Marguerite St. Just


Last night I re-watched the Andrews/Seymour Scarlet Pimpernel. I was hoping Percy’s league would help me make sure the band of aides-de-camp in my Waterloo book are properly differentiated (which it did). I love the banter among Percy, Tony, Andrew, and Timothy Hastings. It has a tone I’d love to capture in some scenes in my book. Even though I practically know the dialogue to the film by heart (I actually had a tape recording of it before I saw it, because when it first aired I was at a rehearsal, and my family didn’t have a VCR yet, so my mom tape recorded it), the magic still works.

This seemed a good time again post one of my favorite scenes from Vienna Waltz which I’m sure many of you will recognize it as an homage to the scene in El Dorado where Marguerite visits Percy in prison and to the wonderful depiction of that scene in the Andrews/Seymour Scarlet Pimpernel. I originally posted this excerpt a year ago, but it’s changed a bit since in the revision process. It occurs fairly late in the book, but other than the fact that Charles is in prison, it contains no real spoilers. It’s one of those moments where dire circumstance break down their barriers and force them to reveal their feelings (it takes a lot for Charles and Mel to reveal their feelings, even–perhaps especially–to each other).

Also, be sure to check out this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition. It’s a letter Raoul leaves for Charles, a corollary to his letter last week. This one is meant for him to receive only if he’s learned the truth about Mélanie. Let me know what you think of the letter and the excerpt.
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Charles stared at the cloudy light trickling through the barred window set high in the wall of his cell. Mildew clung to the rough stone walls and clogged the air. A single tallow candle burned on a three-legged table beside a narrow bed covered with a gray blanket.
He’d known worse. Mud huts in Spain. Field tents that leaked like a sieve. Patches of snow-covered ground with only his greatcoat for a blanket. On more than one occasion he’d known his odds of death were more than even. Several times he’d not been sure he cared very much. But he’d never been deprived of his liberty by his supposed allies. And he’d never had so much leisure to dwell on the sins of his past and their implications for his future.
A key rattled in the iron lock. Hinges groaned.
“Charles?”
He turned toward the familiar voice. His wife stood just inside the open door. She wore a dark hat and spencer, but the meager light clung to the white stuff of her gown. The jailer pulled the door to behind her and slammed the bolt home.
Charles stood frozen. Less than twenty-four hours and he was parched with longing for the sight of her. And for all the reasons that had been echoing through his head since he’d been brought to the prison, she had never seemed more out of his reach.
She hesitated a moment. He could feel her gaze moving over his face. Then she rushed forward. His arms closed about her with a need stronger than any qualms. He slid his fingers into her hair, pushing her hat and half her hairpins to the floor, and sought her mouth with the hunger of one who’d feared he might never touch her again.
When he lifted his head, she took his face between her hands. Her fingers trembled against his skin. “Darling. Are you–“
“I’m treated much better than the poor bastards in Newgate.”
“I was afraid–“
He covered one of her hands with his own. “Odd the tricks one’s mind can play.”
“Frightful.” She gave a quick defensive smile, and he knew she felt as awkward as he did at their unwonted display of emotion.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d post another teaser from Vienna Waltz, a scene between Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne. One of those moments where dire circumstance break down their barriers and force them to reveal their feelings (it takes a lot for Charles and Mel to reveal their feelings, even–perhaps especially–to each other). This scene occurs fairly late in the book, but other than the fact that Charles is in prison, it contains no real spoilers. I’m sure many of you will recognize it as an homage to the scene in El Dorado where Marguerite visits Percy in prison and to the depiction of that scene in the Andrews/Seymour Scarlet Pimpernel.

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Charles stared at the cloudy light trickling through the barred window set high in the wall of his cell. Mildew clung to the stone walls and clogged the air. A single tallow candle burned on a three-legged table beside a narrow bed covered with a gray blanket.
He’d known worse. Mud huts in Spain. Field tents that leaked like a sieve. Patches of snow-covered ground with only his greatcoat for a blanket. On more than one occasion he’d known his odds of death were more than even. Several times he’d not been sure he cared very much. But he’d never been deprived of his liberty. And he’d never had so much leisure to dwell on the sins of his past and their implications for his future.
A key rattled in the iron lock. Hinges groaned.
“Charles?”
He turned toward the familiar voice. His wife stood just inside the open door. The wore a dark hat and spencer, but the meager light clung to the white stuff of her gown. The jailer pulled the door to behind her and slammed the bolt home.
Charles stood frozen. Less than twenty-four hours and he was parched with longing for the sight of her. And for all the reasons that had been echoing through his head since he’d been brought to the prison, she had never seemed more out of his reach.
She hesitated a moment. He could feel her gaze moving over his face. Then she rushed forward. His arms closed about her with a need stronger than any qualms. He slid his fingers into her hair, pushing her hat and half her hairpins to the floor, and sought her mouth with the hunger of one who’d feared he might never touch her again.
When he lifted his head, she took his face between her hands. Her fingers trembled against his skin. “Darling. Are you—“
“I’m treated much better than the poor bastards in Newgate.”
“I was afraid—“
He covered one of her hands with his own. “Odd the tricks one’s mind can play.”
“Frightful.” She gave a quick defensive smile, and he knew she felt as awkward as he did at their unwonted display of emotion.

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Have a wonderful Valentine’s weekend! This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter Charles writes to Mel on 14 February 1813, their first Valentine’s Day together.

Last Wednesday, I blogged on History Hoydens about a favorite topic–The Scarlet Pimpernel. In the lively discussion that followed we debated the merits of various film adaptations and the musical and talked about TSP’s influence on our own work. I was delighted and not surprised to find that several of my fellow Hoydens (as well as others who posted) are TSP fans and that the Pimpernel books have influenced their own writing. I said, “I’m fascinated by how many of us are drawn to The Scarlet Pimpernel stories and particularly how many of us found inspiration from them for our own writing. What do you think it is that so resonates about this story? The masks and deceptions? The adventure and daring escapes? The story of two people desperately in love who fear that they don’t really know/can’t trust the object of their affections? To those of you inspired by the story, which piece of it inspired your own writing?”

The main answer was Percy as a hero. Mary Blayney said, “Tracy for me it’s Percy — a true hero who wants no credit and, in fact, presents himself as a fop. A true leader of men.”

Leslie Carroll added, “Yes, I think that the lasting allure is that Percy is a man who fights with his wits as well as his sword; that he is a gentleman through and through and not a neanderthal, that he has a huge amount of integrity and ethics, passion and patriotism, that he is willing to risk all to save just one life, if need be, that Marguerite has her own profession and life before she met Percy, that she is devoted to and looks out for her brother Armand, that although Percy and Marguerite are first drawn to each other sexually and jump into marriage that they have to really earn the relationship by building trust in each other and that neither realizes how much they have until they have nearly lost it.”

Percy is undoubtedly a fabulous hero who has helped inspire countless other characters (including, I believe, Lord Peter Wimsey and Francis Crawford of Lymond). There’s something so compassionate and intriguing about a hero whose goal is saving people rather than “winning.” But I think what has me coming back to The Scarlet Pimpernel and the sequels and adaptations goes to the last part of Leslie’s comment. I love adventure and intrigue, masks and disguises, but for me a lot of the fascination is that this is a story about a married couple, who both have past experiences, rather the story of young lovers. (I remember as a child seeing the Leslie Howard/Merle Oberon movie–Suzanne appears in the movie before Marguerite, and I was surprised and intrigued that the heroine turned out not be the sweet ingenue but the glamorous, mysterious married woman.) The romantic conflict in The Scarlet Pimpernel centers not on the initial heady rush of falling in love but on issues of trust that come after. On the false impression one can have of one’s beloved in the initial rush of falling in love and the difficulties that false impression can create in building a last relationship.

I didn’t consciously think about it at the time, but I think my very first inspiration for the book that ultimately became Secrets of a Lady was watching the wonderful Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel. During the wedding scene, when Percy first suspects Marguerite can’t be trusted, I thought “it would be interesting if she *really* was working against him…”

I know a lot of people who read visit my site are TSP fans and a lot of you are writers. What draws you to the stories? Which elements in them have inspired your own writing and how? And if you don’t particularly like TSP, I’d love to hear about the reasons for that too. If you’ve never read the books or seen any of the adaptations, I definitely recommend giving them a try!

Speaking of intrigue and deception and betraying one’s spouse, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is another coded letter Mélanie writes to Raoul from the Congress of Vienna, about Tsar Alexander paying a surprise call at the British Embassy.

I blogged a while back about my fondness for imperfect characters. As I wrote, “I’ve always found flawed characters much more interesting than the more conventionally heroic sort. Growing up, Milady de Winter was my favorite character in The Three Musketeers (I thought Constance was boring), I couldn’t understand why Lucie Manette looked twice at Charles Darnay when Sydney Carton was around, I much preferred Mary Crawford to Fanny Price.” Sarah wrote to me recently following up on this, because she’s reading The Three Musketeers and getting to know the fascinating Milady de Winter. Sarah wrote, “I know I tend to prefer heroines who use their ‘feminine wiles’ – or sexuality – to achieve their own way, instead of resorting to the cliched ‘PC’ approach of typically male methods, such as physical violence, and Milady is the perfect example of a strong woman.”

As with so many classics, my first introduction to The Three Musketeers was my mom reading it out loud to me when I was quite small. I remember her describing the book before we read it and saying “It has a fascinating heroine–I mean villainess.” That’s a perfect way to describe Milady, because while she’s definitely an antagonist to d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, she’s a compelling, fascinating character. (more…)

I had a fun afternoon today seeing a matinee of The Other Boleyn Girl with a friend. I’ve loved Tudor & Elizabethan history every since I watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth R on tv as a young child (closely followed by a family trip to Britain where we visited Hampton Court, the Tower of London, and so many other locations that featured in both series). I love watching different dramatizations of the era, getting different takes on familiar events, discussing (as my friend and I did over a lunch) what was historically accurate, what was changed, what’s open to interpretation.

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Earlier this week, on the Fog City Divas blog, Allison Brennan had a great post on that question so often asked of writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” Thinking about my own answer, I realized my ideas often involve playing “what if…?” The question might be sparked by research (part of the idea for The Mask of Night came from saying “what if Hortense Bonaparte had secretly come to England in 1820 to see her former lover, now married to an Englishwoman?”). It might be sparked by the plot of a play, movie, opera (operas are a great source of gut-wrenching conflict), tv show, or another novel (though I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back I know that part of the idea for Secrets of a Lady came from watching the Jane Seymour/Anthony Andrew version of The Scarlet Pimpernel and saying “what if Marguerite really were a spy?”). Sometimes the question is sparked by my own characters (part of the idea for Beneath a Silent Moon came from saying “what if there was a girl back in England everyone had expected Charles to marry and thought would make him the perfect wife?”).

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Last week’s discussion about friendship in novels segued into a discussion of romantic relationships rooted in friendship. Perla said, “As for my favorite friendship, it’s between Claire and Jamie from Outlander. I love the friendship they shared at the beginning of their amazing love story.” Cate brought up Anne and Gilbert in the Anne of Avonlea books and television series. Dorthe and Sarah talked about how Percy and Marguerite’s relationship evolves from Percy worshipping Margot on a pedestal and Margot feeling an almost desperate, possessive love for Percy to, as Dorthe said, “an understanding where she accepts his choices and he accepts the pain he causes her. In a way that kind of love is the most beautiful kind of friendship, I think, because it honours the freedom and the separateness of the two people involved although it also recognizes the deep bond.”

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I recently saw an opera I’d never seen before, Puccini’s “La Rondine” (a lovely production at San Francisco Opera with Angela Gheorghiu and Misha Didyk). The story is not an unsual one. Magda, a beauiful worldly woman who is the mistress to a banker, falls in with an ardent, naïve young man. She leaves her glamorous life in Paris and runs off with the young man. She doesn’t succumb to consumption like Violetta in “La Traviata,” but when her young lover proposes and starts talking about taking her to meet his mother and raising children, she decides she’s too damaged to be his wife and leaves him (in a stunning, poignant aria).

Magda is just the sort of heroine I always find myself wanting to have a happy ending. I’ve always thought “fallen women” make some of the most interesting heroines–there’s so much history and potential conflict (not to mention that they often get to wear the best clothes; I noticed that even before I was quite old enough to understand what a “fallen woman” was :-). Rakish heroes often reform and settle down with virtuous young girls. Even if they think their past makes them unfit to touch the hem of their beloved’s gown, the heroines can usually persuade them otherwise (a couple of lovely scenes from Georgette Heyer’s “These Old Shades” and “Venetia” come to mind). But the double standard ensures that the rake’s female counterpart seems doomed to a tragic ending in most stories.

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Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays growing up, not for the candy but for the chance to dress up as whatever character I chose. I was a medieval lady (complete with steeple hat with veil), Maid Marian, Lady Jane Grey (the year I’d first gone to England), a colonial girl (in 1976). Admiring the imaginative costumes of the kids out trick-or-treating this past week, I thought about the fascination of pretending to be someone else. A wonderful game when you’re a child, that often becomes a more serious game in fiction.

For many of the characters in “Secrets of a Lady” masquerading is second nature. Mélanie’s whole life has been a masquerade for so many years she isn’t sure who she is anymore (“Charles had accused her of lying for so long that she couldn’t know herself anymore, and he’d been more accurate than she cared to admit”). In the course of the book, she and Charles tell different stories and play different parts with the different people they approach for information. One of the people they encounter, Hugo Trevennen, is an actor who still lives his life changing from character to character even in the confines of hte Marshalsea prison. His niece Helen Trevennen, who holds to the key to the mystery of the Carevalo Ring, has changed her identity more than once, just as Mélanie has.

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I love thinking about the characters in my books. I love to imagine events in their lives before a book starts and after it concludes (which is why I so love to write series and why it’s so fun to fill in the blanks with the Fraser Correspondence). I like to imagine events in the lives of characters my favorite books by other authors as well (what was it like for Elizabeth to arrive at Pemberley as its mistress? did Venetia and Damerel really go to Rome on their honeymoon and take Aubrey with them? what adventures did Holmes and Russell have in France after the end of ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”?).

Sometimes I find myself going one step farther and imagining what might have happened in my own books or in books I love to read if the story had taken a different turn. I’ve considered the different ways Charles and Mélanie’s marriage would have played out if the truth of Mélanie’s past had come out differently, without the pressure of Colin’s abduction forcing them to work together. I’ve imagined scenarios where Mélanie left England (more like Irina Derevko or Fiona Samson), perhaps faking her death to give Charles a clean start. And then returned for some reason (possibly with Charles about to marry again), with Colin and Jessica confused, Charles deeply ambivalent… (more…)

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