Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Interview with Gabrielle de Montserrat

Today, we’re featuring an interview with Gabrielle de Montserrat, heroine of Mistress of the Revolution.

Madame, please tell us a bit about your childhood and upbringing?

I grew up in the French countryside, raised until the age of six by my wet-nurse, and then by the nuns of a convent school. I did not return to my family until I was eleven. I had no memories of it, so it took me a little time and effort to get used to it. But I did.

Describe for us a typical day in the life of a French noblewoman.

I will tell you about a typical day in my life just before the Revolution. I would wake up rather late (I must confess that I have never been much of a morning person) and ring for Manon, my maid, to bring me my breakfast of hot chocolate and croissants. Then I would choose my dress for the day, order the carriage and call on my dear friend the Duchess. If the weather was fair, we would go for a ride on the Champs-Elysées, or maybe a stroll in the gardens of the Palais-Royal. Then I would take my friend home, and return to my lodgings, where I would ready myself for the evening. The Count de Villers would then take me to the theatre, the Opera, sometimes followed by a dinner with friends or a ball. Do not be surprised to hear me sigh, dear Madame Yarde. Those were indeed the days of the sweetness of living.

You met Pierre-Andre Coffinhal when you were fifteen. What were your first impressions of him?

It was so very rude of him to stare at me in that fashion, while I was innocently enjoying my bath in the river. But I believe at the same time I was rather amused by him. He made me laugh, and there is no better way to a girl’s heart. To mine at least.

Despite your love for Pierre-Andre, duty to your family forced you to marry the Baron de Peyre. Your life with him was difficult, but was there any moment where you were perfectly happy?

My greatest moment of happiness during my first marriage was the birth of my first child, Aimée. Was it perfect happiness? I cannot say, and maybe there is no such thing. But that moment when I held for the first time my beautiful little daughter in my arms came very close to it.

The Baron’s death changed everything for you and then, with your daughter Aimee, you journeyed to Paris and entered the court at Versailles. What were your first impressions of the French court and the royal family?

Truth be told, the etiquette appeared rather odd to the young provincial I was then. I will tell you this: I was terrified on the day was I was presented to Queen Marie-Antoinette. She was such an imposing, truly regal figure. And of course I managed to make a fool of myself that day. But we all survive those little wounds to our pride, do we not?

Tell us about some of the requirements of protocol at court and how you adjusted to them.

I believe the most ridiculous was the way we ladies had to walk without raising our feet off those terribly slippery parquet floors in Versailles. And having to squeeze my giant hoopskirts among the crowd of other ladies in the Queen’s bedchamber was not the most comfortable feeling in the world either. And that rather unbecoming rush for the best place at the Chapel! How did I adjust to that? Like any other lady of the Court, I suppose: I had no choice.

You enjoyed a period of happiness with the Count de Villiers, particularly during your time with him in Normandy. How did your initial views of him change and how do you like to remember him now?

I have forgiven him at last. These days I often think of him with great sadness. He could be such a brilliant, charming man, and perhaps in his own way he loved me.

The Revolution brought such a drastic change to the country and imperiled your life. Do you believe it was inevitable?

I am not sure this is a question I, or anyone else, can answer. Maybe if the King had been a more skillful politician, if war had not been declared… then who knows?

Your reunion with Pierre-Andre during the bloodiest days of the Revolution
must have been a shock, as was his latter death. What do you believe is the legacy he and fellow revolutionaries left to the people of France?

The status of women, of the peasants, the courts, and the legal system were changed forever, and in my opinion for the better. But so many died…

If there were a motto or phrase you might choose to sums up your life, what would it be?

I survived, and never betrayed anyone.

Thanks again for speaking with us.

Merci, dear Madame Yarde! It was an honour and a pleasure chatting with you.

To learn more about Gabrielle de Montserrat's world, please also visit Catherine Delors' blog Versailles and more. We'll feature an excerpt from Mistress of the Revolution next, so be sure to leave your comments at the blog to win a copy of the novel, now in paperback!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors

This week, our Featured Author is Catherine Delors, who wrote MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION. We were pleased to feature it in April 2008. Catherine was born in France and became a lawyer before she wrote her debut novel, which has now been released in paperback. She is currently working on her third novel, a prequel to MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION. Visit the blog during the week to learn more about MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION.

After the turbulent years of the French Revolution, an exiled noblewoman reflects on her life. So begins the story of Gabrielle de Montserrat, whose origins in a remote French province do not prepare her for the horrors to come. Abandoned by her overly critical mother, Gabrielle is raised in a convent until she is eleven. She worships her brother the Marquis de Castel, who as her guardian has absolute power over her life. He returns her to her birthplace but his behavior toward Gabrielle is at turns, heartless and disturbing. When she is fifteen, Gabrielle falls in love with a commoner, Pierre-Andre Coffinhal. The differences in their background prohibit a marriage. After the Marquis arranges a marriage with the cruel Baron de Peyre, Gabrielle attempts to elope with Pierre-Andre but the promise of her brother’s retribution forces her to submit to a brutal marriage. Her only comforts are the memories of Pierre-Andre and the birth of her daughter Aimee.

When the Baron dies, Gabrielle learns he has made no provision for his family. Her brother refuses to offer her refuge in their ancestral home. She and Aimee leave for the glittering court of the haughty Queen Marie Antoinette and her decadent husband King Louis XVI. Befriended by the Duchess d’Arpajon and the Chevalier des Huttes, Gabrielle also makes the acquaintance of the Count de Villers. Her impoverished circumstances allow her few options except to become his mistress. Villers is a generous lover but jealously questions Gabrielle’s devotion. While with him in Paris, by chance Gabrielle sees her former lover Pierre-Andre but her status as a kept woman embarrasses her. When the political situation in France degenerates and Villers’ obsession imperils Gabrielle’s life, she faces the greatest trial she has ever known. But now, Pierre-Andre stands in judgment over her at the Revolutionary Tribunal. He despises everything Gabrielle’s status represents and has had years to nurse his feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Humbling herself before him, Gabrielle makes a desperate bid to save her life and find the happiness with Pierre-Andre which eluded her in the past.

Mistress of the Revolution is Catherine Delors' fabulous debut novel. In addition to the fictional characters of Gabrielle and her family, the reader encounters real-life figures including the architects of the French Revolution and the self-indulgent courtiers at Versailles who are doomed to lose their positions and lives when the Revolution sweeps across France. Gabrielle’s naïveté is at times infuriating, but also offers a sobering perspective of the options available to women in pre-Revolutionary France. She assumes that by confessing her love for Pierre-Andre, her brother will be inclined to see to her happiness. But she does not understand how the Marquis’ obsessive affection for her and his prejudices will drive the lovers apart for many years. When she first encounters the Count de Villers, she hopes for the prospect of marriage. But a year later after she becomes his mistress, his unpredictable nature leads her to conclude that it would be better not to become his wife. She is a witness to some of the most violent episodes of the Revolution and faces the prospect of death at intervals. Her determination to become self-reliant often puts her at risk, but her struggle to survive and ensure her daughter’s future is awe-inspiring.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Silent In The Grave by Deanne Raybourn

Victorian England in the year 1886, and Lady Julia grey is about to hostess a dinner party at her elegant home, but her husband, despite her urging him to get up, chooses this moment to crumple onto the floor and die. Most inconvenient.

Sir Edward Grey was always distant and secretive, and he did suffer from a heart complaint, so although his demise is regretable, it is not exactly unexpected or particularly tragic. After all everyone knew Edward suffered from, 'The Curse of the Greys'.

One of the guests at the dinner party is Nicholas Brisbane, a mysterious character who tries to tell Lady Julia that there is more to Sir Edward's death than an hereditary illness, but she is not willing to listen.

Lady Julia is one of ten children and her family, including her father, Lord March and her brother, Lord Belmont descend upon her to help with the funeral.

One female relative nicknamed, "The Ghoul", is obsessed with funerals and attends them all, relatives, friends and strangers alike. She arrives at the Grey London mansion prepared for an indefinite stay. Lady Julia's family overwhelm her and begin to bully her as to how she should conduct herself as a widow, but when she discovers Sir Edward was far wealthier than she imagined, and kept her short of money during their marriage, Julia is determined to control her own destiny.

Lady Julia feels little sorrow for her late husband, but as the months pass, begins to worry that perhaps Mr Brisbane has a point and her husband could have been murdered after all. Together, the pair set about investigating Sir Edward's death and discover all sorts of secrets, not only about Julia's late husband, but about Nicholas Brisbane too.

An enchanting, well plotted and witty story this is, with some fascinating characters and authentic in it's colourful details of Victorian London.

This book is the first in a series with the characters of Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane. The sequel, Silent in The Sanctuary, and Silent In The Moor, both of which I anticipate with pleasure.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mrs Lincoln Winner!!!

John Adams by David McCullogh

Noted historian David McCullogh's masterpiece John Adams is one of the most appealing autobiographies I've ever read, because it's written in a style any historical fiction author would envy. From pre-Revolutionary New England and the tiny town of Braintree, to the gardens of Paris on the eve of a turbulent revolution, McCullogh brings to life the vibrancy of the second US president. His Adams is a learned man, who enjoyed the works of the Roman statesman Cicero and loved to read Greek classics in the original. Not to be outdone, his wife Abigail often quoted poetry to him in their wonderful exchange of letters, from memory alone. It is the abiding love and hints of great passion between the couple which really endures throughout the book.

Adams is an ardent patriot. When he meets with fellow delegates at the first Continental Congress, his concerns about breaking with the colonial power weigh less compared to his belief in self-determination for the new US government. He shared an uncertainty with others that the new nation would last and worried that the effects of slavery might tear America apart. The Founding Fathers of America have always fascinated me; my favorite is Thomas Jefferson, as much for his convictions as the contradictions of his life. He's well-represented in McCullogh's book, with correspondence between both Adamses and him, that show how he and John Adams respected each other for a time, and Abigail Adams's strong affection for Jefferson daughter Polly. The break between the lifelong friends is bitter but McCullogh's shows Adams didn't triumph in Jefferson's troubles, unlike Jefferson during the Adams presidency. It's also remarkable that both men died on the same date; July 4, 1826, fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, through which both men helped shape the ideals of the American Revolution. Readers who love American history, autobiographies and authentic memoirs will enjoy McCullogh's John Adams.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sylvia by Bryce Courtenay

Sylvia by Bryce Courtenay is a multifaceted tale abounding with captivating characters set in the 13th century Germany and Italy during the Children’s Crusade.
Sylvia Honeyeater was born with the voice of an angel, the birthmark of a fish on her back between her shoulder blades, and the ability to mimic bird calls and summon them to her. While being sexually abused by her own father, she inadvertently kills him and finds herself alone and orphaned.

By a wild stroke of fate, the town gossip discovers Sylvia’s birthmark and makes an outrageous claim that a miracle has occurred. The town priest is skeptical. Sylvia’s reputation st The priest, however, is not convinced and she soon finds herself banished from the town, her birthplace and home for all of her eleven years.

Sylvia meets Reinhardt, a flute player with the ability to charm and catch rats with his instrument. Together, they journey to Cologne to scrape out a living as musicians. In Cologne, Sylvia lands in a brothel and later a convent, the better of which is the whorehouse.

The story is told in first person narrative through the voice of Sylvia herself. The first chapter is perhaps one of the best, most dynamic first chapters I have ever come across in any book I’ve read. The story unfolds thereafter as an adventure where Sylvia faces numerous obstacles in her journey towards womanhood and maturity.

The book is a bit on the long side and although there were some “slower” parts, it kept me engaged long enough to read to the very end.
Bryce Courtenay is a talented writer whose rich prose brings to life vivid characters and settings. The level of research, evident because of all the rich details strewn throughout its pages, is commendable. Overall, an enjoyable read!

Broken Rainbows by Catrin Collier (Audiobook)

During World War II, American soldiers arrive at a small Welsh town for training and billotting while they await battle. Most of the town's menfolk have already been on the battlefield and are long gone. Only the womenfolk remain and provide billotting and companionship to the American soldiers. Love, discord, and turmoil arise from the strange mix of characters.

The narrator, Helen Griffin is a resident of the story's setting of Pontypridd. With its numerous characters, she does a great job of narrating the various vocal tones. But as a Brit, her emulation of an American southern accent can be jarring at times, but the impact is minor and the listener can easily overcome the strangeness.

It is a great novel to listen to with numerous colorful characters and a lovely narration.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mrs Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman

A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

Incarcerated in an insane asylum after committal proceedings instigated by her own son, Mary Lincoln resolves to tell her own story in order to preserve and to prove her own sanity. Details of her first encounters with Abraham Lincoln, their courtship, marriage and troubled relationship are interspersed with disturbing accounts of the ‘treatment’ and behaviour of the women around her as she fights to be released from the sanatorium.

The story opens with Mary’s admittance to the sanatorium, a portrait of an apparently sane woman discussing with her doctor how she might get over her derangement and enter real life again. Mary recounts the courtroom scene where witnesses are called to testify to her increasingly bizarre behaviour, which may have seemed odd, but in modern times, could simply be attributed to a woman having a long drawn out breakdown after witnessing the murder of her husband.

Mary’s despair when her elder son, Robert, not only fails to defend her, but stands a chief witness to her derangement, is heartbreaking. His coldness made me feel this travesty was simply a way for a son to absolve himself of responsibility for an ageing parent, even though Mary was only fifty six.

The third eldest of six children, Mary Todd's mother died of puerperal fever at the birth of her last child when Mary was six. Mary showed disturbing signs of extreme grief at the loss of her mother, something the stoic Victorians regarded as weak and unnecessary behaviour, exacerbated when her father married again within a year of Eliza Parker Todd’s death.

When Mary meets Abraham Lincoln, she is already in her early twenties and charmingly describes him as ‘homely’ and with hands that ‘broke china and sent plates of sandwiches crashing to the floor’. Mary’s married sisters disapprove of her growing attachment due to his lack of money and the fact his mother was rumoured to be illegitimate.

However Mary’s longing and her physical passion for Mr Lincoln sends her to his bachelor room on a mission of seduction on New Year’s Eve 1840. However, her plan backfires, for although Mr Lincoln gave in to his passion and ‘took her honour’, the depth of her desire apparently terrified him and he refused to ask for her hand.

As a result of his conflicted mind, Abraham falls into a deep melancholy. Mary, however is a resolute young woman and doesn’t give up on him. She begs him to marry her and promises to ‘curb her passion’ for the ugly man with the large hands.

However Mary’s behaviour since the death of her husband at Ford's Theatre, was certainly bordering on the mentally unstable, so in a way I can understand why her family believed they were protecting her. Did Robert Lincoln know the regime in the sanatorium bordered on abusive? Did he care? But then the views on mental illness in 1875 were very different to today.

This is an emotional, and sometimes harrowing story of their married life, Lincoln's political rise and the Civil War, interspersed with Mary's desperate attempts to be viewed as 'underanged' and to be able to leave Bellvue Place, the sanitorium weher her son is determined to keep her incarcerated, vetting all her visitors and having her closely watched.

Threat of madness runs like a constant thread through this book. Any expression of deep emotion, whether it be love, grief, passion or despair was often labelled as ‘lunacy’, with any behaviour which varied from controlled, dutiful and decorus, considered unnatural.

This is a very sad story and although Mary's chronic overspending contributed to her own downfall, I could understand her need to obliterate her sense of inferiority and the fact she was always the poor relation in her family, no matter how high Lincoln rose. Her brother-in-law had so little regard for Abraham Lincoln as a person, that when he was elected President, he changed his political affiliation and became a Democrat!

Mary craved affection all her life and received very little, from her parents, her siblings, her husband, even her son. The sons who did love her and fulfilled her need to be a mother, died young. Robert Lincoln had an evident abhorrance for his mother's passion for not only his father, himself, but even her compulsive shopping. It seemed a particularly cruel revenge that in her widowhood, Robert had his mother committed because he didn’t love her enough to try and understand.

Ms Cooke Newman builds up an excellent portrait of a seriously disturbed child, who would eventually be ambushed by grief in adulthood and finally the widowhood which breaks her fragile mind. She also draws beautiful portraits of life in the deep south before the Civil War beautifully, with scents of lemon verbena and mint juleps on a sun baked porch.

I wonder if Lincoln would have become the man he was without her ambition and drive to encourage him? If the author was true to her research, and I'm sure she is, Mary built up her husband's inadequate self esteem and even taught him to deepen his voice so he would be taken seriously as an orator, just as the Queen Mother helped George VIth prepare his speeches to get rid of his stammer.

Mary's eye witness account of Lincoln's assasination is vivid and in some ways shocking. It brings a new dimesion to a well known occurrence, with brings her utter devastation at the loss of her husband to life. I defy anyone who reads this book not to have complete sympathy, as well as some exasperation with Mary, who in some instances, was her own worst enemy.

Anita Davison

Janis Cooke Newman
Short Excerpt from Mrs Lincoln

During the long afternoons at the Springs, unmarried ladies tortured their beaux by accepting and then refusing invitations to walk with them beneath the rows of flowering magnolia trees. Married ladies sat on the east porch, discussing the indiscretions of those who were absent and childbearing, while sipping glasses of mineral-laden water. The married men congregated on the west porch, where the talk was of horses and politics, and the drink was either julep or whiskey, depending upon the time of day. And the children ran about the lawn without their shoes, inhaling so much of the lemon verbena that grew along the pathways, they were in a constant state of dizziness.....

........ It was a languid evening, the air warm and filled with the syrupy scent of the magnolias. The whole family had come out on the veranda after supper and stayed sprawled over wicker chaises and rockers long enough for the sky to grow dark and the mosquitoes to to be replaced by firefiles.

Visit Janis Cooke Newman's Website at http://www.janiscookenewman.com/ and at http://creativecaffeine.blogspot.com

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