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.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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?

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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.

Paris – Fuel for a Story

It was a no-brainer to set my next novel in Paris, a city so rich with culture, history, beauty, tradition, and flare. With a rough outline of the plot already written, I was looking for those je-ne-sais-quoi details to add an extra spark of interest or to twist the plot another notch. What have I found?

More work to be done and the brain is churning.

A door knocker that definitely needs to feature somewhere.
A door knocker that definitely needs to feature somewhere.

 

 

A picture of a Paris fort during the siege
A picture of a Paris fort during the siege
A woman who delivered drinks to soldiers during battle
A woman who delivered drinks to soldiers during battle
A confessional at Eglise Saint Thomas D'Aquin
A confessional at Eglise Saint Thomas D’Aquin

 

A crinoline frame to keep a woman's dress wide and full.
A crinoline frame to keep a woman’s dress wide and full.

 

A little park near Hotel des Invalides.
A little park near Hotel des Invalides.
A replica of a fan shop that existed in the 19th century
A replica of a fan shop that existed in the 19th century

 

along with a tea shop established in 1854.
along with a tea shop established in 1854.