The World of 1870 Paris

While launching Paris In Ruins, a number of authors and bloggers hosted guest articles featuring the world of 1870 Paris.

On the Washington Independent Review of Books, editor-in-chief Holly Smith invited me to write about The Enduring Allure of Paris.

Paris—a city ingrained in our imaginations. A city that is both grand and lived in, a city of massive cathedrals and quiet neighborhoods, a city full of mystery and romance. The city of love, the city of light. Why have writers flocked to Paris for hundreds of years? A brief dip into history sets the stage. In the middle ages, the Catholic church established schools attached to major monasteries to train scholars not only for the church, but also to serve in government. Read more …

On Sarah Johnson’s well-known blog Reading the Past, I wrote about the Delights of a Research Trip to Paris.

Paris In Ruins is set during the Franco-Prussian War, the Siege of Paris, and the Paris Commune. I arrived at these momentous events not by design but by calculating when two characters from an earlier novel, Lies Told In Silence, would be roughly twenty years old. I had imagined a novel about friendship between these very different women with a dash of romance and perhaps some tangled family dynamics. However, when I discovered a war, a siege, and a bloody insurrection, the plot took on much more drama. For more …

Author Elizabeth St. John and book blogger Davida Chazan hosted an article about Sarah Bernhardt’s involvement in the Siege of Paris.

In My Double Life, Bernhardt mentions her decision to establish a hospital (ambulance): “The Odéon Theatre had closed its doors, but I moved heaven and earth to get permission to organise an ambulance in that theatre, and, thanks to Emile de Girardin and Duquesnel, my wish was gratified. I went to the War Office and made my declaration and my request, and my offers were accepted for a military ambulance. The next difficulty was that I wanted food. I wrote a line to the Prefect of Police. A military courier arrived very soon, with a note from the Prefect containing the following lines … read more …

Rats, Trees and Breadlines was an article I wrote for author Judith Starkston’s blog

Imagine knowing that an army of more than 400,000 soldiers was approaching your city. How would you feel? What preparations would you make? Would you worry about your children, the men you loved who’d enlisted to defend the city, your friends and family? Would you wonder how you would feed your family and whether or not your job was secure? With winter only a few months away, would you be concerned about having enough wood or coal to keep your fires burning? Read more …

The spark of inspiration – or how Paris In Ruins came about – was hosted by authors Elisabeth Storrs and Char Newcomb.

Writers are not always masters of their own stories. There are editors to please, early readers who help tune the story, husbands and friends who offer suggestions—the list goes on. Each new story begins with a glimmer of an idea, that spark that ultimately leads to a finished novel. The challenge is to feed that spark and breathe life into the fire as the writing process unfolds. For that we need inspiration on an almost daily basis. Read more …

I hope you enjoy reading more about turbulent world of 1870 Paris. I’m deeply grateful to these individuals who supported the launch of Paris In Ruins.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available for pre-order on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, 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.

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.

 

Escape to another world

We’re all facing the challenge of Covid-19 – some no doubt with more resilience than others. My own response varies from distraction to calm, from boredom to bouts of energy, from despair to fortitude. But the best coping skill I’ve found is to escape into another world – in this case, 1870s Paris.

When I can marshal my focus to write, I disappear into the sights, sounds, and complexities of Paris under siege with rebellion boiling just below the surface. You might observe that we’re facing siege (the pandemic) and rebellion (protests and violence in different parts of the world) in 2020. However, absorbing myself in the past knowing that Paris survived and the world continued to turn is comforting, perhaps even encouraging.

Napoleon III declared war on Prussia in July 1870 – a foolish decision since the Prussian army was larger, better equipped, and logistically better organized than France. In less than two months, he surrendered, was quickly deposed, and the Third Republic declared. The Prussians – Germany did not then exist as a united nation – soon laid siege to Paris.

The manuscript I’m working on – Paris in Ruins – was originally written in 2016. Unfortunately, my then agent was unable to sell it to a publisher, so it has languished in that never-never land of done but not done. After taking a serious look at it about nine months ago, my new agent and I figured out why. Not enough conflict, insufficiently compelling character arcs, and too much romance was the verdict.

Ah … wish I’d realized that a long time ago!

If you’ve been through a major house renovation while still living in the house, you will have some sense of what it’s like to renovate a manuscript while retaining the parts that work. But I digress. The point of this post is to talk about escaping to another world.

Another world of values, customs, politics, governance, conflicts, fashion, language — and in this case, another country and a city I love. I’ve put my characters on streets and in buildings that I’ve visited. I climb the steps of the Pantheon or the hill of Montmartre with them. I cross the Pont Royal or walk along the rue de Rivoli, pause to admire Notre Dame, throw a coin into the Medici fountain at the Luxembourg Gardens, ride through the Bois de Boulogne just as they do.

Under siege conditions, Paris unravels. The poor and working class suffer greatly. Food shortages occur. Prices soar. Fuel is difficult to come by. The army occupies large open spaces such as the Champs de Mar, the Champs Elysees, the treasures of the Louvre are removed and taken away from the city, theatres become arsenals and hospitals. Men join the National Guard and prepare to defend their city. Radical clubs meet to plot rebellion.

Prussian bombardment begins a few months after they surrounded Paris. They begin with the left bank, targeting public buildings, churches, and hospitals. Barricades and rubble fill the streets. The French army fails to protect Parisians. The French government fails to negotiate peace soon enough to avoid disaster.

And I’m in the midst of it all. Imagining what it was like, the sites and smells, the emotions, the chaos, the festering anger.

I’m just at the point when France has capitulated and signed a peace treaty. And I know that worse things are to come. Will my characters survive?

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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.