Isobel Carr


As you may know from my Facebook and Twitter posts, I recently was in Ashland, Oregon, for the closing weekend of the season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Crisp air, gorgeous autumn leaves, snow-capped mountains, lovely time with friends, and a glimpse of three of our own Leslie’s books prominently displayed in the Tudor Guild gift shop. And three wonderful plays, all of which I was seeing for the second (or in the case of Measure for Measure the fourth) time.

One thing I noticed is that all three plays dealt with theater in a variety of ways. Saturday I saw Ghost Light, a fabulous, wrenching world premiere developed by Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone, written by Taccone, and directed by Moscone, It’s a wonderfully theatrical play both in style (moving back and forth in time, combining elements of dream and reality) and in substance, as the central character struggles to come to terms with his father’s assassination while directing a production of Hamlet. The scenes of the production team discussing how to handle the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, and of Jon, the central character, working with his acting students and auditioning actors are spot-on and at moments hysterically funny.

Saturday I saw a matinee of Julius Caesar, a play, as the production notes pointed, filled with theatrical references, from the assassins meeting in the porch of Pompey’s theater to the political theater of Marc Antony’s funeral oration (not to mention the fact that Antony’s scene where he seemingly makes peace with the conspirators just after the assassination is a brilliant piece of acting). That evening I saw Measure for Measure, another play where the story is largely played out upon the public stage (particularly in the denouement) while a key plot element involves one woman playing the part of another in a secret tryst.

During breaks between plays I was working on a sequence in my current WIP, The Princess’s Secret, (I recently posted a teaser) which takes place backstage at the Comédie-Française. I love theatrical references in books and plays. Actual scenes backstage and onstage become metaphors for the roles we all play – with different people, in different aspects of our lives. For the fine line between illusion and reality, for the difficulty of discerning truth amid artifice and the way that theatrical artifice can sometimes ring with truth. Reading Isobel Carr’s great interview with Joanna Bourne on History Hoydens last week about her new book The Black Hawk which concerns Napoleonic spies, I was thinking that a large part of why I love writing about spies is that like actors they too play many parts, though on a rather more dangerous stage. The sequence I was working on set at the Comédie-Française gave me lots of opportunities to play with the parallel, as it involves the escape from Paris during the White Terror of an actress who is also an agent.

Do you have favorite books that deal with theater, whether on stage or backstage? Does theater become a metaphor for other elements in the story? Writers, do you like writing scenes set in the theater? Do you get inspiration from plays?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Aline to Gisèle, commenting on Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzette’s reactions to their wedding anniversary and her own changing feelings in light of her betrothal.

I’ve been loving all the thoughtful comments on my Love & Protectiveness post. I blogged about the topic on History Hoydens as well this week. Isobel Carr commented, “It’s a fine line issue. I think PEOPLE (male and female) have a natural impulse to try and protect those they love. If the “hero” is willing to accept this from the “heroine”, and his own protection doesn’t simply come down to sidelining the heroine as though she were a child, then I think it can work either way.”

I’ve been working on the copy edits for Imperial Scandal, and in light of Isobel’s comment a particular exchange between Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne, shortly before the battle of Waterloo, jumped out at me.

“How long?” she asked, keeping her voice level. After all, she had known for months that this day would come.
“A few days at most, I should think.” His fingers tightened over her own. “Sweetheart, if you want to go to Antwerp–“
She jerked her hands from his clasp. “Don’t you dare suggest I run away.”
“I’m not. But your hands are like ice.”
She hugged her arms over her chest. “War is about to break out. I’m worried about our friends. I’m worried about my husband.”
“I’m not going to be anywhere near the fighting.”
“Liar.” Screams echoed in her ears. Blood glistened on the cobblestones before her eyes. “I’ve already gone through one war with you, don’t forget.”
His gaze moved over her face. “I can’t, Mel.”
“Can’t what?”
“Promise to stay here in Brussels with you.”
She swallowed. She’d made her choices a long time ago. She would have to live with them. “I wouldn’t ask that of you. Any more than you’d ask it of me.”
“Well then.” He touched her arm. “This is nothing we haven’t been through before.”
For a moment she was sitting beside a camp bed where her wounded husband lay a few months into their oddly begun marriage, holding Malcolm’s hand and staring at his ashen face, wondering if she’d ever have the chance to speak to him again. But even then– “It was different,” she said, her voice rough. “We weren’t– We didn’t– We mean more to each other now. We have more to lose.”

Later, during the hell of the battle, Charles/Malcolm has this exchange with Geoffrey Blackwell in the midst of a British infantry square filled with wounded men:

Blackwell cast a glance round the square. “I’d give a lot to have Suzanne here.”
“So would I. ” Charles shook his head. “Odd. A man should want to protect his wife from this.”
“Not a man who knows his wife as well as you do.”

Do you think protectiveness cuts both ways for heroes and heroines?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Geoffrey Blackwell to Lady Frances asking for Aline’s hand in marriage. It was a challenge to get into Geoffrey’s head to write what could not but be a difficult letter. Let me know what you think.

This weekend I rewatched the movie that began my fascination with the Regency era – the 1940 Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier as Elizabeth and Darcy and a wonderful screenplay by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin, directed by Robert Z. Leonard. I’m aware of the irony that the movie that set me on the path to writing Regency-set books is set in the 1830s, but the movie sent me to the novel and then to other Austen novels and to Georgette Heyer and Bernard Cornwell and Regency and Napoleonic history books and ultimately to creating my own stories.

I love a number of adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, but in many ways this one remains my favorite. I’ve sometimes wondered if it seems to true to the mood and tone of the book to me because I saw it (at the age of six) before I read the book. But I’m currently in the midst of rereading Pride and Prejudice and watching the movie this time I was struck by how well it captures the spare, dry irony of the book, the keen wit, and the understated emotion.

I also think the film does a brilliant job of taking the book and telling it in cinematic terms. There’s the opening sequence in which Mrs. Bennet and her daughters and Lady Lucas and Charlotte learn about Bingley’s and Darcy’s arrival in Meryton, and the two women have their coachmen race each other home, so their husbands can be the first to call on Mr. Bingley. A wonderful way of demonstrating cinematically that “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.”

There’s the archery contest between Darcy and Elizabeth that captures, also in cinematic terms, the tensions in their relationship and their growing attraction. There’s the lovely, heart-melting scene (which my fellow History Hoyden Leslie Carroll and I have discussed) in which Darcy tells Elizabeth the story of Wickham and Georgiana, a scene that is essentially Darcy’s letter, turned into a dialogue between two people.

Another of my fellow Hoydens, Isobel Carr, brought up the fact that the movie softens Lady Catherine. “In the Olivier/Garson P&P I was always very bothered by the transformation of Lady Catherine into a benevolent do-gooder who’s promoting the match between Lizzie and Darcy. It changes the story too much for me. It removes one of Darcy’s major moments of character growth.” This always bothered my mom (who loved the movie) as well. The changes to Lady Catherine bother me, too. I actually like the scene between Darcy and Lady Catherine after Lady Catherine speaks with Elizabeth (Darcy is so wonderfully exuberant), but I agree the arc of the story is better with Lady Catherine not changing. But it’s not enough to ruin (or even damage) the movie for me.

Then there are the performances, a series of finely etched portraits. Very much including Olivier as Darcy. He’s so wonderfully aristocratic (with so much emotion smoldering beneath). And yet if you watch the way he moves, his arms are always held close to his sides, as though he’s hemmed in by his role. He and Greer Garson have great chemistry. Edmund Gwenn captures Mr. Bennet’s dry wit, Mary Boland has Mrs. Bennet’s giddiness and determination, Melville Cooper is an hysterical Mr. Collins, Maureen O’Sullivan is a sweet but not cloying Jane…

Just writing this makes me want to watch the movie again. What are some of your favorite novel-to-film adaptations? If you like the Regency/Napoleonic era, what book or movie or other source introduced you to it?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence letter is another update on pre-Waterloo Brussels from Mélanie to Raoul.