Friday, December 4, 2009

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton -- Review

"Last November I had a nightmare.

It was 1924 and I was at Riverton again. All the doors hung wide open, silk billowing in the summer breeze. an orchestra perched high on the hill beneath the ancient maple, violins lilting lazily in the warmth. The air rang with pealing laughter and crystal and the sky was the kind of blue we'd all thought the war had destroyed forever. One of the footmen, smart in black and white poured champagne into the top of a tower of glass flutes and everyone clapped, delighting in the splendid wastage --" Kate Morton

And so begins the fragile and haunting memories of Grace Bradley in Kate Morton's unparalled "House at Riverton". In 1924, a young and disturbed poet took his life by the lake at the great house of Riverton with only two young women as witnesses, one, Hannah, the lady of the house and the other, Emmeline, her sister, a famous actress and the lover of the doomed poet. Now, 70 years later, Grace Bradley sits in a nursing home at 99, the last surving member of the Riverton household and the last person on earth who remembers what happened that fateful night. Ursula, a movie producer, wants everything Grace can remember, everything Grace has spent a lifetime trying to forget.

Author Kate Morton takes the reader back to the bygone era of pre WW1 England, showing us the glittering world of the English upper crust through the musings of a 14 year old servant girl who grows with her "superiors" into womanhood. Grace's life as a servant is taken straight from the beloved episodes of Upstairs Downstairs. There is a Mr. Hudson, Mrs. Bridges, a Rose, an abused scullery maid. There is an Edward who returns home with shell-shock. Indeed, much of Morton's novel seems an homage to Upstairs, Downstairs on both ends also providing us with a headstrong suffragate daughter as with Elizabeth, a Georgina etc. But it's a lovely homage. And the poetry of Morton's words, her images, her nuances, hold the reader with golden ties.

The cast of Upstairs/Downstairs

Through the years, Grace is privy to Hannah and Emmeline as they grow, as they change, as the world betrays their innocence in the name of "have tos". She is there, as a young girl herself, when the poet, Robbie Turner first enters Hannah and Emmeline's lives. She is there when he leaves. She watches from the station as Hannah hands him her hair ribbon before he goes to war; a ribbon he will carry the length of the war and beyond. She is there when he returns, years later, changed, as they all are, with eyes only for one. Finally, Grace is there, indeed, is the catalyst for the tragedy that brings the young poet, Hannah and Emmeline to their collective destiny.

This book was magically and wildly nostalgic. The words and the allusions Morton uses are often breathtaking. I was whisked away, I was transported, and just as Grace begins to blur reality and memory, I too found it difficult to reconcile a head full of memories that were not my own. As Grace gets closer to the truth and her final breath, the ghosts she's kept at arm's length for so many years are thick and insistent, everywhere and calling her. The beauty of Morton's writing, the achingly beautiful story that she creates allows the ghosts to call for the the reader as well. When the mystery was finally revealed, I literally gasped out loud. When the book was finally over, I wanted to cry. It has been many years since I've had the pleasure to read art and Kate Morton is truly an artist.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon Review

I was led to believe this was a fairy story. The cover, the back of the book, everything led me to believe this was a dark "sorta fairytale" I could sink my teeth into. Au contraire.
The Godmother, by Carolyn Turgeon is a look at the psychology behind a fairy godmother who not only falls in love with Prince Charming herself, but ultimately feels better suited for him as well.
Lil is a fairy godmother cast out of her rich, lustrous fairy world and forced to live her days disguised as an old lumpy woman on earth because she didn't fulfill her mission to unite Cinderella and Prince Charming. Every day she binds her wings painfully and looks for signs, glimpses that somewhere, her ethereal fairy sisters are still aware of her, coming for her.
Through a series of flashbacks, we see Lil's fairy world before she chose poorly, the clear lake the fairies sleep under, the exquisite rush of flying over the human world, the tantalizing look at first love when she sees Theodore (Prince Charming) for the first time and a hypnotizingly dark Cinderella who has more issues than we've been led to believe. These flashbacks reveal bits of the story and begin to parellel Lil's present situation in the "real world" when she decides to bring two lonely people together. She figures if she can help these two interesting people find each other, she will be forgiven and be allowed to return at last. She is tired, she is old and having to remain in the human world is a drudgery she can bear no longer.
This story should be silly. We're talking about fairies and Prince Charming and Cinderella. But it is deep and dark and sensual in its magic. I found myself whirled into a vast and beautiful world I had no desire to leave. I wanted desperately for Lil to return, to be her gorgeous fairy self again, to see Theodore, to find what was taken.
So how did it go wrong? I will not reveal the final chapter but found myself actually a little miffed that I had been manipulated so completely and I found myself in a bad mood for days. There was no magic, the climax was absolutely not worthy of the author's talents. I've read plenty of books I didn't like and then quickly forgot. But this book was in my top five favorites by the second to last chapter -- and then failed absolutely. I was ready to buy a copy for all of my friends and give it to my friends for Christmas. But this is not one I'll be recommending or reading again. Sigh. A real shame because I still want to go to the fairy world, I still want to see Theodore and I still want Lil to be the fire-haired goddess she used to be.
But this book shows you -- you can't have everything.
2 stars out of 5

Saturday, September 26, 2009


After fifteen years I finally find myself in his garden, in front of his house, on a solitary morning with only the National Trust men present for the reconstruction. But I cannot enter. It is closed. Everything is quiet, even the working men seem to be muted and all there is remains the sound of wind in the trees and the shushing after. I am here. Is he?

The view across from John Keats home.

The path outside the "Old Bull and Bush" where Lord Byron, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott, Leigh Hunt and Percy Shelley all came to eat, recite and enjoy themselves.

The neighborhood of Keats is still red brick and coal stains, narrow winding cobblestone streets and overgrown gardens in the foregrounds of mansions for the rich and famous.

The park across the street from his neighborhood.

The immortal trees of Hampstead.


I don't remember many things very clearly anymore. The "who", "what", "when" and the "whys" get contaminated with years and memories of lessons learned. But I do remember the exact moment I fell in love with John Keats. I was in college, in Utah, the snow was heavy outside, the day dark and already moving into evening in the early afternoon. My professor told us the story of the young poet who lost his life to consumption at 25. She read some of his poetry. I have never been the same.

Jane Campion (writer and director of the Piano) is not one of my favorite film makers and Ben Wishaw was so convincing as the homosexual Sebastian in the new Brideshead Revisited that I was more than worried that together, they would ruin the passionately doomed romance of John Keats and Fanny Brawne. How wrong I was. To be fair, this is not the story of John Keats. Many of his most interesting moments are not even referred to. It is quite simply, the love story of he and Fanny Brawne, a girl his intellectual peers scoffed at and who Keats himself railed against in torturous love letters. For years Fanny has been villified as not being good enough for this gentle poet's most sincere anguish. Jane Campion changes that.

John Keats was an English poet in the early 1800's (1815-1820) who turned down life as a doctor to devote time to his passion and gift of poetry. Because he was from humble roots and not a Lord as poets were expected to be, he was brutally criticized and scoffed at by those who referred to him as the "cockney" poet. He nursed his wayward mother through her bout with consumption, and his younger brother. Tragically, Keats himself caught the ravaging illness and died at 25, alone, in Rome where friends believed he stood a better chance of healing. He died believing he was a failure, despite the fact that in less than a year, he would be a household name. However, at 22, John Keats met and fell in love with a handsome, coquettish young woman in the poet circle by the name of Fanny Brawne. Keats was absolutely madly feverish for Fanny but knew he could never provide for her, never marry her. When he began to show signs of illness, the two became engaged anyway and Fanny and her mother cared for John until the fatal trip to Rome.

Campionn takes a few liberties and ignores a few hard truths (like the fact that Brawne frequently left Keats for weeks to attend parties and admire her own waist -- all this according to his very unbiased poet snob friends), but if a girl can't take a few liberties, why pass through history's painful moments again at all? I like how Campion did this film. I felt the looks, felt the kisses, cried my eyes out when they at last had to say their final goodbyes. Although Campion fudges Fanny's undying devotion in the post script, the film moved me deeply. The awful injustice of Keats's life and yet his incandescent splendor is wonderous and sometimes appalling. Campion does not show details of his death, of his suffering, nor does she show the infamous grave marker alone in Rome which Keats merely wished to say: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water..." This is the story of Fannny Brawne and how she loved and how she lost. Abbie Cornish does a masterful job and at last... at last! We have a little bit of Keats.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Letter to Fanny Brawne 1820:
My dearest girl,
I shall be selfish because I wish you to see how unhappy I am for love of you and endeavor as much as I can to entice you to give up your whole heart to me whose existence hangs upon you.... I am greedy of you.. Do not think of anything but me. Do not live as if I was not existing. Do not forget me. Goodbye! I kiss you.. oh the torment...!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


LEANNA HIEBER has so graciously given us insight into her writing process for the fabulous novel: "THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER". We thank her for her generosity of time and spirit.

"These are awesome questions and they were great fun to answer. Blessings!

Question #1.) How do you go about creating such great ambience? Do you listen to any certain music when you write? What things put you in the mood to write such eerie scenes in Victorian London?

Leanna: I write as if I’m a cinematographer. I adore ‘setting the stage’ – that’s where my theatrical background seems to shine, and the more mysterious the stage, the better. It’s my favourite part. Nothing compels me more, titillates me more or has me literally itching to write than dreaming up an eerie, moonlit scene with an edge of danger and the possibility of romance. Some of my earliest memories are of telling ghost stories, so it’s just in my blood, a particular style of storytelling I’ve always been drawn to. 19th Century Gothic novels have always called to me, like a siren, luring me towards their atmospheric shadows that are so resonant to my interests. I do like to listen to film scores while I write (Particularly melodic Philip Glass scores) and rich, contemporary classical music that was the “pop” music of Victorian times and slightly later, imagining it played from a faintly hissing phonograph. I particularly love Chopin, Tchaikovsky, R. Vaughan Williams and Dvorak.

Question #2.) How do you feel about people comparing Alexi to Professor Snape?

Leanna: Snape is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting and compelling characters ever written. He’s definitely and quite clearly influenced my Alexi, as has Mr. Darcy, and every stoic, brooding historic and Gothic hero. Alexi is all my literary love affairs wrapped up into one hero. And I’d never deny that Severus Snape is one of my foremost literary love affairs.

Question #3.) It says on your website that it took 9 years and many rewrites for Miss Percy to find her way to print. How was the original story different than what we read today?

Leanna: Originally I’d included a great deal of back-story and scenes from Percy’s convent childhood. The story wasn’t nearly as tight, the action not nearly as knitted together. It was far more vague in the revelation of prophecy and even the talents of the Guard. I credit my agent and editor for helping me adjust simple and structural choices to draw action forward in the book and push things along in a more consistently unfolding way. Once they pinpointed it, I knew they were right, I just needed those outside, professional eyes. My Editor: “We need to learn about what the Guard does earlier on in the story.” Me: “Well, how about making the Exorcism Chapter Two?” Editor: “Great. And Prophecy. Much earlier.” Me: “How about the prologue?” Editor: “Awesome.” And there you have it, give or take a few edits.

Question #4.) What do you think it was that finally tipped the agents/publishing world in your favor? After 9 years, why did they finally see the light?

Leanna: Perhaps the most significant factor was my agent changing my boring working title into The Incredibly Long Yet Descriptive Title that it is now. It was the descriptive nature of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker that got my editor’s attention. This title navigates the cross-genre nature of this book, and that was the critical tipping point, to find a publisher who was not scared of the cross-genre nature but rather an editor and house that would celebrate it as such, as Dorchester does. Plus, Dark / Gothic Victorian Paranormal / Fantasy is pretty “in” right now. Didn’t know or care about that when I started the love-affair that is this book, but it sure is handy now.

Question #5.) What was the inspiration behind Percy as an albino?

Leanna: She appeared to me just as she is; a vision, of sorts, much like the kind I’ve granted Percy. The idea of a girl who looks like a ghost, can relate to ghosts and yet isn’t a ghost was so fascinating to me; a girl caught in both worlds, the very threshold of living and dead embodied in one sweet young lady … A girl who could go into the spirit world and pass for dead… Oh, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s book two… *s*

Question #6.) Why Jack the Ripper? He's barely in it at all and has nothing to do with the plot? Red Herring?

Leanna: I couldn’t write about Victorian England without including a bit of “Jack”. I was putting in so many real London haunts (all my ghosts, save the ones on Athens’ grounds, are real, documented London haunts) that I had to give Jack the Ripper a sidebar, and a paranormal explanation. He is, in his way, integral to the plot because the Guard is now aware that a different game is afoot, there are things they’ve never faced that are now on the loose. Without “Jack” there wouldn’t be a looming threat, nor an indicator of Prophetic things that remain in control of other-worldly/divine power and intervention. The Greek Mythological tie-in fell into place and it just felt right. It would be hard to throw in mentions of characters who deal with the “Underworld” without the reference to the particular creature that “Jack” proves to be.

Question #7.) What inspired you to mix Victorian England with Greek Mythology?

Leanna: They’re two of my great loves, and they’re a great fit as the Victorians were celebrating a renaissance of classical themes during their era, a neo-classical period of great intensity. Bulfinch wrote his great treatises on Greek Mythology at this time and so between that neo-classicism and the burgeoning interest in spiritualism, the main themes of my story were already laden in the Victorian consciousness.

Question #8.) What is the most significant change you've seen in your life now that you are an author?

Leanna: I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my whole life. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. But I’ve never been so happy to be an artist as I am now, I feel so lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to do what I love more than anything in the world and get paid for it. With many artistic interests, I’m feeling more at peace with being a novelist than at any other time in my artistic career, which means I’ve really found the one love that trumps all; my books.

Question #9.) Were you able to travel back to England for research?

Leanna: Yes, blessedly. I was there during college on a research scholarship involving Shakespeare and classical theatre. And a return trip was for personal research on many different writing projects, with Miss Percy most prominently in my mind and heart. And I can’t wait to go back for more.

Question #10.) Will the sequels continue to focus on Percy and Alexi or will Rebecca and Michael be in the spotlight?

Leanna: Book II will pick up exactly where Book I leaves off, with Percy and Alexi remaining in the main focus, but with more insights into the Guard as well. As it currently stands, Rebecca and Michael are slated to have their own novella, in which I grant them well-deserved starring roles. At the moment this novella is scheduled to release in a Fantasy Christmas anthology October 2010.

Question #11.) You are an incredibly artist in many fields. How do you organize your time to write as well as act and perform?

Leanna: Barely. I’m not auditioning at the moment due to the push on the Strangely Beautiful series. The time constraints in theatre are really demanding and all that auditioning never promises actually getting the job. However I do keep my hand in the business, I work for a small television company in New York doing some freelance production work and I work as a television extra on shows like Gossip Girl or the Law & Order franchises. I love being on set and it feeds the actress side of me who will never want to leave that industry for good. As a playwright, my published scripts live for themselves and I have the occasional pleasure of granting production rights around the country. Plus, any time I get the opportunity to read from my book, I’m thrilled to do so, accents and all. There’s so much about my theatrical life that helps me as an author in both presentation and promotion. I’ve now begun teaching workshops about merging theatrical techniques into writing, and that’s a really exciting thing for me to be able to bring my passions together in one lively discussion.

Question #12.) Will the Greek Mythology continue through out the series?

Leanna: Indeed, and it will intensify during the climax of Book II. Book III, the prequel, will have the Mythology rather front and center. However I’m still interested in Mythology juxtaposed within the 19th century, so the Victorian backdrop will never be removed, Victoriana will always be a character in the books in and of itself.

Question #13.) Will we see more (hopefully good things) for Alexi's sister?

Leanna: We’ll see Alexandra more included / provided for. We’ll also catch glimpses of her childhood in the prequel, and moving forward in time into Book IV.

Question #14.) What advice would you give to writers in the throes of writing the all important query letter?

Leanna: Be brief, honest, write a good hook to intrigue the reader but give the general overview (you want to keep the reader guessing, not the editor or agent), give an interesting tidbit about yourself and then keep your faith. And keep submitting. If you don’t end up with a huge stack of rejection letters then think of all the great war stories you deprive yourself of telling when you do sell.Every blessing and thanks for the opportunity to talk about the 'book of my heart'! "

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Find Your Inner Ava Gardner on Mad Men!

The Cary Grant and Grace Kelly of Today on Mad Men

Trendy Tuesday -- Meet the Fabulously Dressed Mad Men

Trendy Tuesday -- All Hail Janie Bryant -- Costume Designer for Mad Men

Where oh where can a girl turn when she just needs to be fabulous? Typically I turn to the greats, Rita Hayworth, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Ginger Rogers. However, perhaps you have heard the news that there is a new kid on the block. If you tuned into the Emmy's or have been following the critical syrup poured over technical favorites, then you've heard the fashion rumblings of MAD MEN. This is a series on AMC, American Movie Classics and it is fabulous. If you are in the mood for intense retro drama with clothes to kill for, this is your show.

The Mad Men style has been so popular that even Banana Republic started a look inspired by costume Janie Bryant's girl loving style. Take a look:

And with more and more fashions looking as though they were designed for pre-pubescent boys, actresses like the sultry sex goddess Christina Hendricks are a God send to remind us that we are indeed women. Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren have no fear! Janie Bryant has even announced that she will be starting her own line of wearable clothing. We hope she doesn't stray too far from the delicious fabrics and colors of her Mad Men creations. Wouldn't it be lovely to be THAT polished for just one moment? Too really, truly, feel at last that we are women -- hear us roar!

Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson -- Hello Debbie Reynolds

Christina Hendricks as the "sex" of the show, throwing back to Sophia Loren

January Jones as Betty Draper and Grace Kelly Look Alike

The Fabulous Cast of Mad Men

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ask Leanna a question!

ASK LEANNA HIEBER a question about her fabulous new novel! Leanna has so graciously agreed to answer any and all fan questions next Wednesday on my blog. Take advantage of this opportunity and share what's on your mind!

Thursday Theory!

William Stearns Davis?? Anyone?? I found this book by accident, looking, looking, for something about, I don't know, the revolutionaries in the Revolution. The only copy I could find was a 1929 copy about to be tossed in a library. For 4 bucks, how bad could it be?
It's FABULOUS!! Rene Massac is a local gentry with noble ties who gives it all up for Virginie, the daughter of a Paris bourgoise. His family does not appreciate his fervor for Rousseau and the new ideal or for his unforgivable decision to marry Virginie. In a desperate attempt to keep the family name untainted by bourgoise blood, Rene's mother turns to none other than Queen Marie to help thwart the lovers. But Rene does not give up Virginie or his new friends Desmoulins, Danton, or St. Juste even after the king throws him into prison and the queen diverts his passions by sending him on an out of country mission. Of course, the Queen goes too far and actually has Virginie kidnapped. This is how far I've gotten. The King has just been over ruled, defied, and the bastille has been stormed. Rene cannot find Virginie and Danton is doing everything he can to intimidate the gendarmes into giving away her hiding place.
I love this book. I love it because Davis does what no one else does, gets into the twisting, dank alleys of Paris, into the cafes, names them, listens to the people as they march and plead, gives faces to St. Juste and Robspierre that are not pre-demonic. It's as close to being there as one could hope. I dearly hope that Rene and Virginie finally do find each other and can't wait to see how it happens.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Strangely Beautiful version of the book trailer!!!!

* PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS ONLY FOR ENTERTAINMENT VALUE!!! I'm in no way affiliated with Leanna Hieber or the Dorian Gray film. Just enjoy!!

The Debauchery Begins! Dorian Gray

Colin Firth and Ben Barnes in Dorian Gray

Film Friday!!

MOVIE: Dorian Gray STARRING: Colin Firth (yay!) and Ben Barnes (yay, yay!) COMING OUT: Allegedly this Fall.

Hello all! Today I'm on jury duty. You have to report at 7:45 AM when you report to jury duty which would be no big deal except that last night I stayed up until way too late cutting MY OWN book trailer for "The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Percy Parker". Yes. I'm just that weird. It was upon this journey that I stumbled upon DORIAN GRAY with the beautiful, phenomenal, enchanting BEN BARNES. Now, ladies. Let's review the story of Dorian Gray. Victorian London, a young man too beautiful for his own good, somehow rigs it so that he can live a life of complete hedonism without aging, without it showing up in his person. As I sit here in the waiting area of the Justice building and watch different individuals file past, I can appreciate that this (hiding your sin from marring your countenance) is no small feat. What always worries me about this story is that there is the whole man-love thing in it. Or hinted at. It is Oscar Wilde of course. There's nothing wrong with man-love if you're into that. I'm not. It does nothing for mme and I really don't want to see Ben Barnes kissing Colin Firth. There is a very good review which I have posted from the Times that says while MOST of the debauchery is man/woman -- there is 'one brief scene' of consumation between the men. Yuck. This is not my fantasy. Nevertheless, the preview looks FANTASTIC. Ben looks FANTASTIC and well... take a look for yourselves.

Meanwhile, has there ever been a more perfect moment for Dorian Gray? I can't help but thinking that our world may finally view his torture as lamentable but infinitely more interested in where they can find a painting of their own... plastic surgery isn't going to last forever.

ps. yes. I did rip off a WHOLE lot for my book trailer for "The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker." I can't help it -- it TOTALLY worked.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mystery Monday!

The Strange and Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber kept me up until 12:30 this morning on a night when I had sworn that I would finally begin my responsible regim of "early to bed". Not so! This is a story of romantic, gothic London during the threat of the infamous Jack the Ripper. A group of fringe young people are "chosen" to protect London from evil paranormal energy. I was looking for eerie and spooky without vampires, something with some substance. This hit the spot and was so fun! I was mesmerized by the romance in this book. It's daring, it's addictive, it's forbidden and sends tingles down your back. Alexi is a Mr. Thornton from North and South meets Alan Rickman as Professor Snape in Harry Potter. So attractively forbidding and intense -- Heathcliff but with a sense of duty and a soul. He has lived his life as the leader of the chosen group, able to cause gas lamps to inflame by his very presence. He has forced himself to live a stoic, repressed life but when he meets a strange and ghostly girl who sees dark visions he is undone. And so is the reader! I was up all night, gave my students busy work so I could clandestinely read at my desk. When it was over, I sighed and felt a little empty, wondering where my Alexi was. I can't wait for the next one and I hope that the next one is even more steeped in Victorian London.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Lady in the Graveyard

Who is she? I don't know. I stumbled upon her while pretending to prepare for my high school students to return. What I do know is this: According to, this sculpture is Antoine-Gaétan Guérinot (1830-1891) in division 55, statue by Barrias. So I looked Antoine up. There was a lengthy article in French at entitled the Tombs of Artists which describes the fashion of hiring an artist to immortalize someone as they wish to be seen for eternity. Apparently this was particularly attractive in the 1800's but this does not answer the question: who is the lady in the graveyard?

But Antoine was a man! He was a noted architect of the day. Why was a hauntingly beautiful woman immortalized above a male architect's tomb? I do not know but I have been thinking of her all day. I put on a little Keren Ann, a fabulously atmospheric French singer and wondered. When I left my classroom, the sky was no longer desert blue but stormy and dark.


Statue in Paris Cemetary

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Marie Antoinette: Villanous or Victim?

We all know the story. Even if we don't know the story, we do. The story of the beautiful young queen beheaded by her people is one that lives in our subconcious even if we don't realize it (Sophia Coppella anyone?). Who doesn't feel a pang of horror at the thought of any woman having her best friend butchered, her husband murdered by the people he employs, her children torn from her and finally being killed herself?

Is it gruesome? Is it justice? The two camps were and are rigidly divided.


Grace Darympole Elliot was a British courtesan also went to the Temple Prison. In her memoirs, she recalls the betrayed queen as "virtuous". She says that Marie Antoinette was as "aimiable and good a princess as ever lived." Madame Elliot even goes so far as to say that the Queen's own servants recalled her as "goodness itself", a "kind and most affectionate mistress." Then again, Madame Elliot spent her life as a social climber and professional mistress to scores of royal dupes. So. Why should we care about a Queen who counts Madame Elliot as a friend?

* She was a neglected daughter of the great empress of Austria -- Maria Therese. It is said that she was so neglected by her imperial mother who had another favorite that the girl could barely read and write in German. She also continued to get scathing letters from her mother listing all of her failures as a sovereign and wife from her doting mama.

* She was married off to a stranger at 14 years old and was the laughing stock of France when she and Louis could not consumate the marriage because of his erectile dysfunction. Of course, he was only 15 himself...
* She had to deal with life-term mistresses (the ruthless Madame Du Barry) and other older courtesans who hated Austrians (Seven Years' War). They thought she was a brainless, spineless, childless, twit. At fifteen. Which of course begs the age-old question: why do women do everything in their power to destroy other women?
* Her husband hated Austrians (Seven Years' War) and practically said nothing to her. Ever. Which does little to improve erectile dysfunction.
* After Louis's "operation", she had four children but two died and she was left desolate by their passings.
* She was too young to know who her enemies were or how to successfully navigate in any political climate.
* Her best friend was dismembered.
* Her husband was beheaded.
* She was spat on, thrown waste at and finally beheaded herself.
* She apologized to the excecutioner for stepping on his feet.


L'Autrichienne was the name disappoving old prigs (women) gave the young queen. Translation: The Austrian Woman -- which was a very bad thing coming out of a seven year war with Austria. But they were clever and soon found a way to say L'Autrichienne in such a way that it could combine the hated enemy and the French word for Bitch. Always thinking, those courtesans.... They hated her.
* She was young and beautiful
* She would be queen.
* She was often "loud" and uncouth according to French standards of grace and etiquette.
* She had an addiction to gambling, suitors, and legendary parties.
* She didn't consumate her marriage for seven years. Almost a decade. Which would put her at... that's right... 22.

But let's be honest. Which royal inner circle is warm and nurturing? Which band of beautiful, popular, rich women gets together to improve each other's soul and care more for her friend than for herself? All of these grievances would have remained petty jealousies, irritating but par for the course if the people hadn't risen up and said: "Rawr!!!!" (see yesterday's blog entry).

Life for the peasant in the late 1700's meant a 16 hour work day with a forced FREE labor day during the month (your Sunday, if you please) to do things fun, easy things like, pave the roads. Hey, we all need exercise! It also meant paying taxes to the church, the monarchy and the local nobility out of their crop. Meanwhile, the church, the monarchy and the local nobility were all virtually tax free. They didn't pay a dime. The king had a little something called the lettre de cachet. Roughly translated, this means "Asta la vista, baby." The king could throw you in jail without trial for the rest of your life. Add to all of this a famine where the people who work, build, and pay for the country are starving, you get "unrest."
The people HATED the court but most importantly, they hated Marie Antoinette. More than anyone.


* The queen had an annual allowance for dresses which came to 150,000 livres which was nearly 300 times greater than the average annual income for one of the schleps paying the taxes for all those dresses.
* She ran up debts, every year, closer to 500,000 livres even though country was in near economic ruin from money spent on wars (one of which was called the American Revolution).
* She was Austrian and constantly suspected of being a spy (which of course the war Austria declared on France during this little misunderstanding didn't help).
* Between the 500,000 for a Queen a la mode and the wild gambling parties, the palace kept 300 cooks, 2000 horses, 700 rooms and 20 kilometers of roads.
* After the revolution began and the reforms had started, the Queen (and king but no one cares about him) took the cap of "liberty" and trampled it under their feet. Probably not a good idea but especially bad when in the middle of a drunken feast when the entire country is starving.

Is this all her fault? Was she a callous, ridiculous woman who drove the people to madness? Was she a pawn in a wider political arena? The fact that France chose a queen who could not read or write with a fetish for debaucherous living is interesting in itself.

But does a silly young woman deserve to die simply because she's silly?
I don't know. I've never watched my family die of starvation while the people I give my food to can't quite keep the dress budget under 500,000 livres.

One last note. When the women from Paris stormed Versailles to demand audience with a queen hiding in her bed chamber, several of them fainted when they saw the splendor of the palace. This was the palace they'd paid for, their husbands and sons, never having known that there was anywhere that beautiful on earth. They almost forgot why they were there: there was no grain, no bread, no food at all in the city and Marie Antoinette was having feasts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

La Revolution

Why is it that when anyone writes about the French Revolution, they only write about Marie Antoinette? And if not about Marie Antoinette, they write about some silly, vapid, courtesan who spends her days wishing she was Marie Antoinette and her nights sleeping with whichever Count or Marquis it takes to keep her at court?

How is it that after rewriting how Western government views itself, all we remember is: Marie Antoinette -- she had really nice clothes -- she had wild parties -- and then they killed her. Sad.

But it's not the France I know.

The day Coldplay came out with Viva La Vida, I broke out in goosebumps. The colors are glaring and loud with the French symbol of Revolution, a woman brazenly storming the Bastille, half clothed: of course. Ah. The good old days of half naked women on money, telephone ads and art, when the number one rule was LOOK DOWN because you never knew what kind of billboard awaited you on main street or in the middle of centre ville. You know -- BEFORE the Euro?? I lived in France for two years when I was 21. Every week there was a protest, a march, demonstration, a strike. Sometimes they were over the salaries of the postal workers (which they protested by blowing up the local post office at Christmas) and sometimes it was a demonstration by those dissatified with their welfare benefits. Once, I saw the entire Cananbiere lined in Marseilles by Muslims, standing behind miles of machine gun holding troops while a group of French Nationalists marched solemnly up the street holding only a French flag. It was silence as I've never experienced before. Any false move, the wrong insult hurled at the wrong protester or demonstrator and the whole of Marseilles would have gone up in -- dare I say it -- revolution.

It was in those moments that I remembered the revolution, we all did. That it took place in those streets, with ancestors of the people we saw now and left the king probably singing something very similar to Viva La Vida: "I used to rule the world, seas would rise when I gave the word. Now in the morning I sleep alone, sweep the streets I used to own." These days the massive romantic, stone baroque buildings are used as banks, city halls, or community centers. No one speaks of the crowds surging through the streets, the taking over of the ancien regime, the terror that blanketed "Liberite, Egalite, Fraternite." In fact, a French friend of mine was asked to stop singing "Les Marseilles" on Bastille Day as it was offensive to the French people.

Ah well.

No one speaks of LaFayette, Marat, Dantes, or Rousseau, but nobody can seem to erase them entirely either. Even in Viva la Vida, a rock and roll song by a bunch of British lads who probably despise the French as all British lads do, Louis XVI, Robspierre and Bonoparte are still with us. It's even in Broadway musicals like Phantom of the Opera. Christine wanders through the Paris graveyard, a sublimely chilling moment of the Belle Epoque. But what was the Belle Epoque except the time AFTER the revolutions (yes, there were two), AFTER the dust had settled, AFTER we were allowed to associate France with beautiful scenery, clothes, art and not with blood, betrayl, revolution. And let's not forget the Phantom. Older, damaged, scarred... one of les pauvres still taking his vengeance out on the beautiful, privileged upper class.

Who knows what other stories there are of that wildly terrible but essential moment in history? All we ever get are "let them eat cake" stories of whores and buffoons who just happened to be well-dressed enough to matter. Maybe they were the only ones who did matter. But I kind of like to think of the children of the revolution as the ghosts in the Ramalama Bang Bang dance number on So You Think You Can Dance; all heated up, thirsty for revenge and by God, not going to take it anymore. This is the France I lived in. This is the France where I grew up.

Viva la Vida.

Vive La France!