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I think I first heard of the Congress of Vienna in Georgette Heyer books (I know there are mentions of Sophy and her father being there in The Grand Sophy). I remember being fascinated by a lecture about it my freshman year at Stanford. I’ve referenced the Congress as part of the backstory in several books. I’ve wanted to set a book at it for ages. It offers such rich scope for a novelist. After Napoleon was exiled to Elba, representatives of countries across Europe gathered in Vienna to redraw the Continental map. There was a great deal of intriguing, both political and romantic. In the autumn of 1814, the Congress of Vienna was the place to be. Imagine a combination of a modern international political conference and the Cannes Film Festival. Some claimed the delegates spent as much time waltzing as negotiating. The Festivals Committee, appointed by Austrian Emperor Francis I, felt it their duty to keep the foreign delegations entertained with events each more lavish than the last. There were masquerade balls, balloon ascensions, sleigh rides, a recreation of a medieval tournament, nights at the theatre and the opera.

Viennese society was filled with music. Beethoven, at the height of his fame, gave a concert. Salieri, Vienna’s Hofkapellmeister, organized many musical events (including a concert with a a hundred pianos). There were already rumors at the time that he had poisoned Mozart (the rumors that became the basis of the play and film Amadeus) though no evidence to support these rumors. Salieri had taken an interest in the young Schubert. Schubert, who is a character in Vienna Waltz, was seventeen at the time of the Congress and already having works performed (his first Mass premiered in October, 1814).

One could scarcely turn round without stumbling over a spy for one power or another. The Austrians tried to slip agents into the foreign delegations as scullery maids and boot boys. British Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh frustrated these efforts by hiring his own servants. Everyone was combing through diplomatic wastebaskets looking for coded papers.

Scores of illicit love affairs took place in this frenetic atmosphere. Many of the delegates had come to Vienna without their spouses, expecting the Congress to only last a few weeks rather than months. Along with the official delegates, a number of powerful, glamorous women took up residence in Vienna and opened salons. French Foreign Minister Prince Talleyrand (who adroitly managed to maneuver himself into the heart of the negotiations despite France being the defeated power) brought his beautiful young niece-by-marriage, Dorothée, as his hostess and fell in love with her himself, despite being thirty-nine years her senior (and despite the fact that her mother had recently been his mistress). Lovely, unhappy Tsarina Elisabeth of Russia found herself reunited with Adam Czartoryski, the charismatic Polish patriot who was probably the love of her life (and had also been her husband’s best friend). Meanwhile her husband, Tsar Alexander, and Austrian Foreign Minister Prince Metternich, fierce rivals at the negotiating table, also were entangled with two of the same women, Princess Catherine Bagration (“the naked angel”) and the brilliant Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan (Dorothée’s elder sister). When I described this to my friend and fellow writer Penelope Williamson she said, “surely in all Vienna they could find different women to pursue?” I said, “I think that was rather the point.” The Tsar and Metternich carried their rivalry into the boudoir. The plot of Vienna Waltz centers on a third, fictional woman, Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, who is also involved with both Metternich and the tsar, who is found murdered on the night she has summoned Metternich, Tsar Alexander, the hero British attaché Malcolm Rannoch (an alter ego for Charles Fraser) who is possibly her lover, and his wife Suzanne (an alter ego for Mélanie Fraser) to her rooms, all at the same time.

Further Reading

Alsop, Susan Mary. The Congress Dances. New York: Simon  Schuster, 1985.

Brion, Marcel. Daily Life in the Vienna of Mozart and Schubert. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1962.

Dino, Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord, Duchesse de. Souvenirs. Middlesex: Echo Library, 2008.

Erickson, Raymond (editor). Schubert’s Vienna. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1997.

King, David. Vienna, 1814. New York: Harmony Books, 2008.

La Garde-Chambonas, Auguste, Comte de. Anecdotal Recollections of the Congress of Vienna. London: Chapman & Hall Limited, 1902.

McGuigan, Dorothy Gies. Metternich and the Duchess. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975.

Nicholson, Harold. The Congress of Vienna. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1946.

Pradt, Dominique Georges Frederic. The Congress of Vienna. London: Samuel Leigh and Messrs. Bossange and Masson, 1816.

Zamoyski, Adam. Rites of Peace. New York: Harper Perennial, 2008.

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