Paris in Ruins – the editing continues

During the Paris Commune many building were destroyed – some by fire, some by bombardment. The Vendome Column was destroyed by raw physical power — men with strong ropes pulling the statue to the ground. A symbol of Napoleon’s imperialism, the column was built in the early years of the 19th century of bronze taken from captured cannons from the Austrian and Russian armies. Writing in his memoir My Adventures in the Commune, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly says:

On the summit was set a statue by Chaudet representing Napoleon in classic garb, with a laurel crown round his head, and, in his hand, a small winged figure of Victory, standing on a globe.

Leaders of the Commune saw the column as a monument to war and tyranny and were determined to destroy it. Michael Hill, author of Elihu Washburne: The Diary and Letters of America’s Minister to France During the Siege and Commune of Paris, writes:

To prepare for the tremendous shock which would come from the fallen column, tons of manure and straw were piled at its base and ‘shop windows within half a mile were pasted over with strips of paper to prevent their being broken.’

I wrote a scene about this incident with Mariele, one of two main characters, and her mother attending the event. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it through this last round of editing.

~~~

“I’m going, Maman. I don’t care what Tante Isabelle thinks. These despicable people have already destroyed so much. I want to bear witness when the Vendôme Column falls.”

“But it won’t be safe.”

“Nothing is safe anymore. But I agreed, when you asked me to stop nursing last week, didn’t I? Papa would go if he were here.”

The Journal Officiel, the official newspaper of the Commune, announced that the Vendôme Column would fall that day at two p.m. Cast in bronze and with a statue of Napoleon at its peak, the column stood more than one hundred and forty feet high and was almost fourteen feet in diameter. Members of the Commune had prepared for weeks to destroy this symbol of Napoleon’s imperialism. A suggestion had even been made that in its place would be a statue honoring republicanism.

“If you insist on going, I will come with you,” her mother said.

“Come with me? Of course, Maman, but you haven’t been out for weeks.”

“I know, but my seclusion has achieved nothing. Robert [Mariele’s brother] would want me to go, and your father would want me to look after you. We can tell them about it when they return.” Her mother’s voice trailed off to a whisper, and Mariele squeezed her hand.

By the time Mariele and her mother arrived, the Rue de la Paix was a sea of bobbing heads straining for a glimpse of history. Every balcony was full and faces peeped out of every window overlooking Place Vendôme. Bands played and people sang. Leaders of the Commune arrived wearing gold-braided uniforms and colorful sashes. The people waited more than two hours until finally the massive column, the top lashed with thick ropes pulled by hundreds of men, began to tilt. The column moved slowly at first but then with more speed as it tumbled over and with a wrenching sound split into three pieces.

The ground trembled, buildings shook, windows rattled, women screamed in fright. Particles of manure and sand, put in place to cushion the blow, flew into the air like a thick cloud. “Vive la Commune!” people shouted as others waved red flags and still others rushed forward to touch the giant monument, and the bands played once again.

Mariele held Maman’s hand and blinked away her tears. That such a powerful symbol of France’s place in the world could be demolished shocked her to the core and stirred a passion she hadn’t known she possessed for her country and her city. If I were a man, I would take up arms against these people who have destroyed so much and seem determined to destroy so much more.

~~~

Last week while doing the last bits of tuning, I decided that this scene didn’t really advance the story, even though the event fascinated me on a personal level.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

The Dangerous Pleasures of Research

Iva Polansky has a wonderful blog called Victorian Paris. I came across it when looking for inspiration for an 1870 Christmas scene for Paris in Ruins, the novel I’m currently finalizing.

The Dangerous Pleasures of Research by Iva Polansky

Like it or not, if you write about something outside your personal experience, you need to research. What do you feel when you hear the word “research”? Ah, you’d rather dye your hair in rainbow hues than going that way. And why would you research, if you can write a fantasy story instead? Your world, your rules, no annoying searching. A bliss.

Research is not as hard as you think. Not anymore. Twelve years ago, when I began to write my first novel Fame and Infamy, set in the 1870s Paris, I was new at the game and I learned the hard way. I made a trip to Paris to scout for the locations of my story and to shop for books published in the 19th century. The physical effort of getting the books on the flight home also needs be mentioned along with the cost of overweight luggage. More old, out-of-print books kept coming via the mail. The expenses grew and my husband began to grumble. I don’t blame him.

Today, I could do the same research from home without spending a red cent. For locations, I’d use Google Maps where I can indulge in a virtual visit of Paris, ambling along this street and that one, looking for details that could be there in the 1870s. The e-copies of books I paid hard-earned money for are available free at the Gallica (French National Library) website. Not that I did not enjoy my Paris trip. The tastes, smells, and sounds of the city are sadly missing in electronic searching. What I’m saying here is that research needs not to eat your time and money.

In my current work, I’m visiting the late nineteenth century Paris again—and why not since I had made all that effort to get there?—and I need to create a new character: a world-famous hypnotist. Let me show you how it is done in a fast and easy way.

I decided, for reasons I need not explain here, that the hypnotist will be an Austrian. He is a large man who needs a substantial name. Googling German names, I came up with Beckenheimer. My celebrated hypnotist will be professionally known as the Great Beckenheimer.

Next, I need to learn hypnosis. My only experience happened years ago when I saw an entertaining show in which a hypnotist made buffoons of a dozen volunteers. They remained hypnotized during the intermission when they mingled with the rest of the audience. What impressed me then was their genuine confusion when asked questions about their stage experience and I’ll never forget the peculiar glassy expression in their eyes. Since then, I’ve held hypnosis in awe.

On we go in search of a course in hypnosis. The American School of Hypnosis website offers a 446-page hypnosis manual as a free download. I snap it up (not that I will read all of it now). Better yet, YouTube provides free live courses in hypnosis, including a technique called the instant induction. The instant induction is exactly what I need and it takes only ten minutes to learn. Perfect.

The Great Beckenheimer needs a home. He is comfortably retired in a Paris suburb called Marnes-la-Coquette. I selected this location because I like the coquettish name. I go to Google maps and key Marnes-la-Coquetteto choose a 19th-century villa to describe. This can take some time as I enjoy looking at the local architecture that favors the Norman style: mostly stone with a brick and white wood trimming. There is a quaint railway station too.

As a hobby, Beckenheimer grows orchids in his small hothouse (I google orchids for gardening tips). Career nostalgia fills the old man’s living room. Here, I google 19th-century hypnosis and go directly to the images. The 19th-century advertising language is loud and shameless. I pick up several posters and click the links to the corresponding webpages. They lead to interesting articles and more images. At one time, I end up on a Russian website. No problem there. I click on the little black and white icon that appears close to the bookmark star and the text is instantly translated into English. I’m glad for the Russian detour as I find a very interesting tidbit there about the hypnotic attacks crime. (Wow, what a trick to have up my sleeve for a future story!)  If an image has no link to a website, I right-click on it and choose Search Google with this image in the drop-down menu. This will show me every website where this image is located. You can imagine the possibilities.

With this minor effort, my knowledge grows. I’m getting ideas about how to improve the story in several ways and they are ideas born from learning. The story begins to plot itself. Here, one can reach the dangerous point of addiction. I admit I’m a research junkie. After the publication of Fame and Infamy, I was left with a mountain of material, most of it unused. Saddened about all that waste, an idea came to me to offer this wealth of information to the public. After nine years in existence, four universities are now linked to my Victorian Paris blogLast year, I published a collection of the blog posts in a 343-page ebook under the title Life in 19th Century ParisThere is no such thing as a useless knowledge and acquiring it can be entertaining. Give it a try.

Iva shares a few of her blog posts … you can find many more at Victorian Paris.

The Noon Girl: La Midinette  – After the grisette and thegigolette, here is another typical Parisian girl.

Life in the Age of Decay – Abandon all romantic thoughts about horse transport!

La Castiglione: The Too Much Countess – Italy sends a spy to seduce the French Emperor.

Fame and Infamy by Iva Polansky ~~ Is it hard to be famous in 1870’s Paris? Ask the sharp-shooting contest winner Miss Nelly McKay, formerly of Butte, Montana. She is already walking the thin line between fame and infamy when she is noticed by Chancellor Bismarck and the German Secret Service. Yet all she ever wanted was to marry a gentleman!

Fame and Infamy is an entertaining blend of comedy, mystery, romance and hard facts. Sarah Bernhardt and Victor Hugo are among the celebrities who share the scene with gritty characters emerging from the bohemian Latin Quarter. Paris, mopping up after the twin calamities of war and revolution, provides a background for this hearty clash of French and American cultures.