Tag Archives: Books

Historical Geekery Gift Guide 2012

A selection for bookish, historically-minded folks (and yes, gentlemen, there’s something for you, too!)

Anne Boleyn blank journal from Immortal Longings, perfect for those especially moody days.  You may also choose from the Katherine of Aragon and the Henry VIII versions.  I’d personally like to have Anne’s and Henry’s side by side for a bit of dark romance.  (They also have beautiful Shakespeare journals.)

Sweet Marie before she became headless . . . These earrings have everything she would approve of: bows, French blue swarovski crystal, and her youthful portrait set in a cabachon.  Secret Jewellz also has a pair of sparkling pink bow earrings that are very pretty.

Inspiration from the grave.  Unisex perfume/cologne from Sweet Tea Apothecary which (unlike what the macabre name evokes) will come up smelling of heliotrope, vetiver, black tea, clove, tobacco, musk, and vanilla.  “This blend evokes the feeling of sitting in an old library chair paging through yellowed copies of Hemingway, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Poe, and more.  The Dead Writers blend makes you want to put on a kettle of black tea and curl up with your favorite book.”

 

Damn French Desserts has the loveliest skeleton cards.  They’d look great as a framed collection, especially for those unwilling to part with all of them via post.  Choose from the ‘Victorian Goth Queen To the Bones’ and ‘Skeleton Horse Lady Godiva’ (and more)

What you can’t wash off, wash on.  Straight from the Bearded Proprietor’s shop, ‘Ill Repute’ shaving soap for the ladies and the gents.  The whole store is packed with delights to improve your morning ablutions: Madame Scodioli’s Hand-Made Soaps, Perfumes, Whisker Wax & Lovely Curiosities for One And All

Made of etched semi-gloss stainless steel, these hardcover optical illusion earrings are fantastic for any bookish lady on your list.

For those who like to play with the digital side of art, a collage sheet of hairstyles from the 15th to 20th centuries with Marie Antoinette’s belle poule at center.  FrenchFrouFrou Antiques also offers a collage sheet of French costumes and others for your enjoyment.

Because one hand-painted teacup and saucer is never enough . . .  Burke Hare Co, Victorian teacups, candles, and curiosities for peculiar people.

The Mindful Mushroom Artisan body oils are 100% vegan, cruelty free, and use a house base of hemp seed, grapeseed, sunflower, and rice bran oil.  She goes wild with her perfuming and the options are nearly endless from sweetly inspired like Faery Queen to darkling scents like Unseelie Court.  From one perfume lover to another, I am in love. Choose from a sample vials/packs, 5 ml or 10 ml roll-on.


An 8×10 inch print that’s a cute take on the song.  I would buy this for myself in a hot minute, but my darling, devilish husband would surely amend the -OOKS part. Either way, smiles all around!

Hope you guys enjoyed the gift guide.  All products are on Etsy and support independent artists.

The Secret Diary of a Princess: A Review

All week I have sneaked in moments to read Melanie Clegg’s The Secret Diary of a Princess and I must say it was worth every minute of lost sleep.  I adored Clegg’s interpretation of Marie Antoinette, and considering that this is a review and not a gush fest, I’m going to try my best to forgo repeating just how much I think every Antoinette fan should read it.

What I loved:

Clegg really made Antoinette’s early life come alive for me.  The voice was so authentic to Antoinette’s spirit I fancied I had in my possession her long-lost diary and was gaining private insight into the misunderstood queen.  For me, this emotional engagement was huge.  Although life at Versailles and Antoinette’s reign, in particular, has always fascinated me, I usually experience dissonance between my disliking the queen and my appreciation for her as an historical character.  Her personality is full of contradictions, which generally keep my attention, but unlike her mother, history has seldom regarded her as intelligent or a master of strategy.  She was instead a leader of fashion, a spendthrift without regard for consequence, and all around girly girl.

Clegg’s novel offers a closer look at the makings of France’s infamous queen.   If you’ve wondered how Maria Antonia, an awkward, uneducated girl who was never supposed to be a queen of France, became the belle of the fashionable world, this secret diary is a marvelous imagining of Antoinette’s inner thoughts while remaining firmly rooted in research.

1769, Joseph Ducreux

As any fan of the genre knows, historical fiction first and foremost needs to be more than a recitation of facts and events.  Clegg happily succeeds in this.  Her simple yet descriptive style transported me from the palaces of Schönbrunn and Hofburg, where Antoinette spent her childhood and adolescence, to her first steps into the glittering court of Versailles.

Today Antoinette seems quintessentially French, but in her time she was thought never fully Austrian or French.  This lacking is what defines her. Austria was home, but also a place of harsh instruction and intense pressure.  On the one hand we have Antoinette’s life of silk gowns, mischief, and loving sisters and on the other, a plague of early deaths coupled with the emotional austerity of her mother, Maria Theresa.  Despite the juxtaposition of the royals’ distinct personalities, a real sense of family resonated throughout novel.  I adored Antoinette’s sisters Amalia and Christina and sympathized with Antoinette’s feeling that she lacked consequence in such a large family.  As she says early on,

“I am not witty like my sister Christina or funny like Elizabeth or interesting like Amalia or clever like our eldest sister Marianna or sweet like Josepha.  I am just me, the youngest and some might say, most insignificant daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa, the most powerful female monarch in the world.”

The Austrian Royal Family

As the ultimate goal of Maria Theresa was to marry off her daughters and concrete Austrian alliances, the novel showed a procession of arranged matches with the sisters wondering who was next and when.  Given the doubt surrounding her future, Antoinette understandably longs for direction.  She wants to please her mother by doing her duty, but suffers under constant demands, which at times seem impossible for her to meet.  She is painfully naive and undisciplined, but also modest, funny, and sweet.

The first picture of Antoinette seen by the Dauphin

Numerous improvements were required to make Antoinette suitable for Versailles.  Sharing in her resistance to (and eventual delight in) those changes was an absolute joy to read.  Clegg deftly tackles the transformation as Antoinette catches a glimpse of herself après a French hairdressing:

“I had always seen myself as the youngest, least pretty and most insignificant of Mama’s girls but now suddenly I believed that I too could be beautiful and important.  I hope I never forget how I felt at that moment: powerful.”

This steady eye on the Antoinette we all know so well makes the novel a page turner.  We know what happens at Versailles and we know the dismal end swept in by the revolution.  What Clegg does is humanize Antoinette, making her the little sister, full of hope and giddy laughter and minor rebellions, with the internal reflection long due France’s most enigmatic queen.

A much recommended read for Marie Antoinette fans but also for anyone interested in what life was really like for princesses in 18th century Europe.

You can find out more about the author Melanie Clegg by visiting her popular art, history and writing blog at http://madameguillotine.org.uk/.

Murder and Moral Dissection

In case you don’t read the New York Times Book Reviews (which you should, I should, we all should!), here’s me clueing you in on novel involving “a forbidding country estate and the unlikely forensic duo who set out to uncover its deadly secrets.”  I like the NY Times’ snappy tagline better–CSI: Georgian England–but the book description is pretty deuced appealing:

 “In the year 1780, Harriet Westerman, the willful mistress of a country manor in Sussex, finds a dead man on her grounds with a ring bearing the crest of Thornleigh Hall in his pocket. Not one to be bound by convention or to shy away from adventure, she recruits a reclusive local anatomist named Gabriel Crowther to help her find the murderer, and historical suspense’s newest investigative duo is born. . .”

One reviewer on Goodreads described it as:

“Jane Austen fans will quickly associate Harriet Westerman with Mrs. Croft, the captain’s wife from “Persuasion.” She has traveled, seen war, is outspoken and not to be put off.  Her younger sister, Rachel Trench, is “Jane Eyre,” in her attraction to the war-wounded Hugh Thornleigh, younger brother of the missing Alexander and the Mr. Rochester of our story. Gabriel Crowther is a scientist, and something of a recluse until being pulled into the investigation by Harriet and his own curious mind.”  

Sounds like there’s a bit of a romance plot tucked away amid murder and mayhem, but frankly any 18th century novel sparks my interest.  As far as I’m concerned, they’re far and a few between for a century teetering on social unrest, scintillatings scandals, and the last hurrah of the landed English aristocrats.

Historical Basis

Of particular interest in Instruments of Darkness is Robertson’s decision to frame the novel around the Gordon Riots, which on the night of June 2, 1780 were the spectacularly violent culmination of anti-catholic sentiments stirred by the Papists acts of 1788 (i.e. on wiki: an imposed oath, “which besides a declaration of loyalty to the reigning sovereign, contained an abjuration of the Pretender, and of certain doctrines attributed to Catholics, as that excommunicated princes may lawfully be murdered, that no faith should be kept with heretics, and that the Pope has temporal as well as spiritual jurisdiction in Britain.”  

Here’s five reasons why Instruments of Darkness is worth your time:

  • Reminiscent of Austen and Bronte?  Sold!  Based upon the myriad incarnations of Mr. Darcy (Vampire, Sultan, Leprechaun Slayer) and the endless Jane Eyre movies, you’re curious how underappreciated characters might be reimagined.
  • Dickens tackled the Gordon Riots in Barnaby Rudge and you, literary aficionado, want to see how Robertson stacks up.
  • Did you miss the CSI: Georgian England part?
  • You love a strong heroine–Harriet Westerman, the willful mistress. . . 
  • You read Tess Gerritsen or Anne Perry, the cross of which (as suggested) gives us Imogen Robertson.

I need your help!  I’m thinking of creating of two 18th century reading compendiums for this site, one including novels actually dating from the period and the other compiling historicals occuring during the period.  If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments and I will thank you ever so much.

2010 Reading List

Without my intention, 2010 seemed to be the year of romance novels.  I read 41 of them, many embarrassingly having to do with dukes (I don’t even have a fetish for dukes!), but what can I say?  I love romances and considering I didn’t read my first one until I graduated from college, I’ve a lot of catching up to do! 

In reviewing the list, 2010 also appeared to be the year of reading Kresley Cole as I discovered her Immortals After Dark series and devoured.  I recommend them for highly diverting reads and days you don’t mind absolutely ignoring your partner, friends, dog, and the incessant call of dirty dishes.  I have a feeling that Gena Showalter, a novelist I just started reading today, will be 2011’s answer to waiting for Cole’s next offering of IAD. 

So what can you expect to see in 2011?  I will attempt to improve upon the diversity in my reading, but we’ll see.  The call of popular fiction is strong! 

Here’s the main stats for 2010:

Vampires: 11 (again, a little embarrassing.  Vamps have descended culturally since Anne Rice and I can’t say I don’t like it just a little).

18th Century Reads: 7

Writing Related: 4

French Related: 9

Classics: 4 (dismal!)

Epistolary: 2

Memoir: 2

100 89 in 2010

1.  Covenant with the Vampire – Jeanne Kalogridis 

2.  Tempt me at Twilight – Lisa Kleypas

3.  The Vampire Diaries – The Awakening – L.J. Smith

4. The Vampire Diaries – The Struggle – L.J. Smith

5.  French Women Don’t Get Fat – Mireille Guiliano

6.  The Vampire Diaries – The Fury – L.J. Smith

7.  The Vampire Diaries – Dark Reunion – L.J. Smith

8.  The Enchanter – Vladimir Nabokov  (see, I do read classics!  the novella that inspired Lolita)

9.  To Desire a Devil – Elizabeth Hoyt

10.  Duchess by Night – Eloisa James (laughed out loud with this one!)

11. Skinny Bitch – Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

12.  Black Ice – Anne Stuart

13.  The Crown – Deborah Chester

14.  French Ways and Their Meaning – Edith Wharton

15.  What happens in London – Julia Quinn

16.  The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901 – Kristine Hughes

17.  Daily Candy A to Z: An Insider’s Guide to the Sweet Life

18.  Devil in Winter – Lisa Kleypas

19.  The Convenient Marriage – Georgette Heyer

20.  Double Enchantment – Kathryne Kennedy 

21.  A Hunger like No Other – Kresley Cole

22.  No Rest for the Wicked – Kresley Cole

23.  Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night – Kresley Cole

24.  Lord of Scoundrels – Loretta Chase

25.  Whitney, My Love – Judith McNaught

26.  These Old Shades – Georgette Heyer

27.  Claiming the Courtesan – Anna Campbell

28.  Dark needs at Night’s Edge – Kresley Cole

29.  A Broom of One’s Own – Nancy Peacock

30.  Women and Money – Suze Orman

31.  A Duke of Her Own – Eloisa James

32.  The Virginia Woolf’s Writers’ Workshop – Danell Jones

33.  Pen on Fire – Barbara DeMarco Barrett

34.  Moral Disorder – Margaret Atwood

35.  Kiss of a Demon King – Kresley Cole

36.  Pleasure of a Dark Prince – Kresley Cole

37.  Steamed – Katie Macalister

38.  City of Darkness, City of Light – Marge Piercy (French Historical Oh-la-la Challenge #1)

39.  Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies – Sex in the City in Georgian Britian – Hallie Rubenhold

40.  The French Revoluion, Volume Two – Thomas Carlyle

41.  Night Falls Darkly – Kim Lenox

42.  Covet – J.R. Ward

43.  Queen of Fashion – Caroline Weber (French Historical Oh-la-la Challenge #2)

44.  Disquiet – Julia Leigh

45.  Angelology – Danielle Trussoni

46.  The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette – Carolly Erickson (French Historical Oh-la-la Challenge #3)

47.  Candide and Other Stories – Voltaire

48.  Walden – Thoreau

49.  Scent of Darkness – Christina Dodd

50.  Touch of Darkness – Christina Dodd

51.  Into the Shadow – Christina Dodd

52.  Rebecca – Daphne DuMaurier

53.  Murder Game – Christine Feehan

54.  The Confessions of Catherine De Medici – C.W. Gortner (French Historical Oh-la-la Challenge #4)

55.  Lonely, a Memoir – Emily White

56.  Highland Warrior – Monica McCarty

57.  The Devil’s Queen: A novel of Catherine De Medici – Jeanne Kalogridis (French Historical Oh-la-la Challenge #5)

58.  The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance, 2009

59.  Perfume – Patrick Suskind

60.  My Wicked Marquess -Gaelen Foley

61.  Dark Lover – J.R. Ward

61.  The Witch Must Die – Sheldon Cashdan

62.  Not Quite a Husband – Sherry Thomas

63.  Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates

64.  Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

65.  Love in the Afternoon – Lisa Kleypas

66.  Fallen Angels – Susannah Kells (French Historical Oh-la-la Challenge #6)

67.  Wicked Plants:  The weeds that killed Lincoln’s mother and other atrocities – Amy Stewart

68.    The Visual History of Costume Accessories – Valerie Cumming

69.  Life in Georgian England – E.N. Williams

70.  The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

71.  The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Percy Parker – Leann Hieber

72.  Insatiable – Meg Cabot

73.  Mennonite in a Little Black Dress – Rhoda Janzen

74.  Smooth Talking Stranger – Lisa Kleypas

75.  Dracula in Love – Karen Essex

76.   A Kiss at Midnight – Eloisa James

77.   Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

78.    Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

79.    Think! – Michael R. LeGault

80.  Sugar Daddy – Lisa Kleypas

81.  A Wallflower’s Christmas -Kleypas

82.  The Taming of the Duke – Eloisa James

83.  Mad about the Duke – Elizabeth Boyle

84.  Delicious – Sherry Thomas

85.  Boswell’s London Journal, 1762-1763 – James Boswell

86.  Devil’s Cub – Georgette Heyer

87.  Spain, A History – Raymond Carr

88.  Soulless – Gail Carrigner

89.  Earl of Chesterfield, Selected Letters

90-100.  Gar!  I failed, reader, I miserably failed.   The mid-eighties seem to be my threshold, as the last year I read around 80 something books while aiming for 100.  Huh, maybe if I hadn’t taken off that off that month in November it would’ve worked out better.      

 

Ode to Bad Romance

During my friend Abby’s last visit, we were sitting around flipping through some romance novels, looking all serious and contemplative as though we were reading Dostoyevsky, until all of a sudden, I couldn’t stop cackling. I had been thrust into the “the love scene.”

Don’t get me wrong. These passionate interludes can be erotic and scintillating (and oftentimes are) but they can also induce clutching-your-stomach-while-crying hysterics. I’ve never stopped reading a book in objection to a love scene or amusement over what it entailed, but I have found myself randomly texting to share the latest and greatest.  Electric bolts of quivering sheaths and twitching members come to mind, but lucky for you, there’s already a site ribbing romance novels with bad (subjectively bad!) sex quotes.

I stumbled across Uncle Walter’s Bad Romance Novel Quotes yesterday and I know, I know, from the cheesy covers to the sometimes dubious plots, the genre endures enough brow raises, but this collection of quotes is hilarious. And hey, even writers of romance need to heckle themselves once in a while.

The Confessions of Catherine De Medici – A Review

I like reading new-to-me authors.  Part of this experience lies in the thrill of the unexpected, the possibility of finding that fresh turn of phrase, that je ne sais quoi of writing: voice.  But voice is tricky and in many novels, especially first person historical novels, it falls flat.  Le’ts just say Gortner very much surprised me.

The Review:

So, first on the bigot disclosure (my own, of course):  I was reticent about reading this book because 1) given Catherine’s bad rep, portraying her as sympathetic is a Mount Everest worthy endeavor and 2) a fictionalized account of this raging she-serpent  was written by a man. 

This hesitation, however, was not uncommon for I soon discovered my female friends reacted in a similar vein.  In memory there is one male writer whom I thought has inhabited the female mind flawlessly and that’s Wally Lamb.  Well, C.W. Gortner, you now belong in that exclusive club because I believed every word you wrote as if it came out of Catherine’s mouth directly!  I am ashamed of my prejudice.  I not only sympathized with Catherine, I liked her.  I felt her hate for Diane, her frustration over her children’s ineptitudes and the equal force of her love for them.  Her connection with her son, Henri, sparkled off the pages. 

From the beginning she came across as a multi-textured woman—shrewd and ruthless, but also passionate and resilient, at odds with her time.  This revision of Catherine is one I can live with, not the Medusa, the deadly queen mother, but instead a powerful Medici through and through. 

The account below of Catherine by Henry IV (formerly Henri of Navarre) as reported by Brantôme, a French historian of her time, seems to ring true:

 “I ask you, what could a woman do, left by the death of her husband with five little children on her arms, and two families of France who were thinking of grasping the crown—our own [the Bourbons] and the Guises? Was she not compelled to play strange parts to deceive first one and then the other, in order to guard, as she did, her sons, who successively reigned through the wise conduct of that shrewd woman? I am surprised that she never did worse.”

 I felt this when reading Gortner’s version of the tale.  Who could blame Catherine?  Who, to save her children, herself, might not do the same?

Verdict:

The book was so well executed I’m having trouble recalling Gortner’s writing style—it was transparent in the way that all first person narratives should be.   I never detected the writer within and I think that’s the greatest compliment when it comes to this genre (or perhaps any).   Historical fiction can be laden with superfluous details thereby forcing the characters to take a back seat.  Not so here.

My only complaint regarding Confessions of Catherine De Medici was I wished the book were longer.  Since Catherine lived to 69, outliving her husband and two of her reigning sons, as well as surviving the Catholic-Huguenot wars and several other ordeals, her life was rich with anecdotes and adventure.  I would have liked to further entrench myself in her experiences, but then again, publishing demands brevity nowadays and I would not blame this minor fault on Gortner. 

The Bottom Line: 

The book was a delight.  I highly recommend it and based on reviews I will definitely be checking out Gortner’s other historicals, The Last Queen and The Secret Lion.

Confesssion Book Trailer

Reviewed as part of the Oh-La-La French Historical Challenge.

Dracula in Season

God, Mr. Darcy is so passé.  And  Jane Austen rewrites?  Please, we’ve already experienced the zombie/sea monster phenomenon.   It’s so over.

But Dracula? 

Huh, I thought vamps were dead.  Apparently not.  Mina Harker’s got a lot to say about her sizzling courtship with old Draco and who can blame her?  Dracula did have several brides, he’s been around the block, and of course, the Twilight phenom has reawakened obsessive love, convincing us that stalking is positively not creepy. 

So what to read next, you ask?  Dracula, My Love and Dracula in Love  have my attention.  They tap a similar vein–Mina’s story, shadowy and gothic and sexy as all get out.  Instead of re-reading Dracula this October (a worthy tradtion), I’m planning on indulging with these delightful possibilities.

Goodreads Blurb:  Many have read and loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But questions remain. What is the true story of Dracula’s origin? What if Mina could not bring herself to record the true story of their scandalous affair—until now?

In Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker, Syrie James explores these questions and more. A vibrant dramatization, told from Mina’s point of view, brings to life the crucial parts of Stoker’s story while showcasing Mina’s sexual awakening and evolution as a woman, and revealing a secret that could destroy her life. Torn between two men—a loving husband and a dangerous lover—Mina struggles to hang on to the deep love she’s found within her marriage, even as she is inexorably drawn to Dracula himself—the vampire that everyone she knows is determined to destroy.

Goodreads Blurb:  From the shadowy banks of the River Thames to the wild and windswept coast of Yorkshire, the quintessential Victorian virgin Mina Murray vividly recounts in the pages of her private diary the intimate details of what transpired between her and Count Dracula—the joys and terrors of a pas­sionate affair and her rebellion against a force of evil that has pursued her through time.

Mina’s version of this timeless gothic vampire tale is a visceral journey into the dimly lit bedrooms, mist-filled cemeteries, and locked asylum chambers where she led a secret life, far from the chaste and polite lifestyle the defenders of her purity, and even her fiancé, Jonathan Harker, expected of her.

Bram Stoker’s classic novel was only one side of the story. Now, for the first time, Dracula’s eternal muse reveals all. What she has to say is more sensual, more devious, and more enthralling than ever imagined. The result is a scintillating gothic novel that reinvents the tragic heroine Mina as a modern woman tor­tured by desire.

A Broom of One’s Own – A Rambling Book Review

From the doctor who leaves his poop in the toilet (really!), his teenage children walking around in their underwear, to the broken couple who write scathing and sometimes heartbreaking notes to each other on the kitchen counter, Nancy Peacock, housecleaner extraordinaire, tells it all.  But this book isn’t about the messes people make, it’s about writing, writing from the dirt up. For the aspiring writer teeming with illusions about the fabulous writer’s life, it might just be a slap in the face, but a slap, alas, that every butterfly catching, cloud hopping dreamer should read.

The Nitty Gritty

There’s a passage in Chapter Two: Diary of a Mad Housekeeper where Peacock is talking to a guy who’s read a book or two of hers. It made me howl, especially when first, he informs her he didn’t like them and second, he suggests she read Bridget Jones’ Diary for the learning experience, a book he thought was flipping great. She thinks (and of course as a nice, tongue-frozen-in-restraint writer doesn’t say) that he should read Miss Manners. 

Some claim kids say the damndest things? No, adults do.

Being a writer, published or unpublished, provokes all sorts of comments. My recent personal favorite: “What’s the point of writing a book if it’s not gonna be published?  You’re not gonna write a second one are you?”  For the record, that was in regard to a conversation about my first book,  shelved for the time being.  It’s stewing for more flavors. Until it’s cooked, it’s going to stay there, maybe forever.

But back to the point, success doesn’t prevent a writer from catching a stinger now and then.  As Peacock writes, being published does not provide a magic shield that separates your splendid self from money woes, from the daily grind of being human. From anything. Writing makes you vulnerable, publishing even more so.

Which leads me to my next favorite part: writing is “like living a double life.” Yes, I thought while reading this. Yes, yes, yes! This may be the one thing I fail to communicate to those closest to me. My characters are real to me. They bring me pain, joy, all the emotions a friend could elicit.   And if I talk about them with as much passion as I feel, I sound crazy. I’m really not. I just live a double life. God, I love that.

Verdict:  Buy it.  A Broom of One’s Own is a short work on writing and life that is nothing short of honest, soul-tickling amazing.  It has nudged itself on my cramped keeper shelf for all it says and everything it implies.  Peacock’s words made me feel saner.  Her story reminded me that publishing is not always (or perhaps not often) the life altering earthquake it’s cracked up to be.  It’s a paycheck, a foot in the door, a badge of success, but it doesn’t make you something you’re not.  It doesn’t change your work for the better and it doesn’t make you instantly fabulous or celebrated or free from life’s hassles.  And I think that’s a good thing.  Life needs to be real for writing to stay real.  And really, what’s more real than cleaning up other people’s dirt?

Queen of Fashion – Book Review

Queen of Fashion paints a vivid picture of a defiant queen, externally frivolous, sartorially political, and, as we all know, inevitably doomed.  A queen whose legendary fashions would sweep the fabric of change before France.

 Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber

What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution

Throughout her youth Marie Antoinette was a figure to be envied, despised, a foreign queen who acted more like a courtesan than a consort.  The words she never spoke (Let them eat cake!) are remembered with more vivacity than those chilling sentiments recorded in her letters (“I have seen everything, known everything, forgotten everything.” October 1789).

At the end of her life, her body wracked, hemorrhaging, her soul devoured, she would die a misunderstood queen, one that history would refuse to relinquish to the crackled pages of time.

More than any other day in her life, on October 16, 1793, she inspired a rare kind of divine awe in the populace.  As noted in Weber, “By most accounts, as the spectral white figure was escorted through the double hedgerow of navy- blue-coated soldiers who lined her path, the crowds reacted with stunned, leaden silence.”   Garbed in scraggly black mourning dress during her internment at the Conciergerie and denied those same widow’s weeds upon her death (as the privilege of mourning was associated with the aristocracy) she had one last statement up her sleeve.  In a move of fashion genius, she had saved a pristine white chemise in anticipation of her final parade .  . .

Marie Antoinette Taken to the Guillotine, William Hamilton, 1794

At the age of thirty-seven, her hair the angel white of the gaulles she wore while frolicking in the gardens of the Trianon, she proceeded to the guillotine, shorn of all royal refinement, but possessed of a final resistance: undeniable, unrelenting grace.

She went to her death as she lived her life, courageously, unwilling to confirm to the dictates of her gaolers, Versailles and later, ironically, her people.

Marie Antoinette , Joseph Ducreux, 1769

Ange ou demon?

Enemy of the Republic, royal conspirator and counterrevolutionary, that Austrian bitch or conversely, victim and bubble-headed consort, Marie Antoinette proves herself as neither.  She dusted flour in her poufs while her people starved; crippled the silk industry – a mainstay in the French luxury economy – by flaunting her preference for foreign fabrics.  She influenced Louis XVI, a soft hearted, bewildered king – a break in the imperious line his Bourbon ancestors – when consorts before her faded as forgotten queens.  Her exploits infamous far beyond France, she shadowed the already dissolute, depraved Court of Versailles in her scandals, becoming the sun itself.

January 1793:  Louis, ever faithful to her, ever weak, goes to his death wearing a coat a la cheveux de la Reine, the golden-red of his wife’s youthful hair.  The future king in an abolished monarchy, Louis Charles, her son, is ripped from her prison cell, placed in the hands of a drunkard, a fervent revolutionist bent on beating privileged sensibilities out of the boy.  Although the testimony in her trial is composed of hearsay, lies, and speculation, the memory of Madame Deficit, the Autrichienne who failed to metamorphose into a true, French royal, triumphs.

In my favorite chapter, the last entitled “White,” Weber draws her readers into this profound last vision of Marie Antoinette:  “White the simultaneous coexistence of all colors: revolutionary blue and red, royalist vilent and green.  White the color of the locks she saw the executioner slip into his pocket as her sheared her head to prepare her for her fate.  White the color of matrydom, of holy heaven of eternal life.”  And this eloquent, final prose: “White the color of a ghost too beautiful, or at least too willful, to die.  White the color of the pages which her story has been – and will be – written.  Again and again and again.”

Read it?

If, after ingesting biographies, memoirs, and blogs, Marie Antoinette still holds your imagination, your picture yet incomplete of this misunderstood queen, read Queen of Fashion.  Combining exhaustive scholarship and vast insight, Caroline Weber writes with a deft hand, reviving an icon in a flourish of silks and muslins and widow’s weeds.  Revisiting her story on a Weber’s fresh canvas, I like Marie Antoinette more and I like her less, but finally, if only a little, I think I understand her.

Book 1 of Enchanted by Josephine’s French Historicals Challenge completed!

I am a bumblebee

And I have fallen off the petal and into the dirt.

My hubby’s preparing for trial, I’m filling in at the office, and I haven’t gathered enough nuts to really write in days.  On the upside, I have managed to sneak in a few moments to read this wonderful  book that should screw my head back on straight.

The general idea is this: women are ridiculousy busy and if as a writer you require an hour or more to even considering setting your foot into the writing mood, how in the hell are you gonna get anything done?

My sentiments exactly.  The number 1 problem I have with my writing life is not only the general lack of time between chores and other necessities, but the mindset of being creative for small blips of time.  It’s sort of like being rushed to eat chocolate.  I don’t think I’ll be able to properly enjoy it.

But alas, I am determined to make a go of those weeks where time is my priciest commodity.  I have already edged into this zone  by writing before bed instead of picking up a steamy novel, which of course creates an insomniatic monster because once I start I simply cannot stop.   I must admit, those moments are worth hearing Josie and my hubby snore in sync though.

So I’m gonna take Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s advice.  While dinner’s cooking, the laundry’s a-washing, I’ll resist organizing my spice drawer.  I’ll write until my pen’s on fire (I just love that title!)

P. S.  Jodi Picoult wrote eleven books in eleven years using a similar method. And she’s married with children.  And she writes quality fic.  Seriously, I bow down to this woman.

Interested in the book?  Buy here.