Where Hortense’s father Alexandre de Beauharnais was guillotined and buried

Where Hortense’s father Alexandre de Beauharnais was guillotined and buried

Tracking down facts can be a time-crunching task … but a very enjoyable one when the goal is in sight.

I began with a simple question: Where was Hortense’s father executed and buried? I think these were things she might have wanted to know.

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Portrait of Josephine and her two children, Hortense and Eugène, visiting their father in prison.

False leads

In the process, I found many wrong answers … which reinforces the common knowledge that the Net can’t be trusted. However, I knew enough to know when the answer was wrong, and kept looking.

In the process I ended up making a correction to a Wikipedia page … which rather thrilled me. Alexandre was defined, simply, as the lover of Princess Amalie of Salm-Kyrburg, a friend of Josephine’s who secretly acquired the land after the Revolution because her brother is buried there. Not only was it curious that Josephine and their children were not mentioned, but I very much doubt that Alexandre was Amalie’s lover. Other women, certainly, but not Amalie.

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Place du Trône-Renversé—now Place de la Nation—where Hortense’s father was guillotined.

Alexandre was guillotined not in the Place de la Révolution (Place de la Concorde now) or Place de Grève (in front of the l’Hôtel-de-Ville), as if often claimed, but in Place du Trône-Renversé (now Place de la Nation), on the western edge of Paris. Apparently the other execution sites had become so bloody they had to find a new spot.

Mass executions at the height of the Terror

In a matter of about 6 weeks (from June 13 to July 27, 1794) 1306 men and women were guillotined, as many as 55 people a day. I imagine that it was hard work keeping the blade sufficiently sharp.

How to dispose of all the bodies?

It was also hard work disposing of the bodies. What is now the Picpus Cemetery was then land seized from a convent during the Revolution, conveniently close to Place du Trône-Renversé. A pit was dug at the end of the garden, and when that filled up, a second was dug. The bodies of all 1306 of the men and women executed in Place du Trône-Renversé were thrown into the common pits including 108 nobles, 136 monastics, and 579 commoners … .

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The mass graves are simply marked.

 

names of those guillotined

One of two wall listing the names and ages of the dead.

 

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Le Cimetière de Picpus today.

Of those executed, 197 were women, including 16 Carmelite nuns, who went to the scaffold singing hymns.

Nuns to be guillotined

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In all the research I’ve done in Paris over the decades, I’ve yet to go to either the Place du Trône-Renversé (Place de la Nation) or the Picpus Cemetery. I believe I’m due.

Tech challenges, a happy toddler & a Twitter surge  — plus Sundae Sundries: links for writers & travellers, both virtual and real

Tech challenges, a happy toddler & a Twitter surge — plus Sundae Sundries: links for writers & travellers, both virtual and real

Readers of this blog — I <3 you! — will already know that I went to a painting worship last Sunday, given by the talented Joyce Burkholder. It got me all revved up! I’m painting a bit every day, mostly following YouTube videos. (Awesome.) I love it.

What I don’t love is that I can’t figure out how to share photos of paintings with you here. Our rural Net connection is never great—especially on week-ends—and our bandwidth is limited, so I’m putting off syncing my enormous photo library to iCloud. Which means, basically, that photos I take with my iPhone do not end up on my computer. Yes, I emailed them to myself…but they never showed up. And that’s another story.

Not fair sharing my Tech headaches with you! Everyone suffers.

And besides, I have a nicer photo to share, one I came upon recently, one that is already on my computer. This is granddaughter Kiki at our daughter’s wedding at the end of May. Such pride and joy!

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{Photo by the wonderful Danielle Blancher of Toronto.}

 

It has been a week of highs and lows. Early in the week I learned that writer and friend Paul Kropp died. So sad. Such a shock!

I also learned that an on-line interview of me had been posted to Jane Friedman’s blog.

I’m very pleased with this interview. It is a rare pleasure to be interviewed by someone who has dug deep and asks interesting and pertinent questions. I like that the questions focus on the broader issues having to do with publishing in general.

Jane Friedman has an enormous following—there was quite a flurry of attention on Twitter. Nice.

And through all this, I write … It is coming along.


This week’s delicious Sundae Sundries

(Is it a coincidence that I’ve developed an unrolling passion for ice cream this summer?)

SundaeWeb

Links for writers  …

• One of these days, I will emerge from my plot maze. In the meantime, I grab onto every life raft within reach. (I know, mangled metaphors.) Julianna Baggot is a wonderful writer — I interviewed her here and here some time ago — and her own plot analysis tool is intriguing.

Be aware when research and prep become a crutch. At some point, you need to actually start WRITING. Indeed! That said, I read a research text late one night. The information gave me what I needed to finally write the scenes.

• I’ve been listening to a new Elizabeth Gilbert podcast: Magic Lessons. It’s a run-up to a book she has coming out at the end of September: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I’m enjoying the podcast and I’ve ordered the book. :-)

Links for all us time-travellers …

5 Creepy Victorian Fads. I do believe this stuff.

High tech tools used to understand medieval manuscripts.

A link for real travellers … 

For a More Creative Brain, Travel.

Have a great week!

Sundae Sundries: great links for readers, writers & historians

Sundae Sundries: great links for readers, writers & historians

SundaeWeb

Links for writers …

How Kazuo Ishiguro wrote the award-winning Remains of the Day in only four weeks. Depressing, isn’t it?

Links for flâneurs through history …

• The French Revolution Network. It’s always a thrill to discover discussions on topics of interest.

These 16th century portraits of women painted by Caterina van Hemeseen are arresting.

• For delicious details on daily life in the 17th century, see this website.

Links for Napoleonistas …

• I’m reading Patrice Gueniffey’s Bonaparte 1769-1802: excellent.

Links for everyone … 

President Barack Obama participates in a podcast with Marc Maron in Los Angeles, Calif., June 19, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 

 

 

 

 

I’m late to the party, but I’m now a big fan of Mark Maron’s WTF podcast. His interview with Barack Obama is an outstanding introduction. (It’s wonderful that Obama would venture into such edgy territory.)

Have a great week!

On Reading, Writing & Taking an On-line course: Getting Things Done to the Sound of the Surf

On Reading, Writing & Taking an On-line course: Getting Things Done to the Sound of the Surf

My husband and I have been staying in one of our favourite spots, a Solecito casita on beautiful Playa Blanca on the Mexican Pacific coast. (Our casita: the one shown above.)

It’s a totally relaxing time for us, and—surprisingly—one of the pleasures, for me, is that I get quite a bit done:

• I edited the 4th draft of The Game of Hope and began draft 5.

Sat Night

• I read a lot, likely because I’m reading on my little Kindle, and not on the Kindle app on my Net-connected iPad.

• I finished THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS by Michel Faber (my first Sci-Fi), and am close to finishing THE GIRL WHO WAS SATURDAY NIGHT by Heather O’Neill. (Delightful! I have previously read and very much enjoyed LULLABIES FOR LITTLE CRIMINALS.) I’m still reading and highly recommend Publishing 101 by Jane Friedman as well as various research books.

• I read a pdf of wonderful novel that I gave a rave quote for … I’ll have more to say on this book when it is published in March.

Light

• I listened to a wonderful audible recording of ALL THE LIGHT YOU CANNOT SEE, a novel by Anthony Doerr that was on virtually every “best of 2014” book list.

Coursera.org: How to Learn

I caught up on the video lectures of a Coursera course I’m taking on how to learn. (You can watch them here.)

Why am I following this course? Because I am determined to become more conversant in both French and Spanish. (In fact, as I go for my daily walk on the beach, I listen to French tapes.)

My research method

This course has got me reconsidering my writing research method. I used to write notes out by hand. Now I prefer highlighting passages on Kindle and sending these to Evernote—knowing that I can always find the information should I need it.

Effortless! Right?

Not exactly. Evernote is great, but the trouble is: when I look for something on Evernote, I find the mass of notes overwhelming. It’s not that functional system for me, in truth, and I’ve long had a hunch that writing down notes by hand was more effective. This Coursera course has confirmed the importance of approaching information through different media.

Another problem I have is resistance to organizing my research. I’m content to cruse the Net, buy new books, read and highlight them, but I’m somewhat scattered and slapdash about it, in truth.

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This course has reminded me of the value of the Pomodoro approach: setting a timer for 25 minutes of focussed distraction-free (i.e. Net-free) period of time.

It has also reminded me of the key importance of review: and this is where note-taking comes in.

The course also emphasises how important relaxation is to learning. And so … to the hammock.

The challenge for historical novelists: sorting out common-law wives, mistresses, courtisans & shadow queens

The challenge for historical novelists: sorting out common-law wives, mistresses, courtisans & shadow queens

Given the recent revelations about French President François Hollande’s personal life, I think future writers of historical fiction are fortunate. They will have so many details to go on, from photos of President Hollande arriving for a rendezvous on a scooter to tweets sent by the former First Lady, his live-in mistress Valerie Trierweiler.

Hollane etc.

In writing biographical historical fiction that involves a public figure, it’s often difficult to discover how an intimate relationship evolves.

While writing my newest novel, THE SHADOW QUEEN, it was easy enough to see how lovers met, but a little more difficult to sort out how, exactly, a more intimate relationship came about—for these lovers were all “in the family,” so to speak:

Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan (Mistress 2) was the good friend of Louise de la Vallière (Mistress 1)—or so Louise thought.

Madame de Maintenon (Mistress 3) worked for Athénaïs (Mistress 2), as governess of her children by the King.

Claudette des Oeillets—heroine of THE SHADOW QUEEN who has a child by the King (rather a Mistress 3.5)—also worked for Athénaïs (Mistress 3) as her lady’s maid, and one has to presume that this arrangement was with Athénaïs’s approval.

The Hollande family tree, however, will be as difficult for future historical novelists to sort out as in days of old, and in this respect I don’t envy them in the least. Ms Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s former common-law wife, is the unmarried mother of his four children. Ms Trierweiler, his second partner, has three children by her second husband. That’s a family-menage of seven children—way too many to manage in a scene.

Film actress Julie Gayet, the newest Other Woman, has two children by her first husband, but it’s up for grabs whether or not she will be moving into the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the President of the French Republic. If she does, the international Press, you can be sure, will be watching.

There is a general perception that it is not uncommon for French leaders to have a mistress. Is this, however, fair? In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, having a mistress was almost a requirement for a French, English, Spanish or German king. Understandably, in my view, given that royalty had to marry for political reasons, not love.

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Louis XIV, the Sun King, was a rather monogamous adulterer: he usually had only one mistress at a time. His cousin Charles II of England, however, had several mistresses at once. (The most famous was actress Nell Gwynn, who is reported to have once sabotaged a rival by putting laxatives in her food before her rendezvous with the King.)

In modern history, Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 in order to be with his mistress, the divorcee Wallis Simpson. Prince Charles married his long-term mistress Camilla Parker Bowles. And then, of course, we have President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

In one respect, I venture to say that the French do take the cake.  A number of French shadow queens were significantly powerful women.

Gabrielle d’Estrees, the Catholic mistress of Protestant Henri IV, helped end France’s religious wars.

King Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, imposed taxes, appointed ministers and made laws.

And, lest you think that the role of shadow queen is strictly sexual, consider Madame de Pompadour, who was King Louis XV’s mistress for almost two decades, despite—I’ve read—being unable to have intercourse. Instead, she provided the King with young women to sleep with.

I admire the French public for considering it none of the press’s business what their leaders do in their personal life … which makes me feel just a little trashy for even mentioning it all here. But then, I’m just thinking ahead, academically speaking. ;-)


Have you ever noticed how the word “courtesan” has the word “court” in it? From Wikipedia:

“In Renaissance usage, the Italian word cortigiana, feminine of cortigiano (“courtier”) came to refer to “the ruler’s mistress”, and then to a well-educated and independent woman of loose morals, essentially a trained artisan of dance and singing, especially one associated with wealthy, powerful, or upper-class men who provided luxuries and status in exchange for companionship.”

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Online research, book-buying and image hunting: a guide for the wary

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I’m at a research-intensive stage of Draft 2.0 of The Game of Hope. (YA1) I’m working to fill in all the pot-holes before sending it off—that is, all the xxx’s in the manuscript, the xxx’s I throw in while rushing through Draft 1. “I was offered a plate of xxx, xxx and xxx.” That type of thing.

Now I’m trying to figure all those xxx’s out.

If I don’t have the facts in my notes or books, I can usually find what I need to know on-line. I googgled “18th century cooking,” for example, and came up with a delightful “cheese wig”: a small bun coated with a cheese sauce that looked like a wig resting on a wig stand. (Then I googled images for “cheese wig”—gross! I don’t recommend it.)

If Google fails, I go to Amazon.com, and look for searchable books.

If that fails, I’ll go to Books Google.

I everything fails, and the answer is in a book I must have, I’ll order it.

I had an educational experience this morning. The book I want is out-of-print, but offered used on Amazon.com. However, I discovered that to ship a 1$ book to me in Mexico could cost $25 to $75 dollars. (With delivery in April.)

Untitled

Full stop.

I cut over to Abebook.com, and bought the same book from a used bookstore in the UK for only $1.04 with delivery to Mexico for $7.75—and it may well arrive in a week.

Lesson learned: watch those shipping charges! And always check out Abebook.com.

(Another lesson learned: in looking for illustrations for this blog post, I discovered not to google images of “xxx”!)