Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Versailles Glide

Come on over to my other blog at http://www.leslie-carroll.blogspot.com/ and learn how I suffered for my art, by taking lessons in the Versailles Glide, all in the name of research for my novel-in-progress on the early years of Marie Antoinette!

Maria Zannieri, dance teacher, choreographer, and period dance expert -- shown here with her husband John DeBlass and co-owner of West Side Dance Project studios at 260 W. 36th Street, 3rd floor, NYC, where I had my lesson from Maria in the Versailles Glide. John and Maria are a multitalented couple, superb dance teachers, theatre directors, and choreographers (and John's a music teacher, too)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Josephine's Hair

A lock of Josephine's hair; snipped on the day of her death, May 29, 1814.

Run, don't walk, or at least take one of those $1 buses, to Philadelphia before September 7, when the National Constitution Center's Napoleon exhibit shuts its doors.

And prepare to spend at least two hours there, because the exhibition is massive, containing an exhaustive and comprehensive collection of items belonging to Napoleon, his two wives, his numerous siblings, and those, like Talleyrand, with whom he had contentious relationships to say the least.

In the short time I had at the Constitution Center, I barely made through half the exhibit, and found it so compelling that I have made plans to return to Philly to see the rest of it.

The exhibition is divided into segments covering the rise to power of a Corsican upstart named Napoleone Buonaparte; his roles in the rapidly changing post-revolutionary governments; his marriages to the soigné Creole widow, Josephine de Beauharnais, and to the naive Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria; his numerous siblings (you'll want to take a nap on Jerome Bonaparte's sumptuous bed with it's apricot brocade curtains and bolster); his military career and accomplishments; his coronation as Emperor of France; and his exiles on Elba and St Helena.

The item that has most remained with me from my first visit to the exhibit is depicted above--a lock of Josephine's hair, snipped from her corpse by her physician on the day she died -- at the age of fifty, on May 29, 1814. Tied with a dark green ribbon, it is a shade of pure brown, exactly the color that comes to mind when you think "brunette." I admit to tearing up when I saw such a deeply personal memento, and almost felt as though I was invading her privacy by viewing it. Perhaps my visceral reaction had to do with the fact that the curl was taken after she had died, a true rape of the lock because she had been unable to consent to its loss.

Josephine's prayer book; on exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia PA until September 7, 2009

I fell in love with Josephine when I researched her life and her marriage to Napoleon for NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES (NAL, January 5, 2010). She was no saint, but she was not well treated by either of her husbands.
Another highlight (for me) from the exhibit is an enameled snuffbox that belonged to Napoleon's nyphomaniacal sister Pauline. It bears her silhouette in gold, which makes it a particularly egotistical gift to have bestowed on one of her homelier sisters. But that's what she did. Pauline will get her due in my third book of the royal nonfiction series, currently titled ROYAL PAINS: A Rogues' Gallery of Brats, Bastards, and Bad Seeds.

Stay tuned for more from the National Constitution Center's Napoleon exhibit.
In the meantime, have you ever been moved to tears by an artifact you saw in a museum exhibition? What was it?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Napoleon Takes Philadelphia By Storm!

Before it ends on September 7, I plan to get down to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to see the special exhibit on Napoleon, "An exhibition offering visitors a rare opportunity to explore the private life of the Emperor of France and to see beyond the legend to gain an understanding of this complex figure as a man and political leader whose actions reshaped the landscape of Europe and America."

I have to confess I don't like the man. Never did. Although I developed a soft spot for his first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais, who he summarily divorced when she proved unable to bear him an heir. I read quite a bit about the emperor's personal life when I was researching my upcoming [NAL January 5, 2010 release] nonfiction book, NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire. The more I read, the more I was fascinated by what a cruel jerk he was.

Of course I bring other prejudices to the table. As a fan of Lord Nelson, it's impossible to view his Gallic nemesis as a hero. And yet I remain intrigued by how he lived and loved. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston hosted a spectacular temporary exhibit back in 2007-08 on Napoleon and Josephine's furniture and other personal effects, including an enormous china service with emblems of Egypt painted on the dishes and Josephine's swan shaped bed, in which she breathed her last on May 29, 1814.

So I admit to being a bit of a Napoleon groupie, even though the more I learn about him, the less I admire him.

Are there any historical figures that make you feel the same way? Who are they?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kiss Him, Kate!

Hello, readers!

I just came across a fun post about Prince William and his on-again/off-again sweetheart Kate Middleton.

Will Wills ever pop the question? And will his timing be oh-so-convenient for the January 5, 2010 pub date for my second historical nonfiction book NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire?

I made my agent cry!

In a good way.

I submitted a 40-page proposal for a novel about the early years of Marie Antoinette titled BECOMING. And she loved it so much she cried.

As I researched Marie Antoinette for my second nonfiction title NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, it made me hungry to learn more about her. And the more I read, the more I revised my opinion of her.

The Marie Antoinette I came to love and pity after reading a dozen biographies of her presents such delicious contradictions in terms that she is a novelist’s dream.

Possessed of a proud temperament, she was nonetheless desperate to please, and in doing so was often too eager to place her trust in the hands of those who were not in fact her confidantes, but who wished her harm instead. She would brook no contradiction, yet was vulnerable to criticism; a frivolous creature who was also the most generous member of the French royal family when it came to helping the poor. She was stubborn and willful, yet playful and adorably charming; regal, yet empathetic; loyal, yet confounded by the dual roles she was often expected to play. She was a natural beauty who according to her own mother was in dire need of painful physical improvements in order to enhance her looks; born to rule, yet shockingly unprepared to do so when the time came to fulfill her ultimate destiny.

Do you know a lot about Marie Antoinette? A little? What's your opinion of her?