Review, excerpt & giveaway: Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days, by Will Bashor

MARIE ANTOINETTE’S DARKEST DAYSWill Bashor

on Tour March 13-24 with

Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days:
Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie

(history – nonfiction)
Release date: December 1, 2016
at Rowman & Littlefield
392 pages
ISBN: 978-1442254992
Website | Goodreads

 

SYNOPSIS

This compelling book begins on the 2nd of August 1793, the day Marie Antoinette was torn from her family’s arms and escorted from the Temple to the Conciergerie, a thick-walled fortress turned prison. It was also known as the waiting room for the guillotine because prisoners only spent a day or two here before their conviction and subsequent execution. The ex-queen surely knew her days were numbered, but she could never have known that two and a half months would pass before she would finally stand trial and be convicted of the most ungodly charges.

Will Bashor traces the final days of the prisoner registered only as Widow Capet, No. 280, a time that was a cruel mixture of grandeur, humiliation, and terror. Marie Antoinette’s reign amidst the splendors of the court of Versailles is a familiar story, but her final imprisonment in a fetid, dank dungeon is a little-known coda to a once-charmed life. Her seventy-six days in this terrifying prison can only be described as the darkest and most horrific of the fallen queen’s life, vividly recaptured in this richly researched history.

MY REVIEW

Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days is aptly named, given the subject matter. Though I’d known the basics about her imprisonment and execution, Bashor’s book brought to life in great detail the hellish, difficult days and nights that she endured in prison. The historical research was immense (and many pages of notes and references are included, if you’re the sort that likes to go back to primary sources!)

I found it fascinating that there were so many plots to try to save Marie Antoinette’s life. Notes rolled up in carnations, invisible ink, letters written by poking a pin through a page… they were all there. Even in her darkest days, she had many supporters, both within and without the prison, and people at the highest ranks trying to negotiate to save her from the guillotine. Unfortunately (and as we all know), they were unsuccessful as things dragged on and she became less valuable as a hostage/pawn in the negotiations between France and Austria.

I definitely recommend this book to those interested in this period of French history, whether from the side of the royals or the rebels.

EXCERPT

When Rosalie received word that the queen of France was doomed, she fled to her room, stifling her cries and sobs. At seven o’clock, Warden Bault ordered her to go down to the queen and inquire if she would like something to eat. When Rosalie entered the queen’s cell, she found two candles burning and the young guard sitting in the corner. The queen was dressed in black, lying down with her face turned toward the window, her head resting on her hand.

“Madame,” Rosalie said with a trembling voice, “you did not eat anything the night before and almost nothing yesterday. Will you have something this morning?”

Tears rolled down the queen’s cheeks. “My child,” she said, resigned to her fate, “I no longer need anything; everything is over for me.”

“But, madame, I have some broth for you on the stove,” said Rosalie.

Recovering herself, and perhaps out of compassion for her servant, the queen said, “Well, Rosalie, bring me some of your broth.”

When Rosalie went to fetch the bouillon, she discovered that the Commune had given orders that the queen not be allowed any food at all. Although Marie Antoinette had been condemned to death, the Commune still wanted to show the people of Paris a woman weakened by terror and stripped of her noble pride. When Rosalie returned an hour later, the queen asked her for help dressing. The queen first stepped between the bed and the wall to hide her body from the guard’s view as she let her black dress drop to the floor. When the young guard approached the queen to watch more closely, Marie Antoinette immediately put her scarf over her shoulders

“In the name of decency, Monsieur” she said, “allow me to change my linen in private.” “I cannot consent,” the guard replied. “I have orders to keep an eye on all of your movements.”

The queen sighed. She removed her bloodstained chemise, replacing it with a clean one. In addition to the long trial and her hunger over the past few days in the cold, dank cell, the queen’s hemorrhaging had exhausted her even further. She then put on her white negligee and draped a large muslin scarf over her shoulders, tying it under her neck. After the queen had arranged her white mourning cap on her head, Rosalie watched as she carefully rolled up the bloody chemise and tucked it into one of its sleeves. The queen looked around and found a small crack in the wall in which she hid the tattered garment.

Rosalie was too distressed to bid Marie Antoinette adieu. The queen sat trembling from the October cold when Rosalie left the cell. A sworn priest named François Girard arrived next. The former curé of Saint-Landry demanded to hear her confession, but the queen refused.

“You are guilty,” said the priest.

“Ah, sometimes careless,” said the queen. “Never guilty.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Bashor picture

Will Bashor
earned his M.A. degree in French literature
from Ohio University
and his Ph.D. in International Studies
from the American Graduate School in Paris
where he gathered letters, newspapers, and journals
during his research for the award-winning
Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, the Queen, and the Revolution.
Now living in Albi, France,
and a member of the Society for French Historical Studies,
his latest work, Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie,
was released in December 2016.
He is currently working on the final part of his historical trilogy,
Marie Antoinette’s World: The Labyrinth to the Queen’s Psyche.

Visit him on his website
and here are many ways to follow him:

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Book review: Finding Fontainbleau, by Thad Carhart

Finding Fontainbleau, by Thad Carhart

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (May 17, 2016)

FINDING FONTAINEBLEAU recounts the adventures of Carhart and his family—his NATO officer father, his mother, four siblings, and their dog—in the provincial town of Fontainebleau, France, in the 1950s. Dominating life in the town is the beautiful Château of Fontainebleau. Begun in 1137, fifty years before the Louvre and more than five hundred before Versailles, the Château was a home for Marie-Antoinette, François I, and the two Napoleons, among others, all of whom added to its splendors without appreciably destroying the work of their predecessors.

With characteristic warmth and humor, Carhart takes readers along as he and his family experience the pleasures and particularities of French life: learning the codes and rules of a French classroom where wine bottles dispense ink, camping in Italy and Spain, tasting fresh baguettes. Readers see post-war life in France as never before, from the parks and museums of Paris (much less crowded in the 1950s, when you could walk through completely empty galleries in the Louvre) to the quieter joys of a town like Fontainebleau, where everyday citizens have lived on the edges of history since the 12thcentury and continue to care for their lieux de mémoire—places of memory.

Intertwined with stories of France’s post-war recovery are profiles of the monarchs who resided at Fontainebleau throughout the centuries and left their architectural stamp on the palace and its sizeable grounds. Carhart finds himself drawn back as an adult, eager to rediscover the town of his childhood. FINDING FONTAINEBLEAU imagines a bright future for this important site of French cultural heritage, as Carhart introduces us to the remarkable group of architects, restorers, and curators who care for and refashion the Château’s hundreds of rooms for a new generation of visitors. Guided by Patrick Ponsot, head of the Château’s restoration programs, the author takes us behind the scenes and shows us a side of the Château that tourists never see.

MY REVIEW

This book was the perfect mixture of memoir and history text, and it took me little time at all to read it through. When I got to the end, I wished it was longer, so that I could spend more time there, and learn more of the history. But most of all, I was delighted to learn about the everyday French life of the time. Most amusing were the surprising contortions of the parents of his schoolmates when students were expected to have a glass of milk daily, and for reasons political, all his French schoolmates produced doctor’s letters stating that they were not to have any milk. But Thad, being unknowing, drinks his milk without complaint. At least, until he realizes what’s happened, and his parents somehow have to get him a letter also. That was one of the quirkiest bits in the book, I found. Other little details surprised me, such as the taking of inventory, and that a house that had fixtures (stove, toilets, some furniture, etc.) was considered fully furnished, and that there were houses with nearly nothing that would be considered unfurnished. Far different from my rental experiences here in Canada, where an unfurnished apartment is still expected to come provided with a stove, fridge, a proper bathroom, and quite possibly window coverings.

And the history… oh the history. I really wanted to be there in Fontainbleau, seeing the old theatre as it was, wandering in under the eaves, seeing the workshops for the workers, and watching the restoration. I have been to Versailles, and found it immense (and tourist-filled, uncomfortably so), but Fontainbleau sounds much more intimate by comparison. I have not yet been there, but I know that it will be on my list of places to visit when I next travel to Europe. I will not miss it. And I thank Mr Carhart for introducing me to its fascinating history.

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Unknown-1About Thad Carhart

Twenty-six years ago THAD CARHART moved to Paris with his wife and two infant children. He lives there now, with frequent visits to New York and Northern California. His first book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, appeared in 2000, published by Random House. Across the Endless River, a historical novel, came out in 2009 with Doubleday.

Connect with Thad

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Thad Carhart’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Book Review, Giveaway AND Guest Post: In Another Life, by Julie Christine Johnson

In Another LifeJulie Christine Johnson

on Tour March 1-10 with

In Another Life

(Historical Fiction/Contemporary Women’s Fiction/
Fantasy/Romance)
Release date: February 2, 2016
at Sourcebooks
368 pages
ISBN: 978-2954168197
Website | Goodreads

Read the GUEST POST here.

SYNOPSIS

Historian Lia Carrer has finally returned to southern France, determined to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. But instead of finding solace in the region’s quiet hills and medieval ruins, she falls in love with Raoul, a man whose very existence challenges everything she knows about life–and about her husband’s death. As Raoul reveals the story of his past to Lia, she becomes entangled in the echoes of an ancient murder, resulting in a haunting and suspenseful journey that reminds Lia that the dead may not be as far from us as we think. Steeped in the rich history and romantic landscape of the Languedoc region, In Another Life is a story of love that conquers time and the lost loves that haunt us all.

MY REVIEW

This book kept me absolutely intrigued all the way through, wondering at what was real and what was not, and what was going to happen. I read a lot of books, and this one was fascinating. There’s something about the combination of historical fiction, with the touch of the supernatural, that I really enjoy. Rather like the classic Anya Seton novel “Green Darkness” (which also involves a sort of ‘time travel’ in history, and past lives).

Lia’s grief was very well portrayed, and I felt bad for her, and already from the first paragraphs, wanting for things to go well. Of course, they don’t, and the ensuing tangles kept me reading late into the night, wanting to know what happened next.

I’m trying to think of what I could say about the book without giving too much away. The history goes back to Templar times, so it’s quite a range, and I learned a lot about history as well as being entertained by the book. I think readers of books like Outlander, and the aforementioned Green Darkness, would really like this one. I’m already planning to recommend it to several people.

Don’t forget to read the author’s guest post, here, and to scroll down to enter the giveaway (below).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In Another Life- Julie Christine Johnson

Photo by Al Bergstein

 

Julie Christine Johnson
is the author of the novels In Another Life
(February 2016, Sourcebooks Landmark)
and The Crows of Beara (September 2017, Ashland Creek Press).
Her short stories and essays have appeared in several journals,
including Emerge Literary Journal, Mud Season Review;
Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim;
Cobalt, the anthologies Stories for Sendai;
Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers;
and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss
and featured on the flash fiction podcast, No Extra Words.
She holds undergraduate degrees in French and Psychology
and a Masterís in International Affairs.
A runner, hiker, and wine geek,
Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state
with her husband.
In Another Life is her first novel.

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Come to the When Words Collide convention!

If you’re in Calgary this coming weekend (August 10-12th, 2012), come check out the When Words Collide convention happening at the Village Park Inn (1804 Crowchild Trail NW).

I’ll be on a panel on Sunday morning at 10 a.m., talking about ‘Romance and Sex Through the Ages’. My fellow panelists are CaRWA members Michelle Beattie and Jade Buchanan, and we also have well-known novelist Kelley Armstrong, too.

And if you plan to stick around all weekend, check out some of the other excellent presentations and panels. I would recommend Saturday morning’s ‘Dead Men Still Talk’ presentation by Det. Sweet of the Calgary Police Service, the readings and Q&As by guest authors (Jack Whyte, Kelley Armstrong, et al.), and the live slush readings. Lots of the presentations and panels are geared towards writers, but if you’re a reader, there’s lots for you too.

 

Today is Bastille Day

Or in French: la Fête Nationale.

It commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789, which you may recall as the beginning of the French Revolution. After the Revolution, France became a republic. There are three ideals of the republic for all French citizens: liberty, fraternity, and equality.

There are celebrations today all over France, and in many countries of the world. I don’t know of any in my local area, though several of the French restaurants in the city are promoting Bastille Day specials.

More on Bastille Day at Wikipedia.

History in my Backyard: The Town of Bankhead

Well, not quite my backyard, exactly, but very close.

The Lamp House, where the miners picked up their lamps every day. A missing lamp at the end of the day meant a missing miner, and a search party would be sent out.

In Banff National Park, right near Lake Minnewanka, the ruins of an old coal-mining town are now a picturesque and short hiking trail.

The town of Bankhead existed for a mere 17 years, closing in 1922 when the CPR shut down their coal mine. (The price of coal had dropped, the miners were on strike, and the federal government had begun to consider a more conservation-based ideal in the national parks, as well as dealing with the reduction in royalties… the writing was on the wall.) At its peak in 1911, the mining operation processed 500K tons of coal. When the town closed, the mine entrances were sealed by blasting.

The parts of the town that could be moved were – houses went to Banff or Canmore, the church went to Calgary, and all useful parts of the mining operation taken away. The remaining concrete foundations are now overgrown with vegetation. The area itself is under monitoring due to environmental degradation from the coal. After all, in the early 1900s, no one had any concern (or much idea) of the ruin such operations would bring to the local environment.

A hardy rhubarb plant grows in the slag heap.

Plant life has survived and even flourished, but there are numerous signs warning visitors not to eat anything. The signs are necessary: rhubarb plants grow in many places, huge and flowering. If not for the signs, I would have been tempted to take a cutting; I love rhubarb. Planted by Chinese immigrant mining families that lived in shanties behind the operation, they are some of the hardiest plants around. The meadows are full of wildflowers and grasses; the forest has begun to overtake other buildings.

The Briquette building, where coal briquettes were made for use in home heating and locomotive engines.

The path is dotted with plaques and information, detailing the origins and functions of the various buildings. The transformer building includes photographs of some of the town residents and of their daily lives. The managers of the mine were British mostly and the workers were mainly immigrants (Polish, Irish, Italian, Chinese, etc.) They had a soccer team, kids played hockey, much like many towns today. They also had electricity, a modern sewage system. Their drinking water was supplied by a reservoir filled from the Cascade River. The town’s population was as high as 900 residents, so that’s quite a bit of water and sewage to deal with. The town was incredibly modern, even though it didn’t exist for very long.

And why did I come here?

My current novella features a town very much like Bankhead, and I wanted to get a feel for the area and its history before I started writing my second draft. There are bits of information that will make my story that much richer.

I’ll post some more photos of the hike this week; there were just so many to choose from.