Monday, March 31, 2008

Author Interview: Loaded Quesetions with "Mistress of the Revolution" author, Catherine Delors

We've gotten a bit behind on announcing some of the winners of some of our great giveaways here at Loaded Questions. In honor of another upcoming giveaway (check often for details!) I wanted to take a chance to congratulate those who have won our last two giveaways...

And the winners are...

Winners of Sandra Worth's Lady of the Roses: Ladytink, Elizabeth Miller, lcbrower, Tara Robertson & Cindi! The emails are being sent out now! If you have questions or concerns please email me at Congratulations!

Winners of the Catherine Delors' Mistress of the Revolution are: Katelyn,
gautami tripathy, Claire Alley, Tisa & Todd F. I am sending out your emails now!


I was up until five in the morning the other day finishing Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors. I read a lot of historical fiction and I have to say that Mistress certainly has a place on my list of the best historical fiction novels of all time. Delors explains complicated events in French history with great ease and wonderful detail. The reader is transported to a time of chaos in which the world is changing, the King and Queen of France are regarded as citizens and powerful nobility find themselves powerless. I wholeheartedly recommend reading this book for its wonderful character, beautiful settings, and great historical content.

Catherine Delors has proven to be the kind of author that readers and interviewers love. She is happy to talk about her book, discuss history, and answer questions. We have emailed back and forth so much during the last few months that it will be strange not to have someone to chat with every day. I suspect, as a history nut, I'll find something to email her about and have no doubt she'll be happy to respond. I thought it only fair that I do an interview with Catherine so that you, the readers of this blog and her book, will get a chance to learn a bit more about this wonderful woman and great author in the making.

Kelly Hewitt: So, how did you choose your main character, Gabrielle?

Catherine Delors: Actually, I could almost say that she chose me. She is an entirely fictional character, but she could have been my ancestor. I wanted to imagine what it would have been for a woman of my family to live just before and during the Revolution.

Kelly: One of the opening scenes is of Gabrielle arriving at her family's chateau (please correct my terminology when necessary). You have written this amazing description of the kind of mortar used, the mismatched stones, and the spiral staircases. I don't know that I have ever been so struck by such a detailed, elegant, knowledgeable description of a building! Have you been to the Montserrat chateau?

Catherine: There is no such place as the Chateau de Fontfreyde, Gabrielle’s home in the novel. I made up the name! I chose it because it means “cold fountain” in Occitan, the Roman language. I think it sounds beautiful, and also it evokes the coldness of Gabrielle’s mother.

But the place I describe in Mistress of the Revolution is a real chateau, and I have been there many times. I enclose a picture of it, where you can distinguish the monumental staircase, partly hidden behind the greenery.

I am delighted to hear that the chateau felt so real to you. Whenever possible, I tried to use locales I know well for the settings of my novel. There is simply no substitute for the author’s first-hand, emotional connection to a place.

Kelly: You have been commended for the fact that you do such a great job at addressing French historical events in the book. In that sense Mistress of the Revolution is both a really great fiction and a wonderful historical lesson. How do you come by your historical knowledge, have you studied quite a bit? How much history about the French Revolution do you learn in grade school?

Catherine: Thank you! I attended high school in France, where the French Revolution is part of the curriculum. Later, when I went to law school at the Sorbonne, we had classes about legal history. I learned then that the current French legal system has its roots in the innovations of the Revolution (such as jury trials in criminal cases and what we call civil rights.)

This, however, was no preparation for the research I did to write Mistress of the Revolution. I read many memoirs of the time, and also relied on primary sources, such as trial transcripts, minutes of the debates of political clubs, the Municipality of Paris and the legislative assemblies.

Kelly: Once again, the imagery in the book is great. In one scene a character, discussing the French opinion of Marie Antoinette, discussed having seen the Queen decorate her hair with a full display of radishes, explaining that it was Marie's attempt at proving that she could inspire any trend. Do we have historic evidence that Queen of France actually used radishes?

Catherine: Ah, Marie-Antoinette’s radishes! I did not make this up. This detail comes from the Memoirs of Madame Tussaud. To the Queen’s discharge, she was not the only one to wear towers of flowers, vegetables, feathers and assorted knickknacks on top of her head. Madame Tussaud relates that the Queen was trying to make a point about her ability to be a trendsetter. Yet the radishes were apparently a failure in this regard.

As for Madame Tussaud, yes, she is indeed the lady who left us Tussaud’s wax museum in London and elsewhere. Madame Tussaud, née Marie Grosholtz, had been informally adopted by a man by the name of Monsieur Curtius, who was drawing master to Madame Elisabeth, the King’s sister. Thus Marie came of age at the Court of Versailles, in the entourage of the royal family.

Curtius and his niece had a very successful Salon de Cire, a Wax Museum, in Paris before and during the Revolution. What is still more amazing is that Curtius became a fervent Jacobin and introduced Marie to the most famous revolutionaries, such as Robespierre and the Duke d’Orléans. There is so much more to say about Marie Tussaud, her Memoirs, her museum and the story of her life, but I digress…

To go back to Marie-Antoinette’s radish headdress, this is a tiny detail, one I had not found anywhere else. Yet I felt that it was emblematic of the Queen’s passion for fashion, and the negative reactions it elicited. This is why memoirs, like those of Madame Tussaud, were irreplaceable.

Kelly: In Mistress of the Revolution you write a great deal about The Terror and the hysteria, panic, and bloodshed that were very much part of the French Revolution. There is a quote by Villers towards the end of the book in which he is talking about ideas of Robespierre in which he says. "...spreading military force is a notion that could only have taken root in the head of a fool. No one abroad will welcome armed missionaries." I wrote that down because, without getting too political, it seemed like something might say about modern politics! Did you see connections between the French Revolution and some modern day politics?

Catherine: Very much so! In fact, I recently wrote a blog post about this specific topic: whether spreading the ideals of democracy by military force is a good idea, or one that is likely to succeed. (Interviewer's Note: Click here to read Catherine's blog.)

What happened in France during the Revolution was that an “idealistic” war led to the collapse of the monarchy, the erosion of civil rights at home and eventually the loss of superpower status. Of course, the similarities go only so far. For instance, the Jacobins, though they had initially opposed the war, prosecuted it with competence once they took power and they met with great military success… I like to quote Mark Twain: history does not repeat itself, it stutters.

Kelly: There is one question that I ask all authors and it's because that's what readers want to know most. What will you be writing next? Have you already started?

Catherine: In fact, Kelly, I have already completed my second novel, For The King. It is set in 1800 Paris, and its theme will be a “terrorist” attack and the investigation that follows. It will be more of a historical thriller. As for the topic of the war, any similarities with current events… It will be released, also by Dutton/Penguin, in March 2009.

Then of course, I am already working on Book 3, still untitled. It takes place in Paris and Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Interweaving stories of murder, witchcraft, love, political conspiracy… I would also describe it as a historical thriller.


Catherine Delors said...

Thank you for having me here, Kelly, and for hosting this giveaway.

And my congratulations to the winners!

Marg said...

Congrats to the winners. Of course, I am just a little bit jealous!! LOL!

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Anonymous said...

This is the kind of thing I try to teach people. Can I count on a sequel?

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