Percy Blakeney


Lattes and Napoleonic spies

One of the highlights of Mélanie and my trip to New York last week was the chance to see the wonderful Lauren Willig. While Mélanie napped, Lauren and I spent two plus hours catching up over lattes at Pan Quotidien. We talked about research and revisions, current and future projects. With Lauren’s inspiration and suggestions, the next Malcolm/Charles and Suzanne/Mélanie book began to take shape in my imagination.

Lauren was also nice enough to agree to giveaway a copy of her wonderful new book, The Garden Intrigue, on my blog. I found The Garden Intrigue very hard to put down – despite the fact that I read it in the midst of trying to finish writing The Princess’s Secret. I kept wanting to sneak away from Malcolm/Charles and Mélanie/Suzanne in 1815 Paris to visit Lauren’s characters also in Paris about a decade earlier. Garden Intrigue’s heroine is the delightful Emma Delagardie, American ex-patriate and girlhood friend of Hortense Bonaparte. The hero is Augustus Whittlesby, who provides comic relief in earlier volumes of the series with his atrocious poetry but who proves to a brilliant agent living behind a persona much as Percy Blakeney does in The Scarlet Pimpernel. You can read an excerpt from The Garden Intrigue here and one commenter of this post will win a copy.

What’s your favorite Scarlet Pimpernel-type hero or heroine in disguise?

 

Lauren Willig has a very fun contest going on over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. You can vote on a sexy cover for the inimitable Turnip Fitzhugh, and if there’s sufficient acclaim, Lauren will write a love scene between Turnip Fitzhugh and Arabella which did not appear in the wonderful Mischief of the Mistletoe.

It’s a great idea, born about because two different reviewers regretted the lack of a love scene between Turnip and Arabella. It got me to think about “missing scenes” – scenes which don’t take place between the pages of a book which I’ve always wanted to read. For instance:

Darcy and Elizabeth’s engagement conversation. Some authors fade to black for love scenes. Jane Austen does it for the final romantic resolution between her heroes and heroines. In many ways it’s a wonderful literary technique, leaving so much tantalizingly to the imagination. And yet I would so like to know what they actually said and did…

Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane after “Placetne, magistra? / Placet.” and the final embrace at Oxford in Gaudy Night. Busman’s Honeymoon reveals that they spent the rest of the night in a punt madly kissing, but I would so have liked to see that scene dramatized.

Percy and Marguerite’s meeting and their wedding (not to mention their wedding night, I can never be certain if they ever actually made love or not), not to mention Percy learning of Marguerite’s denunciation of St. Cyr. Basically all the complicated back story of The Scarlet Pimpernel. (If you’re a Pimpernel fan be sure to check out the great discussion of the 1982 film and other adaptations at Dear Author).

Lymond seeing Kuzum again at the end of the Lymond Chronicles, how he dealt with him, what kind of relationship they had.

Sophy and Charles on the carriage ride back to London at the end of The Grand Sophy, not to mention the scene with Sir Horace and Lady Ombersley when they reached Berkeley Square.

Are there any “missing scenes” from the Charles & Mélanie/Malcolm & Suzanne books you wish I’d dramatize? From other favorite books?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter in which Aline writes to Gisèle about Charles/Malcolm’s arrest.

Following up on some suggestions from Sharon (thanks, Sharon!), this week’s update focuses on Charles’s mother, Lady Elizabeth Fraser (in Vienna Waltz, she’s Lady Arabella Rannoch). This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter Elizabeth writes to Raoul in January 1799 (shortly after he’s had to flee the country in the wake of the United Irish Uprising). I hadn’t written a letter from Elizabeth before, but I found her voice came to me surprisingly easily. Below is a teaser from Vienna Waltz, a brief flashback to Charles/Malcolm’s boyhood in which Elizabeth/Arabella appears. Oddly, it wasn’t until some comments AnnaT made on last week’s post that I realized Elizabeth’s problems carry an echo of Percy Blakeney’s mother. An echo that wasn’t consciously done but perhaps was somewhere in my subconscious.

Do you have any questions about Elizabeth or Charles’s family or the characters’ backstory in general? Ask away!

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Charles’s first memories of Prince Talleyrand went back to the age of five. He and his brother had been riding in their mother’s barouche in Hyde Park, a rare treat. An elegant gentleman leaning on a walking stick stopped to speak with their mother. A cloud of powder rose from his hair as he bent in a courtly bow. Charles could still remember how the powder had tickled his nose (powder was becoming a rare sight in London by 1792). Talleyrand kissed their mother’s hand. When she introduced the two boys he nodded with a serious acknowledgement adults rarely afforded them.
“I know who you are,” Charles said, studying this interesting new acquaintance clad in the sort of full-skirted coat his grandfather wore. “You helped overthrow King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette.”
His mother drew a sharp breath, though a hint of laughter showed in her eyes. “Charles, that isn’t precisely–“
“On the contrary, Elizabeth. He is a perceptive boy. Just what I would expect from a son of yours.” Talleyrand inclined his head toward Charles. “You are quite right, Master Fraser. Though I fear matters have taken a sad turn in France just now. That is why I am enjoying the hospitality of your lovely country.”

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.

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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In the comments to last week’s post (and thanks, everyone, for the great discussion!), Cate mentioned that while she had come to have more of an affinity with Mélanie on rereads, “I’m still not sure I would trust her as a friend, but I probably wouldn’t have a choice. I’d find her too interesting not to spend time with her, if she would deign to allow me.”

My first reaction was to be surprised and think “that’s interesting, I’d certainly trust Mélanie as a friend.” Then I re-examined it, because truth to tell it’s a question I’d never really considered. Would I trust her? Probably, because she’s very charming, and I suspect I’d never know what was going on in her head or what she really up to :-). Would I be wise to trust her? More difficult to answer. Mélanie’s very loyal. But as Cate said “She’s loyal, but she, like everyone, has a hierarchy of loyalties and she’s not likely to be changed.” And she can be quite ruthless when she makes up her mind what she needs to do.

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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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