Phantasmagoria: the first horror picture show

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I have been doing quite a bit of research into Phantasmagorie for the Young Adult novel I’m writing about Josephine’s daughter Hortense.

Phantasmagoria was an extremely popular “show” put on for both children and adults in France after the French Revolution, featuring the appearance of ghouls, ghosts, spectres and apparitions.

Announcement

It was shown in other countries of Europe, but it was by far most popular in France, where so many had lost loved ones during the Terror, and where, apparently, a hunger for contact with the afterlife was strong.

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Etienne-Gaspard Robertson (1763 – 1837) was the mastermind behind these productions. His first French exhibition of “Fantasmagorie” was at the Pavillon de l’Echiquier in Paris. He later staged it in the abandoned chapel of a Capuchin monastery near the Palace Vendome.

Camera

Robertson devised a double-lens lantern on wheels to create his ghostly effect, an invention which is considered the predecessor of the motion-picture camera. (In 1799 he got a patent for this camera, calling it a Fantoscope.)

smoke_spectres

To create the shadow play, Robertson used smoke, huge sheets of glass, mirrors, and several mobile lanterns. He would project from below the stage, and the hidden movement of a lantern created the illusion of motion. He would change the position of the lens to show a figure growing larger (and apparently closer), yet remaining in sharp focus. He also used rear projection, and projection onto gauze coated with wax, ironed to give a translucent appearance.

The purpose of the show was to terrify the audience—and it succeeded. It could well be considered the forefather of today’s horror movie.


Much of this information is from The History of the Discovery of Cinematography by Paul Burns, which unfortunately is not available on-line at this time.

For excellent documents, see The Richard Balzer Collection.

For a bibliography of books related to the history of cinematography, click this link.

For a full programme: Fantasmagorie de Robertson, Cour des Capucines, près la place Vendôme.

Robertson describes some of his phantasmagoria in his Mémoires.

(Phantasmagoria is not to be confused, by the way, with the 1995 interactive video game: Phantasmagoria!)

Happy New 2017: on revision, a great classic on Audible, my next newsletter

Happy New 2017: on revision, a great classic on Audible, my next newsletter

Fireworks for the Entry of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria: The Lion, in “Reception de Louis XIII,” Lyons, 1623.

 

Happy New 2017!

I like the feel of this year already. I’ve weaned myself — to some extent — from toxic international news and immersed myself in finishing the eighth draft of Moonsick, my YA novel about Josephine’s daughter Hortense. (Yikes! Due this month.)

The funny side of revision

This is what revision sometimes feels like … 

A New Yorker cartoon.

Newsletter coming

I’m also getting ready to send out a newsletter. Sign up here if you haven’t done so already. I will post links to it when it’s ready, but one advantage of signing up is that a subscriber wins one of my books with each newsletter.

A great audible edition of Middlemarch

When I’m not revising, or enjoying one of the many wonderful restaurants here in San Miguel de Allende with my husband, or puzzling over my latest watercolour, I’m listening to an absolutely outstanding audible edition of Middlemarch by George Eliot. This classic novel was destined to be forever on my Novels I’m Embarrassed to Admit I’ve Never Read List — in part because I just couldn’t cope with the pace and prose — but the narration by Juliet Stevenson really makes it come alive. Highly recommended!

Again, Happy New Year! You readers are the absolute best.

What audible recordings are your favourite? I’m always looking for recommendations.

Perspectives on infinity

Earth

Remember the first photos of Earth from space? It created a sea-change in our perspective.

As a child, my father found it amusing how disturbed I was by the idea of infinity. I am challenged anew, and in a rather marvellous way, seeing this amazing NASA video.

The word “perspective” has many meanings. It is an old word, dating from 1300s.

1387: Aristotle..made..problemys of perspective [L. perspectiva problemata] and of methaphesik.

a1661    W. Brereton Trav. (1844) 60   Wm. Daviseon offered to furnish me with a couple of these perspectives, which shew the new-found motion of the stars about Jupiter.

1692   tr. C. de Saint-Évremond Misc. Ess. 280   By the means of great Perspectives, which Invention becomes more perfect every Day, they discover new Planets.

1605    Bacon Of Aduancem. Learning  ii. sig. Hh3,   We haue endeauoured in these our Partitions to observe a kind of perspectiue, that one part may cast light vpon another.

It’s this last, the sense of “putting things in perspective,” that this NASA video vividly evokes for me. What do our own small lives matter, after all?

I am consoled by William Blake’s lines from Auguries of Innocence:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

I begin each day working to create a world on the page. Every age has its moment of wonder, of awe, of expanded perspective. I’m wondering what that moment was for Hortense at the end of the 18th century.


Worth reading …

The Incident of the Fly Swatter, a blog post on Wonders & Marvels, on some historical perspective on the relationship between France and the Muslim world.

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.

 

Introducing Marie Anne Lenormand, “The Sibyl of the Faubourg Saint-Germain”

Lenormand

Part of my research for writing my first Young Adult novel about Josephine‘s daughter Hortense involves fortune-telling, mysticism and communing with ghosts. Yes, all quite delicious!

Madame Lenormand (or Le Normand) was a famous fortune-teller of this time, a high-society favourite known as “The Sibyl of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.”

A card method of fortune-telling attributed to her is extremely popular now. Type “Lenormand” in Google and you will see what I mean. The Madame Lenormand Fortune Teller is a site where you can get a (free) reading on-line using a variety of cards: fairly awesome! This is a great way to get to know the cards and the different ways of reading them.

Untitled3

At the Lenormand on-line Museum you can look at all the cards, both ancient and new.

Once you start exploring this realm, it’s a bit overwhelming. I appear to have just signed up for a free telephone reading! I’m no sibyl, but I predict that they will want my credit card number first.

For more on this subject: Origins of Playing Card Divination.


Since writing this post, I’ve learned a great deal more about Madame Lenormand and her cards. For one thing, she was quite the entrepreneur, writing and publishing vast amounts. I read several books on her system, and made a practice of “throwing” my cards every day. In short, I became a bit addicted! The cards are often called “The Game of Hope”—and they’ve become central to the novel I’m writing. In fact, the working title is The Game of Hope.


Books about The Game of Hope:

AWickedPack

For information about Lenormand: A Wicked Pack of Cards by Ronald Decker, Therry Depaulis and Michael Dummett.

thesecrets

To learn how to read the cards, I like The Secrets of the Lenormand Oracle by Sylvie Steinbach.

LearningLenormand

Another book, a bit more complex however, is Learning Lenormand by Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin.

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