19th Century Paris

As you can imagine, writing a novel set in 1870 Paris requires lots of research. Historical events are critical, fashion is important, issues of the day, culture, social norms and so on. But what about the homes where Parisians lived?

Ian and I had a research trip to Paris that involved 3 weeks in an AirBnb apartment designed to provide an experience that was closer to living in the city, rather than staying in a hotel. Three weeks of walking the streets gave me a different appreciation for how Parisians live.

Of particular interest were the hotel particuliers – grand homes – we visited: Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée Jacquemart-Andre, Musée Carnavalet, and Musée Nissim de Camondo. I wanted to understand how my two main characters, both from well-to-do Parisian families, might have lived including the layout of such homes, the décor, the furnishings, the paintings and other accoutrements of their lives.

Museee Jacquemart-Andre – Paris

The splendour and luxury of these grand homes were astonishing, and although they inspired relatively brief descriptions, they gave me images to carry in my head as I wrote.

Musee Nissim Camondo
Musee Carnavalet

At one point in the writing process, I became obsessed with understanding the layout of Camille’s and Mariele’s homes. A search brought forth some floor plans which helped me add further details.

Mariele’s home – principal rooms
Mariele’s Home – adjoining suites for her parents

Gardens, kitchens, breakfast rooms, wardrobes, beds, desks, chairs and more created a world in which I and my characters lived quite comfortably together while I wrote their story.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS  is available for pre-order on AmazonUSAmazonCanadaKobo and Barnes & Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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16 Responses

  1. The joy of historical research! Really good photos, Mary. I particularly like the ornate window catch. The house plans were no doubt really helpful in imagining where the characters in your novel lived.

    1. I have to agree. Beautiful photos. I love looking at old floorplans and maps. Yes, definitely super helpful in imagining settings and describing characters’ movements. I sometimes even find that old maps and floorplans and things like help drive my characters’ thoughts and feelings and the flow of some of my scenes.

      1. I love maps … I collected so many WWI-related maps while writing the first three books and was delighted to do the same with Paris In Ruins. Maps of the Franco-Prussian war, the fortifications of Paris, the streets of Paris, the attacks that occurred during the siege and so on.

        1. I don’t know about Europe, as my writing is about historical events in America, but there are a lot of really excellent, interactive historical maps at the Library of Congress.

  2. The release of “Paris in ruins” is very timely with the upcoming 150th anniversary of The Commune. The Guardian has an interesting article about the current controversy in France around this anniversary: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/07/vive-la-commune-the-working-class-insurrection-that-shook-the-world?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Other and an animation movie called “Les damnés de la Commune, based on a 3-part graphical novel by Raphaël Meyssan, will be released on the Franco-German TV channel Arte next Tuesday: https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/094482-000-A/les-damnes-de-la-commune/

  3. Hi Mary. This thought caught my eye: “The splendour and luxury of these grand homes were astonishing, and although they inspired relatively brief descriptions, they gave me images to carry in my head as I wrote.”
    Indeed. In so many ways the research onsite, online, or in library seeps into the writing flow. It’s there as an entire landscape upon which the story unfolds. If there were footnotes for every detail that inspires or seasons but is not on the page, the footnotes would be longer than the story itself, or feels so, at least with historical fiction. Can’t wait to read the novel! Chris

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