Talleyrand


12.18.13TracyMelHope everyone is having a warm and wonderful midwinter holiday season. As we step into the new year, here is a glimpse of the Fraser/Rannoch holiday in 1817, after The Paris Affair, in the form of a letter from Mélanie/Suzanne to Dorothée. I’ll later archive this letter to the Fraser Correspondence.

Happy New Year!

Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
30 December 1815

Dearest Doro,

Paris does seem empty without you, especially at the holidays. Colin can’t understand why Oncle Tally didn’t have a tree at the Hôtel de Talleyrand. I tried to explain that it was your custom, not Talleyrand’s, and that perhaps Talleyrand was missing you as well and didn’t want to be reminded. I think Colin understood. Better than one would expect, as so often seems to be the case, which is quite wonderful and sometimes a bit terrifying.

We missed you but had a quite lovely Christmas, a mix of traditions. At Colin’s insistence we put up a tree. In the salon as we knew we couldn’t equal the majesty of yours in the French embassy hall, but it filled the house with same wonderful pine fragrance. Even Charles quite got into the spirit of making garlands for it. I think he liked starting a holiday tradition that’s quite separate from childhood memories. We  also had marrons glacé and  spiced wine and Russian and Austrian pastries and of course champagne.

I looked round our Christmas dinner table and thought it was a good way to measure the events of the past year, both in terms of those who’s been with us in past years and the new faces. Harry and Cordelia and Livia are in the later category, though a new Davenport was present if not precisely visible yet. Cordelia is expecting a baby in the autumn. She’s very excited, but it’s Harry who keeps looking at her with utter wonder. And yes, it does make me wonder about adding to our own family, though I haven’t even spoken of it with Charles yet. I want to be absolutely sure.

Willie was with us as well, of course. She looked quite splendid and seemed in good spirits. Perhaps better spirits without Stewart, though I know the end of the affair was difficult.

And then there were the new faces. The Cartuhers/Lacloses–Rupert. Bertrand, Gabrielle, Gui, young Stephen. Heartening to see them all on so comfortable in each other’s presence. I never thought to see such now on Rupert’s face. I caught a few wistful moments from Gabrielle but her affection for Bertrand is obvious and she seems easier with Rupert. I hope she finds someone of her own. Gui seems easier as well. Difficult to connect the man romping on the floor with the children with man ready to turn his back on his family a few months before. We had a lovely letter from Paul and Juliette, who seem to be settling in well in London. Lady Frances and David and Simon have been very kind to them. Paul is going to paint sets for a new Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Tavistock. Simon has also engaged Manon Caret who will play Titania, and I suspect will take London by storm.

We go to Harry and Cordelia’s for New Year’s Eve and will stay the night. I hope the New Year brings you much joy and that we get to see you in the course of 1817.

All my love,
Mélanie

p.s.

Charles gave me the most beautiful pair of silver quatrefoil earrings for Christmas. I knew you would ask!

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.

THE PARIS AFFAIR SIDEBARThis week brought a lovely gift courtesy of UPS – ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of The Paris Affair. In honor of their arrival, I’m posting a teaser from the book and one commenter on the teaser will receive an ARC of The Paris Affair. This is a scene between Malcolm and one of the real historical characters in the series who is a major presence in his life – Prince Talleyrand. I love writing scenes with Talleryrand, and it was a delight to return to him in this book.

Let me know what you think! And be sure to also check out the new Fraser Correspondence letter I just posted from Charles/Malcolm to David in January 1816.

__________________________________________________________________________________

“Malcolm.” Prince Talleyrand extended his hand. He was, as usual, faultlessly arrayed, in a frock coat that would have been quite at home in the ancien régime, a frilled shirt, a starched satin cravat, and diamond-buckled shoes. “I saw you dancing with your exquisite wife. You make a charming couple.”

“I thought you had far more important things to observe in a diplomatic ballroom.”

Talleyrand turned his walking stick so the diamonds on the handle flashed in the candlelight. “I’d scarcely have survived as long as I have could I not observe more than one thing at once. I’m glad you dance more than you used to.”

“Even if it is with my own wife?”

Talleyrand’s thin mouth curved in a smile that also lit his pale blue eyes. “On the contrary Unfashionable, perhaps, but then you’ve never been one to care about the fashion. It’s good to find you circulating instead of spending the evening in the library.”

Malcolm had been four when he first met Talleyrand. It was both an advantage and a disadvantage in their relationship. It gave Malcolm inside knowledge of the prince, but it also gave Talleyrand inside knowledge of Malcolm, and Talleyrand was a master at using it. “I’m not quite such a recluse, sir,” Malcolm said. “Though as it happens I was hoping I could have a word with you in private.”

Talleyrand’s shrewd gaze slid over him, but the prince merely said, “Of course. I confess I frequently find society stifling myself these days.”

They moved along the edge of the dance floor, Talleyrand stopping several times to exchange greetings, and at last reached a white-and-gold antechamber, empty though the candles were lit. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” Talleyrand asked.

“Do I need an excuse to talk to you?”

“These days none of us does anything without an excuse.” Talleyrand dropped into a gilded armchair. “Is it to do with Rivère’s death last night?”

“What do you know about Rivère?” Malcolm asked, settling into the chair across from the prince.

Talleyrand leaned back in his own chair, stirring a faint dusting of powder from his hair. “I’d hardly be doing my job if I wasn’t aware that Rivère was selling information to the British.”

“You didn’t tell anyone. Did you?”

“By the time I acquired the knowledge I was dealing with the British myself.”

Malcolm set his hands on the arms of his chair, his gaze steady on Talleyrand’s face. “Who killed him?”

“My dear boy. I’m not as omniscient as you think.” Talleyrand smoothed his frilled cuff over his fingers. “I assume Rivère wanted you to get him out of France?”

“Was he about to be arrested?”

Talleyrand pressed a crease in the frill. “You’d have to ask Fouché.”

“Rivère’s cousin had been pressuring to have him arrested.”

“Yes, I believe so.” Talleyrand crossed his clubfoot over his good leg. The diamond buckle on his shoe flashed in the light from the branch of candles. “What did he threaten if you didn’t help him?”

“Vague claims to wreak havoc on the British delegation. What did Rivère have to do with Bertrand Laclos?”

Talleyrand’s brows drew together. His hooded eyes were suddenly more hawk-like than usual. “What did Rivère tell you?”

“Nothing specific. But his threats of havoc centered on Laclos.”

Talleyrand stared at his signet ring. “Laclos was an embarrassment. We were so proud when he returned to the fold. We should have suspected he might be a British asset from the first. I should have. I pride myself on knowing how the British think.”

“But in the end he wasn’t.”

Talleyrand frowned. “As is often the case, you’re too quick for me, Malcolm.”

Malcolm swallowed. Unease coiled within him. “Laclos was a double. I intercepted the communication that betrayed his work for the French myself.”

Rare surprise shot through Talleyrand’s blue eyes. “My word. So his death—”

“He was deemed to know too much.”

Talleyrand settled back in his chair. “Either I am a lamentable fool—which is entirely possible—or you’ve been deceived.”

Unease gave way to sick certainty. “You didn’t know Laclos was a double?”

“No. Of course I scarcely know the name of every French agent, but I like to think I would have done with someone so high profile.”

Guilt tightened Malcolm’s throat. “When did you learn he’d been working for the British?”

“Not until after his death. I could hardly fail to investigate with so important an asset. I had someone go through his papers. There was evidence he’d been working for the British. Given the embarrassed ripples that sent through French intelligence, if he’d actually been one of ours someone would have spoken up.”

Malcolm pushed himself to his feet and strode to the unlit fireplace. “I was afraid of this.”

He could feel Talleryand’s gaze on him. “You blame yourself too much, Malcolm.”

Malcolm spun round and looked at the man he had known since boyhood, his grandfather’s and mother’s friend. “An innocent man may have been killed because of me.”

“And in your line of work, I highly doubt he was the first. Or the last. You reported the evidence, Malcolm. Evidence which must have been fabricated.”

“By whom?”

“A fascinating question.” Talleyrand tented his fingers together. “I must say this is interesting. I can certainly understand Rivère’s claims that he could shake the British delegation.”

“I’m glad our difficulties amuse you, sir.”

“You must allow me to take my amusements where I can, Malcolm. There are few enough of them these days.”

Malcolm crossed back to Talleyrand. “Laclos was friendly with your nephew.”

“So he was.”

“Did you arrange it?” Malcolm dropped back into his chair and leaned towards the prince.

“My dear Malcolm. I choose my agents with care, for their keen understanding and discretion. Which is why I’ve always regretted I couldn’t have you for an agent. And why I’d never want Edmond for one. I did suggest it might be a good idea for Edmond to show Laclos round Paris.”

“And you got reports on Laclos from him.”

“I found it useful to get Edmond’s rather unsophisticated view of Laclos. Later when I learned Laclos had been working for the British, I wondered if Laclos had encouraged the friendship because Edmond was my nephew. Perhaps he thought my avuncular affections went further than they do.”

“You got Edmond his wife,” Malcolm said, perhaps unwisely.

“So I did.” Talleyrand’s fingers tightened. He unclenched them and curved them round the arms of his chair. “Speaking of actions which haunt one.”

“Actually knowing Dorothée makes it clear she’s not a chess piece?”

“Regrets come with age. God knows what that means lies in store for you, considering the number you already appear to have at—what? Eight-and-twenty?”

“Come October.”

“When I was eight-and-twenty—” Memories drifted through Talleyrand’s eyes. “I thought I knew a great deal, but in many ways I think I was much younger than you. I certainly hadn’t yet learned the meaning of regret. Or of love.”

Malcolm watched the prince for a moment. “Sometimes the two go hand in hand.”

“Yes.” Talleyrand’s fingers tensed on the chair arms. “So they do.”

“Rivère said one thing more.” Malcolm drew a breath, his throat raw. “Sir, is it possible Tatiana had a child?”

Talleyrand went still. His eyes became even more hooded than usual. “Rivère knew how to wound.”

“Is it—”

Talleyrand folded his hands together. “It’s possible Tatiana did any number of things.”

Malcolm studied the man his grandfather had trusted with the secret of his unmarried mother’s pregnancy thirty-some years ago, the man his mother had trusted to keep an eye on her secret daughter in France. The man who had made Tatiana his agent. “Are you saying you knew—”

“My dear Malcolm. If I’d known your sister had a child I’d have told you.”

“Would you?”

“After Tatiana died.” Talleyrand’s gaze was now unusually open.

“You might have thought I was better off not knowing. You might have made a promise to Tania.”

Talleyrand’s mouth curved in a rueful smile. “I’m not as protective as you think me. And I’ve learned to take a flexible attitude towards promises.”

Malcolm pushed himself to his feet, crossed the room in two strides, and leaned over the prince’s chair. “What do you know?”

Talleyrand looked up at him with the same open gaze. “A few stray comments, that might, in retrospect, mean something.”

“What comments?” Malcolm’s fingers bit into the fabric of the chair.

“An uncharacteristically wistful look in her eyes when she saw a small child once or twice. A comment, on hearing of a courtesan or actress who’d found herself in a delicate situation, that at least she herself had learned the value of precautions. And—”

“What?” Malcolm tightened his grip on the chair, holding Talleyrand’s gaze with his own.

“She asked me to help arrange time away from Paris for her. She needed a rest, she said. She needed not to be troubled by any of her various lovers. She was gone for about five months.”

“When was this?” Malcolm did calculations in his head.

“The spring of 1807.”

Malcolm straightened up and paced across the room. “More than three years after Tania left Russia. So the father couldn’t have been Tsar Alexander . Who could have fathered the child?”

“My dear boy. No offense meant to your sister—I hardly consider such behavior offensive—but keeping track of Tatiana’s conquests would have left me quite without time to tend to the business of France. I was still foreign minister at the time.”

“And Tatiana was your agent. Whom else did you have her collecting information from?”

“You can’t be so crude as to think the only way of collecting information—”

“Perhaps not the only but certainly one of the most likely with a beautiful woman like Tatiana.”

“She was establishing herself in Parisian society. She was indulging in flirtations with attachés from the Austrian and Prussian embassies. I don’t know if they went further. Even if they did, I see no reason for a child born of such a liaison to be kept secret.”

Malcolm locked his gaze on the prince’s own, trying to see behind that enigmatic stare. “Is there any chance Tania was involved with Napoleon Bonaparte that early?”

Talleyrand hesitated a fraction too long before he answered. “Not that I know of.”

“Not that you know of?”

Talleyrand smoothed his ruffled shirt cuff over his fingers. “I’d be lying if I said Bonaparte hadn’t noticed her. And it was like Tania to set her sights on men in the highest positions of power. It’s possible something had begun and she had reasons for keeping it from me. But even if it had, even if he was the father of her child, there’d have been no need then for such excessive secrecy. Bonaparte was generous with his bastards.”

Malcolm paced back to Talleyrand’s side and stood looking down at him. “What else?”

Talleyrand looked up at him, gaze bland as butter. “I don’t believe there is anything else.”

“Doing it much too brown, sir. You admit yourself you suspected Tania had had a child. And that she might have been Bonaparte’s mistress. You can’t expect me to believe you didn’t ask her about the child’s parentage.”

Talleyrand’s mouth curved with appreciation. “I could deny it, but I suppose there’s no point now. Yes, as it happens I did ask her. Tatiana didn’t deny there was a child. But she went as serious as I’ve ever seen her. She begged me not to ask any questions about the baby’s parentage. Not for her sake, but for the child’s.” He shook his head. “I’ve never been the sort to take vows seriously.”

“She made you swear not to ask more about the child’s parentage?” Malcolm asked.

“She made me swear not to tell anyone there was a child.” Talleyrand met Malcolm’s gaze, his own deceptively clear and direct. “Especially you.”

In the Mask of Night discussion a few weeks ago, there were quite a few comments about Isobel and Oliver. A number of readers found Isobel much more sympathetic than Oliver. Which intrigued me, because I confess while I was quite sympathetic to Isobel as I planned the book, when I actually wrote it, I had a hard time with her. I’m not sure what it was precisely. But though I felt sorry for her, it was though her coolness held me at a distance as well. I often found myself sympathizing more with Oliver. Perhaps because he’s an outsider? Mostly, though, I felt sorry for both Bel and Oliver and the way their marriage eroded. In any case, I was intrigued and quite relieved by the reaction of these readers to Bel, because it means that even if I had trouble sympathizing with her myself, she didn’t come across as unsympathetic the way I wrote her.

Princess Tatiana in Vienna Waltz was something of the opposite case. I didn’t particularly sympathize with her when I plotted the book, yet I found myself sympathizing with her more and more as I wrote it and saw sides of her beyond the schemer. I also found myself quite sympathetic to Talleyrand, despite the fact that he was a schemer par excellence, with questionable motives both in the novel and in the historical record..

I recently got revision notes from my editor on Imperial Scandal (“the Waterloo book”, the sequel to Vienna Waltz). There’s one action of Suzanne/Mélanie’s she suggested I take out, because she’s afraid it goes too far and could destroy reader sympathy for her. I confess I was worried myself that that scene pushed the envelope too far. I’m glad I got to write it the way I did (and that’s the way it happens in my mind), but I don’t mind changing it in the revisions.

All of which goes to the question of what makes a character sympathetic and what destroys reader sympathy for a character. What makes a character sympathetic to you? What makes a character lose your sympathy? What are some characters you’ve found particularly sympathetic? Are there seemingly admirable characters you’ve found yourself not sympathizing with? What actions have made characters lose your sympathy?

I’ve just posted another Fraser Correspondence letter containing reactions to Princess Tatiana’s murder, this one from Raoul to Lady Frances about Tatiana’s murder.

On the surface “All for Love” is an odd title for a post relating to Vienna Waltz. Despite–or because–of their myriad romantic intrigues, most of the characters have a distinctly unromantic attitude toward love. Very much including Malcolm/Charles and Mélanie/Suzanne. This week’s post is a riff on one of the Vienna Waltz discussion questions:

14. Many of the characters claim not to believe in love or not to believe love lasts, yet a number of them do things that are motivated by love. Which actions, by which characters, do you think most strongly convey love for another character?

I was intrigued by this question when I wrote it, and to be honest I’m not sure how I’d answer it myself. But I do think there’s a lot of love beneath the surface in Vienna Waltz. Adam Czartoryski risks his career, his hopes for Poland, and possibly his life to protect Tsarina Elisabeth. Metternich jeopardizes his position and his negotiating power at the Congress to try to recover Wilhelmine of Sagan’s daughter and later her missing letter. Wilhelmine, to a large degree, is driven by her love for her missing daughter. The need to recover her daughter even influences her love affairs. Talleyrand has very complicated feelings for Dorothée, though now I think about it they don’t per say influence his actions in the book. I think they will play a stronger role in the book I’m just beginning. Geoffrey Blackwell, a confirmed bachelor and cynic, takes the risk of proposing to the much younger Aline.

Malcolm/Charles keeps Tatiana’s secrets out of an emotional debt to both Tatiana and his mother. Later, he confesses those feelings to Suzanne/Mélanie, because his feelings for her trump his earlier promise. He also tries to make sure Suzanne and Colin would be protected in the event of his death. Suzanne lies to protect Malcolm, even after finding him kneeling over the body of the woman she believes was his mistress. Later, she tries to comfort Malcolm in his grief for Tatiana, despite believing he and Tatiana had been lovers.

Those are just some of the examples. What do you think? Which actions, by which characters, most strongly convey love for another character? Which character is protesting too much when he or she claims not to believe in love? Which character is the greatest romantic?

I’ve just posted a new letter in the Fraser Correspondence from the distinctly unromantic Aline (who nevertheless finds love in the course of the book) to her mother Lady Frances about Princess Tatiana’s murder.

I’ve been doing research for the third Malcolm & Suzanne book, which is set in Paris after Waterloo (the second book takes place before and during the battle). The setting offers me the chance to revisit many of the real historical characters in Vienna Waltz, including the fascinating Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, and her younger sister Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord. Both sisters were in Paris in that tumultuous summer, and both were involved in tangled love affairs. Wilhelmine, after a brief affair with Caroline Lamb’s brother Frederick, had become involved with Lord Stewart, Castlereagh’s hot-tempered half-brother, while Alfred von Windischgrätz (her lover in Vienna Waltz) was still pursuing her. And of course, Prince Metternich was in Paris as well and far from over Wilhelmine (I don’t know that Metternich ever entirely got over her). Meanwhile, Dorothée was continuing the affair with Count Karl Clam-Martinitz (which begins in Vienna Waltz). Her husband, despite his own numerous affairs, was far from complacent, and fought a duel with Clam-Martinitz. Prince Talleyrand, Dorothée’s uncle by marriage, had his own complicated feelings for Dorothée, which Dorothée perhaps reciprocated more than she would even admit to herself. The life of a Courland princess was never simple.

Courland, located in what is now Latvia, had been a semi-autonomous duchy nominally paying fealty to Poland. In 1795, Peter von Biron, Duke of Courland, Wihelmine and Dorothée’s father (who plays a key role in the backstory of Vienna Waltz), ceded the duchy to Russia. However, Duke Peter had purchased substantial estates that stretched to Sagan in Silesia, only a day’s journey from Berlin. He left Sagan to Wilhelmine, the eldest of his four daughters.

The four Courland princesses, Wilhelmine, Pauline, Jeanne, and Dorothée, grew up almost in their own court, with lavish house parties, a resident troupe of actors, a private orchestra. When Jeanne was sixteen she fell in love with Arnoldi, a violinist from the orchestra who had been hired to teach the music to the Courland sisters. Jeanne became pregnant, and she and Arnoldi ran off together. A Prussian officer discovered her and packed her home. Duke Peter disinherited her in a fit of temper shortly before he died. She had to give the baby up for adoption. Meanwhile, Count Wratislaw, Chief of the Bohemian Police, who became the girls’ guardian on their father’s death, lured Arnoldi back to Bohemia, probably with a forged letter from Jeanne, and had him imprisoned and executed.

Jeanne was married off to the Neopolitan Duke of Acerenza. By 1814, when Vienna Waltz takes place, both she and her sister Pauline (married to Friedrich Hermann Otto, Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen) were separated from their husbands and sharing a house in Vienna. Jeanne had a long time liaison with a Monsieur Borel, and the two of them were apparently like an old married couple.

Duke Peter’s marriage to his much younger wife, Anna Dorothea, had been a dynastic union. Dorthothée (who was ten years younger than Jeanne, the sister nearest to her in age) was almost certainly the daughter of her mother’s lover Count Alexander Batowski. Not long after Duke Peter died, the duchess ended her affair with Batowski and began a liaison with the Baron Gustav Amrfelt. Armfelt took a keen interest in the education of clever young Dorothée. Unfortunately the interest he took in Wilhelmine, then eighteen, was less fatherly. They began an affair. One night the duchess noticed someone had taken a candle and went to see who was abroad at such an hour only to find her daughter in the arms of her lover.

By that time Wilhelmine was pregnant. Armfelt, being an aristocrat, was not executed like Arnoldi, but Wilhelmine, like Jeanne, was compelled to give up her child, a loss that haunted her through the years and that drove many of her actions at the time of the Congress of Vienna (and in the plot of Vienna Waltz). She was hastily married off to the well-born but penniless Louis de Rohan, but her affair with Armfelt continued, with the three of the them traveling together and living off Wilhelmine’s extensive dowry. Eventually Wilhelmine shed both men, first breaking off with Armfelt, then divorcing de Rohan. She later married the Russian Prince Troubetskoi, but by 1814 had divorced him as well. In 1813, though in the midst of a love affair with the dashing cavalry officer Alfred von Windischgrätz (to whom readers of Vienna Waltz will know she would later return), she began an affair with Austrian foreign minister Prince Metternich. An affair which was still intense when the Congress of Vienna opened and then came to a spectacular end just before Vienna Waltz begins.

Dorothée meanwhile, much younger than her sisters, had fallen into adolescent love with Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski (the longtime lover of Tsarina Elisabeth of Russia, wife of Tsar Alexander). Czartoryski, though still in love with Elisabeth, was open to the marriage, but through the connivance of Dorothéee’s mother and Prince Talleyrand, Dorothée instead end up married to Talleyrand’s nephew Edmond. It was not a happy match. Dorothée, as Suzanne thinks in Vienna Waltz, loved books. Edmond, a cavalry officer, was more likely to be found with his horses or at the gaming tables. Or with his mistresses.

In 1814, Dorothée’s mother once again found herself losing a lover to a daughter. Duchess Anna Dorothea was Talleyrand’s mistress before the Congress of Vienna (he wrote very eloquent letters to her when Paris was falling to the Allies). But it was Dorothée Talleyrand took with him to Vienna as his hostess. In Vienna, he began to see her as more than his nephew’s wife, a story that begins to be dramatized in Vienna Waltz and that I’ll continue to explore in the book I’m now beginning.

What are some of your favorite real historical characters in fiction? If you’ve read Vienna Waltz, which of the real historical characters did you like best? What did you think of Wilhelmine and Dorothée?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter Geoffrey Blackwell writes to Lady Frances just on the eve of the events of Vienna Waltz. Speaking of which, what did you think of Geoffrey and Aline?

Celebrating Vienna Waltz with Audrey and Nancy

The picture above is my wonderful editor, Audrey LaFehr, my wonderful agent, Nancy Yost, and me celebrating Vienna Waltz on my trip to New York last month. Vienna Waltz has been out for almost two weeks now. It’s so fun that people are finally getting to read it. So I thought I’d devote this week’s post to a Vienna Waltz discussion. Here are the discussion questions I did for the book (which are also posted in their own page on this site). I thought they might be good for getting the conversation going, but feel free to post any questions, comments, or speculation relating to the book (or to ask questions about the book if you haven’t read it ). And if you’ve read The Mask of Night,or have questions about it feel free to bring it into the conversation as well.

I’ve just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Aline Dacre-Hammond to Charles/Malcolm’s sister Gisèle in which she speculated about Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne’s marriage.

1. Before Malcolm told Suzanne the truth about his relationship with Tatiana, what did you think had transpired in the past between Tatiana and Malcolm?

2. How does being in Vienna at the Congress constrain the characters’ actions and/or free them to act in ways that might not be possible were they at home in London, St. Petersburg, Paris, or wherever their homes may be?

3. Both Malcolm and Suzanne keep secrets from each other. How might their marriage have been different if they had told each other the truth from the start? Or would they have married at all in that case?

4. Tatiana sets in motion an elaborate plot to regain what she sees as her rightful heritage. What are the parallels between the game she is playing and the more overtly political games being played at the Congress?

5. Do you think Malcolm would ever have told Suzanne the truth about Tatiana if Suzanne hadn’t found the locket?

6. Do Castlereagh, Metternich, and Talleyrand remind you of any present-day politicians? If so, in what ways?

7. Suzanne and Malcolm both frequently are playing a part, whether they are in disguise (as at the Empress Rose), or playing their roles as a diplomatic couple, or at times even (or perhaps especially) when they are alone together. At what points in the novel do you think each of them is the most wholly her- or himself without masks or deception?

8. How are Suzanne’s, Dorothée’s, Wilhelmine’s, Elisabeth’s, and Tatiana’s attitudes toward marriage and love shaped by their experiences in childhood and adolescence?

9. Compare and contrast Suzanne and Malcolm’s marriage with Fitz and Eithne’s, from their reasons for marrying, to their secrets and betrayals.

10. Several of the characters in Vienna Waltz fear the revelation of secrets about their personal lives. Do you think they have more or less to fear from their secrets being revealed than present-day public figures?

11. Did you suspect Fitz of killing Tatiana before the end of the book? Why or why not?

12. Malcolm says to Fitz that Castlereagh and Metternich are doing everything they can to put the French Revolution “back in the box. Quite ignoring the fact that the box broke twenty years ago.” How does this idea parallel some of the characters’ efforts to erase the past on a more personal level?

13. Suzanne and Malcolm struggle to balance their roles as agents and their duties in the diplomatic corps with being parents and husband and wife. How are the difficulties they face juggling all this similar to or different from those of a present-day couple?

14. Many of the characters claim not to believe in love or not to believe love lasts, yet a number of them do things that are motivated by love. Which actions, by which characters, do you think most strongly convey love for another character?

“Squaring the triangle” is a term the playwright hero of S.N. Behrman’s No Time for Comedy flippantly uses to describe what he does writing romantic comedies. I was thinking about this last week watching one of my favorite television shows, The Good Wife. The heroine is back together, at least on the surface, with the husband who betrayed her. Peter Florek is a deeply flawed character, yet I find him likable in many ways, and in last week’s episode I genuinely believed him when he said he’d fallen back in love with his life. I almost found myself wanting their marriage to work out. And that’s despite the fact that I really like Alicia’s colleague and old love, Will, and most of the time I desperately want the two of them to get together.

That’s the key to writing a really fascinating triangle, I think. Having all the characters interesting and sympathetic enough that one is somewhat torn about who ends up with whom. Which of course can create problems with also having a satisfying happily ever after, if such an ending is the goal of the story. As I’ve mentioned before, I think one of my favorite plays/movies, The Philadelphia Story, does this brilliantly in that both Mike and Dexter are sympathetic and possible options for Tracy (both much better than her stuffy fiancé George). I think often the viewer isn’t quite sure who will end up with whom. And yet the ending feels very right (at least to me).

Both Vienna Waltz and The Mask of Night have several triangles. I don’t really want Mélanie/Suzanne to go back to Raoul, at least not in that way (or mostly not in that way, to paraphrase both Charles and Mel in Mask). But I’m very fond of Raoul and I can definitely see that tug between them. As Jeanne adeptly pointed out in last week’s comments, he represents a world in which Mel can practice her talents to the fullest and be herself, whereas in Charles’s world she has to work more behind-the-scenes (though she manages rather a lot of adventure in any case). Raoul ended up much more sympathetic than I had at first envisioned when I wrote Secrets of a Lady, and I think that makes the dynamic among the three of them much more interesting. Not to mention that in addition to the residual romantic tension, there’s a spy dynamic, ideological issues, and a father-son story between Raoul and Charles that takes on more prominence in Mask.

The plot of Vienna Waltz is more or less built on triangles–the triangle of Tatiana, Tsar Alexander, and Metternich which forms the set-up of the murder discovery and investigation; Suzanne/Mel, Malcolm/Charles, and Tatiana (which, whatever else it is or is not, is certainly an emotional tug-of-war); and real life triangles such as both Metternich, the tsar and Wihelmine of Sagan, and Metternich, the tsar, and Princess Catherine Bagration (Metternich and Tsar Alexander definitely carried their rivalry into the boudoir). And then there’s the triangle which is still very much an open question at the end of the book of Dorothée, Count Clam-Martinitz, and Prince Talleyrand. Dorothée isn’t sure at the end of the novel which man she’ll end up with, and that’s certainly a real life triangle in which I can sympathize with all three participants.

What do you think of triangles in books, whether Vienna Waltz and Mask or others? What are some of your favorite literary triangles? Are there times when you’ve been dissatisfied with the resolution of a triangle?

Also feel free to use this space to discuss Vienna Waltz (with or without discussing the triangles in it) and to continue to discuss The Mask of Night.

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Raoul to Mel/Suzanne right at the time the events of Vienna Waltz begins.

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!

__________________________________________________________

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.”

Next Page »