Lost and found in France’s on-line library archives

old-books-on-the-shelf-19th-century-library-gary-heller

It’s simply astonishing what one can now find on-line. In the way of any wander through library stacks, I came upon this title on Gallica.bnf.fr, the French national library on-line:

Tableau historique, littéraire et politique de l’an VI de la Républic française.

Of course it was not at all what I was looking for, but although “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.” :-)

I love the way the digital book opens with its cover:

Untitled

And then turns to the marbled end-paper:

end papers

Here’s a crop of the title page:

Title

(You can almost feel the rich texture of the paper.)

And then, the first chapter division:

1st chapter

What caught my attention “leafing” through this book was the section on legislation, a daily account of laws passed in the years 1798-1799.

They are very detailed: they needed to be. The French government was (once again) creating a government from scratch. Laws mentioned cover passport regulations, import duties, the re-establishment of a national lottery, the legislateurs’ own schedule (they will no longer meet on décadis (the end of the 10-day week), patents, manufacture of goods, the “uniform” to be worn by the members of the legislature …

“…habit français, couleur bleu national, croisé et dépassant le genou. Ceinture de soie tricolore, avec des franges d’or. Manteau écarlate à la grecque, orné de broderie en laine. Bonnet de velours, portant une aigrette tricolore.” – page 142

Alas, I am unable to find an illustration of this costume. No doubt they were somewhat more circumspect than those from 1796. Below left, Executive Director from 1796, compared to Napoleon’s uniform of choice as First Consul on the right:

Director Nap

The legal record is many pages long, but I’ll note a few:

One law passed condemns to death those who rob by force or violence. This is significant because violent crime had become rampant.

Marriages (which must be civil) could only be held on décadis.

One significant law, passed 12 Nivose, an VIII  (January 1, 1799), declares that Blacks born in Africa or in foreign colonies, and transferred to French islands, were free as soon as they step foot on French soil. The Revolutionary government had several years before outlawed slavery in France, but I don’t believe that it had gone so far as to declare it illegal in its colonies. (I should note that Napoleon will eventually reinstate slavery in the French colonies, and no: it was not Josephine’s doing.)

It’s delightful how worthwhile procrastinating can be. I found an excellent Revolutionary calendar (more on that later), learned the date when there was an eclipse of the moon, what the new national fêtes were to be, and much, much more.

 

Last day in the bunker, first day of my 70th decade

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Today is our day to pack up, for tomorrow we leave first thing, heading to Toronto. On Thursday late afternoon, we’ll be driving into beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

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I’m always delighted to arrive in San Miguel, but I’m also always sad to head south—sad to leave my library of research books, my lovely office (“the bunker”) overlooking fields and forest. It’s a difficult process. In the next 6 months I’m going to be finishing The Game of Hope as well as beginning the next Young Adult about Hortense (tentatively titled The Princess Problem). What will I need? It’s so hard to know.

Today I will finish going through all the piles of papers and books I’ve stacked up, decide what must come, what can stay, and what should be scanned into Evernote. The life of a Historical Novelist Snow Bird is made much easier with computers and the Net (there is so much more on-line now), but there is still a surprising amount I must take with me.


And … !

Today is my 70th birthday! My party was two days ago; it was wonderful and I feel splendidly fêted. It had a 60s theme (because I was in my final days of being a 60-something), the costumes were fantastic and the playlist I put together—with the help of this site—kept us rocking ‘n rolling all night. Old folks grooving!

Most special, our son Chet made a surprise visit from New York!

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Frankly, I was a bit depressed for a time about the approach of this shocking milestone (What?! Me, elderly?!), but now I feel that there is something quite energizing about turning 70. One realizes that it’s time to begin to focus on what’s important. I feel it will be my most creative decade.

Bring it on!

Handwriting samples: Napoleon’s, Josephine’s, and that of Christophe Duroc

I have been falling victim to research excitement. On one search, I came upon these letters, which did not answer my questions, but were too exciting to pass by.

All of the letters are part of an auction of letters and manuscripts. The first two were dictated by Napoleon to Géraud Christophe Duroc, displaying Duroc’s lovely handwriting. Since he is a significant character in the Young Adult novels I am writing, seeing his graceful, elegant handwriting speaks volumes.

This first one was written on November 13, 1796, in Verona. (See here for details.)

 Duroc 1

This second letter, also dictated by Napoleon and written by Duroc, was sent on September 30, 1797, from Passeriano, Italy, during the peace negotiations with Austria.

Duroc handwriting

This next letter was written by Napoleon to his brother Joseph in October of 1792 from Ajaccio, Corsica, and it helps understand why Napoleon had need of a secretary. Napoleon’s handwriting was famously difficult to read.

Nap

This last one was written by Josephine on May 14, 1809, to her son Eugène.

Jos

It simply thrills me to see her signature.

On-line research: subscription publication—an 18th century method of fund-raising?

mmecampan

It continues to amaze me what one can find on-line now. I was searching for pre-1805 publications that contained the name Madame Campan, the founder and director of the highly esteemed boarding school Josephine’s daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais, went to.*

I was charmed to find Madame Campan’s name listed in this title:

Untitled

At the beginning of the Mémoires is thank you note to the subscribers, a very long list which includes many members of the Court (including the King and Queen). I gather that all these people paid in advance in order for the Mémoires to be published. This reminded me immediately of our on-line crowdsourcing like Kickstarter.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


*I was on-line trying to find out the name of the school as it had been referred to at the time. Here are two possibilities:

L’Institut National des Jeunes Filles/National Institution for Young Women

I’ve also seen (but only in English): National Institution for the Education of Young Women.

l’Institut national de Saint-Germain/The National Institution of Saint-Germain

I have doubts about this name because during the Revolution the name of Saint-Germain-en-Laye had been changed to Montagne-Bon-Air. It was changed back 28 février 1795, but would Madame Campan have been so bold as to jump immediately on the reversal?

“What am I working on?” Question #2 in the Writers’ Blog Tour

“What am I working on?” Question #2 in the Writers’ Blog Tour

I explained in my last post what the Writers’ Blog Tour is about. Basically, writers answer the same four questions:

Why do I write what I do?

What am I working on?

How does my work differ from other work in its genre?

How does my writing process work?

I answered the first question yesterday, and so, for today, here’s the second:

What am I working on?

Hrtense (francois-gerard-hortense-de-beauharnais

I’m back in the Napoleonic era after more than a decade away, writing about Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter Hortense. It’s a familiar world, but it’s also quite new to me, because this is a Young Adult novel. I’m finding it creatively stimulating to be tackling a new genre.

The novel is written from Hortense’s point-of-view during her teen years, and is therefore an entirely different perspective from that of her mother, who is the point-of-view character of my Josephine B. Trilogy

Delving back into a once-very-familiar world has been an interesting—and pleasant—experience. The late 18th century feels so modern compared to the 17th! (The setting for my last two novels.)

Having previously immersed myself in the Napoleonic era for near-on two decades, one would think I wouldn’t have to do very much research. Wrong! There are new books and studies available, and there’s a ton more information on line. Although I have quite a leg-up (a 556-page timeline—single space, small type—for starters, and stacks and stacks of files), there is no such thing as no need to research. In any case, how can one resist?

Tomorrow: How does my work differ from other work in its genre? This, as you can imagine, is a thought-provoking question!

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