Fouché


photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

One of the things I love about doing book release interviews (aside from the sheer delight of the chance to babble on about my own books) is how the questions can cause me to think about my own books in a fresh light. In the very fun interview about The Paris Affair that I did with her recently on Word Wenches, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose asked some wonderful questions, in particular about the themes of loyalty and betrayal that run through my books and why I chose the Napoleonic Wars as a setting for those stories. Meditating on those questions turned into a post on History Hoydens that I thought was worth reworking here.

I first gravitated to the Regency/Napoleonic era through my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. But I also love spy stories, both James Bond adventure and the sort of intricate chess games and moral dilemmas John le Carré dramatizes so brilliantly. The Napoleonic Wars offers are a wonderfully rich setting for both types of story. So many different sides, so many different factions within sides. The French under Napoleon had been bent on conquest, but they had also brought much-needed reforms to many countries. Some liberal Spaniards saw supporting the French in the Peninsular War as the quickest route to progressive reform. And after the Napoleonic Wars, a number of the victors wanted to turn the clock back to before the French Revolution  and saw any hint of reform as one step away from blood in the streets. Friends easily melt into enemies and back again. Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister Prince Talleyrand  later became prime minister under the Bourbon restoration. Joseph Fouché who had been ruthless in using terror against enemies of the Bonapartist government, was equally ruthless in going after Napoleon’s supporters who were proscribed from the amnesty after Waterloo. In the midst of breakneck adventure, a love affair can have political consequences, a tactical decision can shatter a friendship, it can come down to a question not of whether or not commit betrayal but only of who or what to betray.

I’ve always been fascinated by moral dilemmas. And I’m intrigued by how romantic fidelity and betrayal can parallel other types of fidelity and betrayal (whether between husbands and wives or in their relationship with other characters or with a country or cause). I like writing stories of intrigue set in tumultuous times, but I think in those sorts of times (probably always but then more than ever) choices don’t tend to come down to easy, clear-questions of right and wrong. It’s interesting to see how characters wrestle with those issues and how the personal and the political intertwine. The possibility that a loved one or friend isn’t who you thought they were is perhaps one of our deepest fears in a relationship. And yet most of us are somewhat different people in different aspects of our lives and have different loyalties – to spouses, children, lovers, friends, causes, countries, work. Sometimes it isn’t so much a question of betrayal as of deciding which loyalty comes first. It’s not so far from the seemingly lofty sentiment of “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not Honour more” to betraying a lover for a cause.

Or so Suzanne might argue. Malcolm might have more difficulty with the idea. He takes personal loyalties very seriously, though he was the one who went off to the field at Waterloo and risked himself (though he wasn’t a soldier) leaving his wife and son behind in Brussels. In the midst of the carnage, he wondered which loyalty he should have put first. While Suzanne, for different reasons, was wondering much the same thing. It’s a question that continues to haunt both of them in The Paris Affair and to fascinate me as a writer.

Which brings me to one of the discussion questions for The Paris Affair. Suzanne says, “Sometimes honesty can make things worse.” Malcolm replies, “Than living a lie? Difficult to imagine.” Would their situation improve if Suzanne told Malcolm the truth? Or would it make it impossible for them to go on living together

On another note, you may have noticed that the site has a new For Teachers section with information for teachers and anyone interested in a structured read of the Malcolm & Suzanne books with additional materials. It repeats the Historical Notes and Reading Group Discussion Questions found on the detail pages for each book and also includes new Quizzes for each book. These were a lot of fun to put togehter and are a fun way to test your knowledge of all things Malcolm & Suzanne – though be ware, they definitley contain spoilers.

 

 

3.25.12MelParisAffairSo excited that The Paris Affair is out tomorrow! I realized I’ve been so busy doing interviews I’ve neglected my own blog a bit. In case you missed it, I was on Deanna Raybourn’s blog and Susanne Dunlap’s blog. And today, I’m talking with Heather Webb and Susan Spann. All these fabulous authors asked wonderful, diverse questions, so do check out the interviews.

Saturday, March 30, I’ll be talking about and reading from The Paris Affair at Book Passage in Corte Madera. If you’d like a signed copy of The Paris Affair but can’t make the reading, you can order one, and I will sign it and personalize it on the 30th, and they’ll send it to you.

I’m excited to hear everyone’s thoughts on The Paris Affair. Meanwhile, to set the stage, here’s a bit about the historical context. I’ll post a new Fraser Correspondence letter later this week.

The battle of Waterloo may have ended the major fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, but it was far from bringing an end to the simmering tensions of the past quarter century. When Napoleon escaped from the field at Waterloo, Louis XVIII was still in exile in Ghent. Much of the negotiating for France in the immediate aftermath of the battle was done by two men whose careers had been closely intertwined with that of Napoleon Bonaparte and with the Revolution – Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and Joseph Fouché.

Prince Talleyrand, Napoleon’s former foreign minister (though he had left office well before Napoleon’s exile)  had survived in the first Bourbon restoration to represent France at the Congress of Vienna and had not rejoined Napoleon when Bonaparte escaped from Elba. Fouché, Napoleon’s minister of police for much of his rule, had worked with the Allies against Napoleon in 1814 but then rejoined Napoleon after his escape from Elba and served as his minister of police during the Hundred Days. After Napoleon’s resignation was demanded by the Chamber of Deputies, Fouché became head of the provisional government and negotiated with the victorious Allies (whom Talleyrand had joined). Louis XVIII was a weak king and the Allies saw the need to keep both Talleyrand and Fouché to fill the power vacuum, at least temporarily. Talleyrand became Prime Minister and asked Fouché to stay on as Minister of Police.

Emboldened by Napoleon’s second defeat, the Ultra Royalists, led by Louis XVIII’s brother the Comte d’Artois, wanted vengeance on those who had gone over to Napoleon during the Hundred Days (and really for everything since the Revolution). Though the Ultra Royalists despised Fouché as a regicide who had voted for the execution of Louis XVI, it was Fouché who recieved denunciations against former Bonapartists. Fouché, expert at using terror to maintain control (and preserve his own position) played a key role in carrying out the White Terror against Bonapartists (and suspected Bonapartists) who were proscribed from the amnesty, though the Ultra Royalists went too far even for him. Talleyrand advocated a more temperate approach and made the best of a weak hand as he negotiated with the Allies. Ultra Royalist gangs attacked Bonapartists in the south. Allied soldiers – British, Prussian, Dutch-Belgian, Bavarian – thronged the boulevards and quais of Paris and were encamped in the Bois de Boulogne, leading to frequent tension with the French populace. Royalist émigrés, many of whom had fled France two decades ago, returned seeking to have their estates restored.

Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch step into this glittering, simmering cauldron in The Paris Affair. The mystery they investigate twists through the glamorous veneer of Restoration Paris and the smoldering tensions beneath. Both Talleyrand and Fouché are major characters. The book also gave me the chance to revisit old friends such as Talleyrand’s niece Dorothée and her sister Wilhelmine, the Duchess of Sagan. I loved writing about Waterloo in Imperial Scandal but I found its aftermath every bit as intriguing to research and write about.