of friends, and the advancement of the Polignac family led to much resentment among the ranks of the nobility.

I never wrote that Marie-Antoinette had an affair with Lauzun, or Fersen, or anyone else. I said that she was accused of it, and that undeniable. Even the Duchess in my novel, who doesn't like her, admits that there is no proof of it.

I don't think I presented all of the members of the royal family as ugly or stupid, or all the revolutionary as virtuous and handsome. Coffinhal, in particular, is downright ugly, and also implacable to his enemies. The atrocities committed by Carrier in Nantes are clearly presented, with their direct consequences for Gabrielle's family. Louis XVI came across as physically awkward (Madame Campan, Madame de La Tour du Pin) except on horseback. Gabrielle's husband, who is no fool, comments on the King's intelligence and learning.

As for the Barriere des Fermiers Generaux, it is also historical fact. Yes, food was subject to duties when it entered Paris, even at times of famine. Was it the fault of Louis XVI or Marie-Antoinette? Certainly not, and Louis XVI tried to reform the tax system by calling the Estates General. He himself was perfectly aware of the shortcomings of the Ancien Regime, and the need for reform. Ignoring those is dismissing the role the King played, and the chain of events that led to the Revolution. Likewise, ignoring Marie-Antoinette's terrible image makes her later fate inexplicable. That image was unfair, it was the result in great part of power struggles within the royal family, over which she had no control, but it cannot be denied, not can its tragic consequences.

I hope those of you who have read my blog realize I bear Marie-Antoinette, or Louis XVI, or the royal family in general, no ill will. Gabrielle de Montserrat is no omniscient narrator, no saint either, she is subjective, prejudiced even. The plot proves her wrong on several occasions. But she is my heroine, flaws and all.

Please feel free to ask any questions!


Tue Feb 02, 2010 3:10 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
Christophe wrote:
That said, the topic of this discussion was our personal opinions on this particular novel. I think it stinks, for the very reasons originally listed.


I have not read this novel so I cannot comment on it's content. Based upon reading the post by Christophe I was prompted to respond. Among the reasons mentioned for not liking the book were words and phrases such as "she claimed" "academic dishonesty" "falsehood" "This never happened!" "twisting facts.....". I only meant to say (as I said in another thread) that novels and fiction by their definition are stories and invented prose - therefore how can a reader take issue with the writer as to truth and untruth? It is their story - it does not have to be historically, socially or any other kind of accurate. The author does not "owe" the reader accuracy. That's why it's fiction. What a novelist "should" and "should not" do in any of our opinions is moot. It's their "story" and they can write whatever they want. Calling it a novel tells the reader it is a story.


Wed Feb 03, 2010 12:56 am
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
Hello Catherine and welcome to this forum. Your intellectual output will be welcome here.

I haven't read your novel so I can't comment. Generally speaking I now avoid historical novels about this period because I find the reality itself chilling enough and difficult enough to fathom. The novel genre does permit your character to express opinions that may be subjective and do not necessarily reflect either the truth or your own views. Indeed your character may be proven wrong by events and that is an effective way to add dramatic effect by her contritional reaction. However this is one subject where I avoid blurring the picture any further by reading novels and look for hard, documented and if possible archived and cross referenced truth. Mémoires and correspondence are of course an important source, but they need to be analysed in their context ("restoration" bias for example) and in their objectivity. I can't think of anyone more slandered and more misunderstood than this particular sovereign, and therefore I simply have difficulty reading depictions of fictional characters carrying on this often ignorant slander. Novels do influence, and I cannot stand, with regard to this unfortunate sovereign, to see any more people influenced by anything that is not strictly factual, first hand documented truth about what she said and did, measured and analysed in the context of 18th century "ancien régîme" France.

What do you mean about "Marie Antoinette coming across as haughty to strangers? What strangers did MA meet? She was maybe haughty to Sauce and his wife or Drouot when she tried to escape their clutches in Varennes, but one can understand that reaction!The few instances I have seen of her meeting unannounced strangers, such as on the 5th October when she and Louis met the delegation of fishwives, or in the carriage back from Varennes, I can't remember any bad reactions.On the contrary she had a kind of magnetic charm that won over many who should have been hostile to her such as Barnave or Toulon. Likewise her visits to hospices to give money to the poor. And her visits to the theatre or opera were chaperoned so she was always in representation and not in a position to be haughty to anyone. Otherwise "strangers" had an audience with MA, diplomats, distinguished visitors to the court,and her charm and protocol skills are well documented in such occasions. I think indeed that one of the main problems with Louis XVI and MA is that they did not meet "strangers" enough: for example they never travelled the land, apart from one short trip by the King to Normandy, and MA was the Queen of the "Ile de France" region around Paris, which she left on just two occasions, one of those in flight!

As for her people in her immediate surroundings, "la maison de la Reine" or her household, her kindness and charm and almost maternal sollicitude towards them are well documented (Mémoires de Tilly for example) and those are the people who saw her every day. MA lived in a microcosm, a small false brillant world so overwhelmingly time consuming that she seemed not even to think about spreading her wings further afield. And yet it is quite clear from her writings that she in no way lacked the intelligence to do so and to conquer the hearts of those she met along the way.

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Wed Feb 03, 2010 2:13 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
Bien dit, mon chère Baron!

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Wed Feb 03, 2010 4:25 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
Thank you, Lilly, for reminding us of the fundamental difference between fiction and scholarly work. It is indeed fundamental. However, one should not underestimate bias in scholars and academics either. :)

To the Baron, thank you for welcoming me here. I would agree that Marie-Antoinette has been one of the most maligned characters in history, and generally for reasons that had nothing to do with her own behavior, but because of the dynamics of the French royal family and international politics. Indeed you find harsh judgments passed on her by Mercy-Argenteau, and her brother and mother. I based my take on her being haughty to strangers on various Memoirs. Those of the Marquise de la Tour du Pin, who was about my heroine's age and did not know the Queen well. Marie-Antoinette herself joked about it to Madame Vigee-Lebrun. "If I were not the Queen, they would say I am insolent." Sadly she did not realize that "they" were saying it nevertheless. "They" being the pamphlets against her, and public opinion.

I also agree that in her circle of friends, Marie-Antoinette was all simplicity and kindness. This is precisely what I had one of my characters say about her (the Chevalier des Huttes, the only one who knows her personally, and who dies in the morning of the 6th of October 1789 defending her). This is also what Madame Lebrun says in her Memoirs. So does Madame Campan.

On a personal note, when I visited the Grand Palais exhibition in Paris, I suddenly found myself in a room with three different busts of Marie-Antoinette. It gave a "3D" impression of her, and it was startling. I could put myself in the shoes of someone meeting her for the first time. The chin held very high, the head thrown backwards, the strong aquiline nose, the very high rounded forehead. Add to that the high stature and her short-sightedness, which prevented her from making eye contact beyond a few yards, maybe less, and I could understand why people found her so intimidating upon first meeting her. By the way, she said herself that only sculptors knew how to capture her likeness. Madame Lebrun's portraits, charming as they are, don't convey as much. The exception would be the great family portrait in a red velvet dress, painted after the Affair of the Necklace. There is a great deal of sadness in it, and the eyes seem to stare ahead at nothing. But I digress...

Another note: I think she was shy, and that may have added to the perception of aloofness. Remember the visit of the Comte and Comtesse du Nord (Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna) to Versailles in 1782. Madame Campan remarks how ill-at-ease Marie-Antoinette was at first with her imperial guests. Of course the shyness is simply a guess on my part, but it would explain how she could be perceived so differently by strangers and those who knew her well.


Wed Feb 03, 2010 5:36 pm
Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
Oh, and Baron, you said the worst books you read about Marie-Antoinette were historical novels. Have you read Farewell My Queen? I found it very good and Chantal Thomas knows her subject. I think she is a bit harsh on Madame Campan, whom I like, but that's her privilege as a novelist.
By the way, I should say that my book is not about Marie-Antoinette (too intimidating) but about a young woman navigating the complexities of life under the Ancien Regime and weathering the storm of the Revolution. Marie-Antoinette makes cameo appearances, but she is seen totally from the outside, as is Louis XVI. If I had wanted to write a novel about her, it would have been a different book, but I shy away from major historical characters and prefer to deal with "ordinary" people. Likewise Bonaparte makes an appearance in my second novel, but he is not a character. I admire those novelists who can take on figures like these, but I can't do it myself.
The only member of the royal family I felt comfortable approaching, though she remains a very secondary character, was Marie-Josephine de Savoie, the Comtesse de Provence. She too, in a different and far less dramatic way, is a tragic figure.


Wed Feb 03, 2010 5:55 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
I did read Chantal Thomas' "A farewell to the Queen" and I must say I didn't like it, which surprized me after having very much liked her "Marie Antoinette, la Reine Scélérate" or Myth of the wicked Queen". Maybe its' the historical novel format, I don't know, it just got me irritated and lost me. I don't deny that that author knew a lot about her subject too.

You seem almost intimidated by Marie Antoinette and yet I'm sure that she would have seemed a most welcoming person in real life.

Catherine wrote:

Another note: I think she was shy, and that may have added to the perception of aloofness. Remember the visit of the Comte and Comtesse du Nord (Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna) to Versailles in 1782. Madame Campan remarks how ill-at-ease Marie-Antoinette was at first with her imperial guests. Of course the shyness is simply a guess on my part, but it would explain how she could be perceived so differently by strangers and those who knew her well.

I have read Madame Campan's memoirs and I don't remember that depiction of her being shy. I would call her more an accomplished hostess, after a certain while at Versailles getting to know the ropes. La Baronne d'Oberkirch, who was basically the Comtesse du Nord's lady in waiting during that visit, gives a quite contrary account to Campan's (if that's what Campan asserts):

"The Queen was charming, full of good grace and affability, she treated Madame La Comtesse du Nord as if she had known her all her life, informed herself to the minutest degree about her tastes, on everything that she could offer her that might please her, and asked her to come and see her often. Madame La Grande Duchesse replied politely to to these kind offers and left quite enchanted with our Sovereign".

Hardly a very shy performance.... :wink:

I shall try and find time to read your book with all my hopeless backlog of books to read. That way I'll understand better the more general 18th century context you depicted.

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Last edited by baron de batz on Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:15 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
Délicate Fleur wrote:

Bien dit, mon chère Baron!

May I just point out, dear Délicate Fleur, that you have made me androgynous. "Mon cher Baron".....would be preferable. :wink:

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Wed Feb 03, 2010 9:21 pm
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
CatherineDelors wrote:
I based my take on her being haughty to strangers on various Memoirs. Those of the Marquise de la Tour du Pin, who was about my heroine's age and did not know the Queen well.

I don't really have any strong feelings on this, but having just browsed an English version of those memoirs, I'm at a bit of a loss as to where MA comes across as haughty. If anything, she speaks of her with something like gratitude for having encouraged her mother to resist her tyrant of a grandmother.

And in fact her most specific description of her is infused with nostalgic tenderness:

Quote:
My first visit to Versailles was at the time of the birth of the first Dauphin in October, 1781. How often the recollection of these days of splendor of Marie-Antoinette comes to my mind, when I think of the torments and ignominies of which she was afterwards the unfortunate victim. I went to see the ball given by the Gardes du Corps in the Grande Salle de Spectacle, in the Chateau of Versailles. The Queen opened the ball with a simple young guard. She was dressed in a blue gown all sprinkled with sapphires and diamonds; beautiful, young, adored by all, having just given a Dauphin to France, not dreaming of the possibility of a backward step in her brilliant career, she was already on the edge of the abyss.

One can follow the same steps here:
http://books.google.com/books?id=qtxnAA ... te&f=false

Another writer says specifically she was "neither haughty, nor contemptuous, nor distrustful":

Quote:
Nul sentiment pénible ne pouvoit entrer dans son cœur; elle n'étoit ni hautaine, ni dédaigneuse , ni méfiante ; elle se tenoit bien en garde contre les ennemis de son vertueux époux, mais elle ne savoit point les haïr, et il ne lui étoit pas possible de garder le souvenir d'une offense.

http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA20&dq=hautaine%20Marie-Antoinette&lr=&as_drrb_is=b&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=1750&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=1800&cd=5&id=ttkDAAAAQAAJ&num=100&as_brr=1&output=text

Otherwise, if anything, she seems to have become more "hautaine" when the Third Estate began to make its claims, but only because she was struggling to maintain her composure:

Quote:
On remarqua beaucoup que le duc d'Orléans, qui représentait à ce moment les idées d'opposition à la cour et qui était brouillé avec Marie-Antoinette, on remarqua, dis-je, que, marchant en tête de la noblesse, il se mêlait avec ostentation aux derniers rangs du tiers, qu'il ne quitta presque pas de toute la cérémonie. Si l'on songe que le duc était prince du sang, un Bourbon, et descendant du cinquième fils de saint Louis, on doit comprendre l'effet que produisit une pareille conduite dans de telles circonstances.

La reine était pâle et blême, le regard hautain, la lèvre frémissante ; à un moment donné, le cortège subit un temps d'arrêt ; Marie-Antoinette se trouvait précisément devant un groupe de femmes du peuple ; celles-ci, choquées du ton allier de la reine, la saluèrent d'un long cri de :

— Vive le duc d'Orléans!

C'était lui lancer un affront à la face ; ce cri se répéta jusqu'à l'église Saint-Louis, et plusieurs fois Mme de Lamballe dut soutenir sa souveraine prête à s'évanouir.

http://books.google.com/books?id=RdAaAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA24&dq=hautaine+Marie-Antoinette&lr=&as_drrb_is=b&as_minm_is=0&as_miny_is=1750&as_maxm_is=0&as_maxy_is=1800&num=100&as_brr=1&output=text
Les lundis révolutionnaires: 1789

And at that it is not sure that this is an objective account.

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Thu Feb 04, 2010 12:42 am
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Post Re: New novel: Mistress of the Revolution
Thanks Jim for these added examples. I had read the description of the Queen at the meeting of the "Etats Généraux" which you describe. I think it conveys all the surprize and confusion she felt at being so badly received by the people. What is more she had just lost the Dauphin. What people describe as haughty was more the natural sense of self preservation of a sovereign Queen, shunned by the very people who had invited her to France and adulated her some twenty years before.

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Thu Feb 04, 2010 9:22 am
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