History Is Stranger Than Fiction by Lauren Willig
History is stranger than fiction. Recently, I had the fun of seeing select scenes from my first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, transformed from prose into pictures. Pink Carnation is set in 1803, during Napoleon’s tenure as First Consul, just at the point where Anglo-French relations deteriorating once again into open warfare. My half-English, half-French heroine is in the famous Yellow Salon of the Tuileries Palace, being presented to Mme Bonaparte, when Bonaparte himself barrels in, interrupting the conversation and knocking her half off her feet.
Kind of over the top, no? A little burlesqued, even. I had a moment of alarm on seeing the comic version, wondering what readers might think. Would it strike them as too absurd? But that was Napoleon for you. He really did barge into his wife’s salons, interrupting mid-sentence. He bolted his food at meals, forcing everyone to eat as quickly as he did, and there are even memorable stories of his ripping—yes, literally ripping—the dresses off women he suspected of wearing embargoed British muslin rather than French linen from St. Quentin. It gives a whole new meaning to bodice ripper.
One of the best parts of writing historical fiction is getting to stumble across tidbits like these. History is full of slapstick—like Josephine’s pug dog, Fortune, biting the future Emperor on their wedding night, or King Charles I getting stuck in a window while attempting to escape from Parliamentary custody. Not so amusing for the players at the time, but pure Monty Python in retrospect.
One of the difficulties of writing historical fiction is judging when the absurd is too absurd, when truth will come across as falsehood, because, really, who does things like that? My entire series is premised around the notion of flower-named spies dashing about Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, leaving witty notes on Napoleon’s pillow and thwarting his military maneuvers. Absurd? Perhaps. True? Absolutely. There was a veritable bouquet of spies with flower aliases on the prowl in early nineteenth century France, including a Mouron (a Pimpernel), and, my favorite, la Prime-Rose (a pun on primrose), a comely lady spy who, when the occasion called for it, could disguise herself as anything from a courtesan to a young boy.
Were there female spies during the Napoleonic Wars? You betcha. La Prime-Rose (like my own fictional Pink Carnation) was just one among many. One of my favorite bizarre but true stories is that of a fifty-year old widow, a Mrs. Arabella Williams, who successfully disguised herself for several years as a teenage cabin boy while she carried information back and forth between England and France.
I could go on and on—and generally do, unless stopped by that glaze-eyed expression people get when you pontificate at them at cocktail parties. Among my researches, I’ve stumbled across an Indian ruler who liked to strangle courtesans with silk handkerchiefs, a rebellion in Ireland foiled by accidental fireworks, the inner workings of the Hellfire Club, and even some surprising information about that perpetual fan favorite, Miss Jane Austen.
Some things even I can’t make up….
Thank you Lauren for paying visit and what a cool post and how fun it was to read. I love comic art and I think that is more my thing too when it comes down to art. It is so different to put a face to the character and she what it turns out like. For more on Lauren and her wonderful comic check out her website. Trust me I saw it and man is it cool. Now it is giveaway time,
For 1 entry leave me a comment with a way to contact you.
For 2 entries follow my blog. If you already do, thanks, and please let me know in the comments. You're eligible for the extra entry as well.
For 3 entries blog or tweet this giveaway to spread the word.
Giveaway will end on October 13rd at midnight.
Good luck to everyone I know one lucky reader is going to be very happy with this one.
"Nothing ever goes right for Eloise. The day she wears her new suede boots, it rains. When the subway stops short, she's the one thrown into some stranger's lap. And she's had her share of misfortune in the way of love. So, after deciding that romantic heroes must be a thing of the past, Eloise is ready for a fresh start.
Setting off for England, Eloise is determined to finish her dissertation on two spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. But what she discovers is something historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation-the most elusive spy of all time. As she works to unmask this obscure spy, Eloise has more and more questions. Like, how did the Pink Carnation save England from Napoleon? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly escape her bad luck and find a living, breathing hero of her own"?
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