Victor Hugo’s Sur Une Barricade

Sometimes I come across a unique bit of history while researching for one of my novels. As I’ve mentioned before, Paris in Ruins, the novel I plan to self-publish relatively soon, is set in 1870 and 1871, a time when Paris went through the horror of a destructive, deadly siege by the Prussian Army and an uprising that pitted citizen against citizen.

Victor Hugo created a poem about that uprising. Sur Une Barricade. I found it in translation on The French Desk, a blog created by Michael Partridge.

Barricades were everywhere during the siege, demolished after France capitulated to Prussia and then re-emerged when the Commune took over. Made of wood, sandbags, overturned carts, bricks and other material, such barricades blocked the forward movement of troops, while providing protection to those men and women – yes, women – who defended them.

According to Michael Partridge, “Hugo was dismayed at the wrongdoings of both the Communards and the government, writing in a diary entry, “this Commune is as idiotic as the National Assembly is ferocious. From both sides, folly.”

We’ve all heard of Hugo’s famous works such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables, but he was also a renowned poet of the romantic movement.

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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.

A Siege Mentality

Since deciding to write a novel set in 1870s Paris, I’ve been reading up a storm to get a handle on the tumultuous times of that decade. The Franco-Prussian war, the siege of Paris, and the Paris Commune dominated 1870 and 1871 – dramatic and horrific events that demonstrate the actions leaders will take to maintain power and the unrest that comes when working class and ruling class are at odds. (Could be some lessons for today’s world.)

Getting clear on what happened when is a challenge and after reading four first hand accounts of the siege and commune, I decided to create a timeline to keep things straight. Here’s what it looks like:Siege-Commune-Timeline

At the moment, it’s 18 pages long and there’s much more to add. Beyond the timeline are impressions and personal commentary.

November 8, 1870 “These foolish people really imagined that, like them, the world regarded their city as a species of sacred Jerusalem, and that public opinion would never allow the Prussians either to bombard it, or to expose the high priests of civilization who inhabit it to the realities of war.” Diary of the Besieged Resident in Paris by Henry Labouchere

November 27, 1870 “Pâtés of rat are being made. They are said to be very good.” extract from Victor Hugo’s diaries.

January 12, 1871 “They are now cutting down the big trees in the great avenues of the city – on the Champs-Elysées and the Avenue Montaigne.” Elihu Washburne: The Diary and Letters of America’s Minister to France during the Siege and Commune of Paris by Michael Hill.

May 22, 1871 “The gates at Auteuil have disappeared as completely as those at Point du Jour, and at the railway station behind the iron railway bridge over the road all the habitations are, so to speak, in a heap. Stone, mortar, iron bridge metal, lamp posts, trees, are smashed, pounded, and scattered.” The Insurrection in Paris related by an Englishman.

The trick will be to select useful tidbits while not overloading the story with detail.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.