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For the King by Catherine Delors

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Miss Moppet
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For the King by Catherine Delors

Postby Miss Moppet » Tue August 3rd, 2010, 9:16 pm

I'm now about halfway through - on page 157 of 335 pages - and enjoying it very much indeed. Thoughts so far:

1. This is a fascinating period and one not that many people choose to write about - or only as part of a longer Napoleonic book. You really get a sense of the dangers and the political uncertainty - the perceived threat from both revolutionaries and royalists. One of the memorialists I studied at university, Mme de Chastenay, said society at this time was like a library where all the books had been reshuffled and arranged out of order - you might go to a dinner party and find yourself sitting next to a ci-devant duke or a nouveau riche contractor. I think you really get a sense of that in Roch's relationship with Blanche and in his career. Would he have risen so far under the Ancien Regime?

2. I absolutely love the panoramic view of 1800 Paris - this feels like it is written very much in the tradition of one of Zola's working-class novels such as L'assommoir - looking at different kinds of work - everything from bath house owners to rag and bone men, and of course the police.

3. While the book is set firmly in its period, two things feel very relevant: all the workplace politics Roch has to encounter, and the terrorist threat. I feel the book is very non-partisan and shows you different points of view in the same way Mistress of the Revolution did. Roch is very relatable because he's in the middle of it all and basically seeking for justice to be done and for law and order to prevail, as opposed to an abstract cause.

Something I'm wondering: Napoleon at this point seems to feel more threatened by the Jacobins than the royalists. Did that change once he declared himself Emperor? I'm thinking of the execution of the duc d'Enghien in particular.

4. The book is easy to read - short chapters - but it doesn't sacrifice atmosphere. I'm reading this in August, and I can feel the cold of a Parisian January.

Where I'm up to: Roch has been allowed to see his father in prison. We know that he shouldn't trust Blanche, but he doesn't, yet.

Catherine, do chime in if you feel inclined!

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Margaret
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Postby Margaret » Tue August 3rd, 2010, 11:10 pm

One of the things that won me over in just the first few pages of this novel was the portrayal of the poor girl - a flower-seller, if I recall correctly - who does a favor for the men who bring the cart in and is killed in the explosion. Another author might have gone overboard with the pathos here, but the girl was portrayed with so much restraint and realism, she captured my emotions much, much more than if her portrayal had been sentimentalized. For me, she set the tone of the whole novel, which shows how ordinary people with no political agenda became caught in the events of the Revolution.

I was also fascinated by Roch's father. This is the first novel that really brought home for me the fact that many working class Parisians continued to support the Revolution, despite its bloody excesses, well into the Napoleonic era. It was the fashion for a long time (as in The Scarlet Pimpernel) to write sympathetically about the aristocrats endangered by the Revolution, an approach which misses the larger majority of the population, most of whom probably felt "good riddance," whether or not they supported the return to good order that Napoleon represented. I appreciated getting a deeper look at the quite varied group of people who were not aristocrats, from the very poor like the flower-seller to the up-and-coming middle class like Roch's tavernkeeper father.

Love this quote, MM:

Mme de Chastenay, said society at this time was like a library where all the books had been reshuffled and arranged out of order - you might go to a dinner party and find yourself sitting next to a ci-devant duke or a nouveau riche contractor.


Many historical novelists would do well to study For the King. As you point out, MM, it's easy to read, with a clarity and forward motion that doesn't sacrifice period atmosphere and the thought-provoking qualities of a literary novel. While it's not as ambitious a novel as something like Wolf Hall, it does a similar thing in capturing the sense of being right inside a past time, when people didn't know how things were going to turn out. It's quite rare for a historical novel to achieve that, and very special.
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Susan
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Postby Susan » Wed August 4th, 2010, 12:11 am

"Margaret" wrote:One of the things that won me over in just the first few pages of this novel was the portrayal of the poor girl - a flower-seller, if I recall correctly - who does a favor for the men who bring the cart in and is killed in the explosion. Another author might have gone overboard with the pathos here, but the girl was portrayed with so much restraint and realism, she captured my emotions much, much more than if her portrayal had been sentimentalized. For me, she set the tone of the whole novel, which shows how ordinary people with no political agenda became caught in the events of the Revolution.


Just an historical note: The girl who held the reins of the horse was a real person, 14 year old Marianne Peusol who sold bakery goods her mother made. In reality, people at the time did see her sentimentally as a tragic victim, but I agree with Margaret that looking back in history, we can very clearly see how she was someone who innocently and tragically got stuck in a horrible event. The attack occurred in 1800 after the Revolution during the time Napoleon was consul. The latter 1700s and the early 1800s were such a tumultuous time in French history.

If anyone who has read the book (which I loved...I read it on my Kindle and told Catherine that it was a "thumb pusher") wants to have historical information about this, Catherine does have info on her site and there is a Wikipedia article.

http://blog.catherinedelors.com/the-rue-saint-nicaise-attack-meet-the-assassins/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_of_the_Rue_Saint-Nicaise
Last edited by Susan on Wed August 4th, 2010, 1:07 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Miss Moppet
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On page 212 (about to start chapter 40)

Postby Miss Moppet » Wed August 4th, 2010, 12:48 am

"Margaret" wrote:One of the things that won me over in just the first few pages of this novel was the portrayal of the poor girl - a flower-seller, if I recall correctly - who does a favor for the men who bring the cart in and is killed in the explosion. Another author might have gone overboard with the pathos here, but the girl was portrayed with so much restraint and realism, she captured my emotions much, much more than if her portrayal had been sentimentalized.


Yes, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You also see the plotters' attitude towards her - and as callous as it is, they aren't demonised - you understand the background of someone like Saint-Regent and why he turned out the way he did. Carbon is a pretty nasty piece of work though!

Margaret wrote:I was also fascinated by Roch's father. This is the first novel that really brought home for me the fact that many working class Parisians continued to support the Revolution, despite its bloody excesses, well into the Napoleonic era. It was the fashion for a long time (as in The Scarlet Pimpernel) to write sympathetically about the aristocrats endangered by the Revolution, an approach which misses the larger majority of the population, most of whom probably felt "good riddance," whether or not they supported the return to good order that Napoleon represented.


The Revolution brought most benefit to the section of the working class/peasantry which could afford to take advantage of the huge amount of land which came on to the market with the seizing of Church and aristocratic estates. The aristocracy was a very small percentage of the population - no-one's sure how small, but not more than 5% at most. And of that, the vast majority would be living in the provinces, often not very well off. The wealthy court nobility, who get so much attention in fiction, were a tiny minority of the population.

Margaret wrote: While it's not as ambitious a novel as something like Wolf Hall, it does a similar thing in capturing the sense of being right inside a past time, when people didn't know how things were going to turn out.


Yes, I agree - that is hard to do and done very well here - capturing the sense of a time of transition. I didn't realise, for example, that the Palais-Royal was called the Palais-Egalite at this point. And people were still referred to as 'Citizen'. I wonder when did that finally die out? (Something else that just occurred to me - 'citoyenne' could refer to a married or an unmarried woman, so wasn't it an early equivalent of Ms?)

Susan, thanks for the links - I will check them out when I've finished the book.

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Margaret
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Postby Margaret » Wed August 4th, 2010, 2:03 am

(Something else that just occurred to me - 'citoyenne' could refer to a married or an unmarried woman, so wasn't it an early equivalent of Ms?)


Nice insight! Of course, as Mistress of the Revolution makes clear, the supposed improvement the Revolution brought in the status of women was largely illusory. In the early days of "Ms." there was a lot less improvement than some of us women hoped for, as well!
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Catherine Delors
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Postby Catherine Delors » Wed August 4th, 2010, 3:25 pm

Thanks so much to MM for starting this thread! Delighted to make you feel the cold of a Paris winter in the midst of a London summer. Yes, this is a winter book. On a personal level, it was written as I had just left California, and was readjusting to France, trying to find my bearings on a Continent I had left, except for short visits, for almost two decades. Like Roch, like Paris society at large, I was very much in search of my own place. I am sure it transpires in the atmosphere of the book.

How apt Madame de Chastenay's library metaphor was: social order upside down. Where does one place Blanche in society, for instance: married to a nouveau riche banker, daughter of declasses aristocrats, she picks as a lover a product of the new order. Without the French Revolution, Roch would probably have risen to the rank of clerk in some Ministry. Nothing more. As things are, he has mightily succeeded, and, if things go well for him, might find himself in a few years a newly minted Comte or Baron of the noblesse d'Empire. But I am getting ahead of myself here... :)

I wanted to paint a complete picture of 1800 Paris. Not a top-down view of the situation by ci-devant aristocrats a la Scarlet Pimpernel (though this appears from the POV of Limoelan) but a panoramic view of the city.

Margaret, to answer your question, the nobility was 1% of the population under the Ancien Regime. So seeing the situation strictly from their POV leaves out 99% of French people. Indeed support for the Revolution remained very strong. Did Bonaparte overstate the threat and downplay the Chouans? Quite possibly. Let's dont forget that he was a nobleman himself, enjoyed the advantages of that status during the Ancien Regime (free military education at Brienne) and harboured his own class prejudices.

True, I am not a sentimental person, but my heart goes out to people like the little street vendor who held the horse's bridle. The innocents who bear the brunt of all the atrocities throughout history.

I am more than happy to answer any questions! The book is being discussed this month on 2 Yahoo groups: 18th Century Worlds, and Women Writers Through the Ages, and I love the way readers react differently to some point or other.

Finally, Margaret, I am honoured to be compared to Hilary Mantel. The similarity is that she too writes historical fiction that is not women's fiction. Wish me one tenth of her success!

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Catherine Delors
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Postby Catherine Delors » Wed August 4th, 2010, 3:28 pm

One more thing: indeed "Citoyenne" applied equally to married, divorced, widowed and never married women. Another modern side of the Revolution...

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Miss Moppet
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Finished

Postby Miss Moppet » Wed August 4th, 2010, 9:14 pm

I'm done! And I have a few more observations/questions...

I was shocked by the way Bonaparte's regime overturned freedoms which were supposed to have been won during the Revolution (no imprisonment without trial) or even the ancien regime (abolition of judicial torture). It made me understand why ex-Jacobins such as Old Miquel were so loud in his condemnation. But no doubt others looked towards him as someone who could bring the country stability?

I think Roch would make a great recurring character. Will he return to solve another mystery, Catherine? Or would you consider going back further in time and telling a story around the events of the Affair of the Poisons or the Affair of the Diamond Necklace?

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Catherine Delors
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Postby Catherine Delors » Wed August 4th, 2010, 10:22 pm

Yes, Miss Moppet, the Bonaparte option was attractive to those who wanted a strong man delivering law and order, and thought the tumult of the Revolution better be forgotten. All that without returning to the Ancien Regime, or giving up the assets confiscated from the Church or the nobility and bought at bargain prices. If that meant torturing people, or deporting or executing innocents, big deal.

The torture debate is still going on in the US, and the lesson I draw from it is that many are perfectly comfortable with it, because it only happens to "bad" people, or at least people unfortunate enough to be mistaken for bad people. Close enough, right? 1800, 2010, nothing new under the sun, really.

Another interesting question: Roch as recurring character? I have toyed with the idea. He could reappear with the second Cadoudal conspiracy (1804, the one that unwittingly allowed Napoleon to become Emperor). Or he could have to deal with an apparently non-political crime. I found the -true- story of a sort of blind Jack the Ripper... I could mix it nicely with a more political story. Speaking of the Ripper, there is a strange foreshadowing of his MO in Restif de la Bretonne.

But for the time being I am going back in time, with the story of the Beast, in 1760s Auvergne. I need to reread St. Therese de Lisieux for the religious aspect of the novel. And of course I have the French Jane Austen project.

The Affair of the Poisons? Ah, yes, this is very dear to me, and it is somewhat mixed with my family history -on the victim side, I hasten to say. Miss M, since you understand French, I cannot recommend highly enough the docu-drama to be found on the site of INA (in the La Camera Explore le Temps series) on the topic. Just fascinating...

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Miss Moppet
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Postby Miss Moppet » Wed August 4th, 2010, 10:56 pm

"Catherine Delors" wrote:The Affair of the Poisons? Ah, yes, this is very dear to me, and it is somewhat mixed with my family history -on the victim side, I hasten to say. Miss M, since you understand French, I cannot recommend highly enough the docu-drama to be found on the site of INA (in the La Camera Explore le Temps series) on the topic. Just fascinating...


Do you have a link? I've googled it but I can't find it. Did you read the Anne Somerset book on the Poisons? I thought it was very good.


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