Vienna Waltz

I’ve been busy this past week launching a new venture. For a while now I’ve done freelance work offering editorial, marketing, and social media support services to writers. I’ve now launched this side of my work formally with a new page on the website. If you know anyone who might be interested, do forward the link if appropriate. And feel free to email me with questions.

Since I’m coming off a busy week and launching into another one with work on The Princess’s Secret (formerly The White Terror), the next Malcolm/Charles & Suzanne/Mélanie book, I thought this week I’d open the blog up to more Vienna Waltz discussion. This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter Charles/Malcolm writes to David from prison in Vienna, asking David to look after Colin and Mélanie/Suzanne should anything happen to him. So it seemed an appropriate time to return to the Reading Group question about Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzette as parents:

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?

For me, the fact that Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne are parents has always been a key part of the series. It adds a whole layer of complications to their work as spies, to their marriage, and to their divided loyalties. I’d love to any thoughts anyone has on the question above and on Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzette as parents in general. And though the question comes from Vienna Waltz, definitely feel free to reference other books in the series as well (does their role as parents change over the course of the series so far?), and also to bring in other fictional characters who are parents.

I just got back from a lovely few days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Among the highlights were a superb Measure for Measure, a very fun, exuberant Pirates of Penzance, and a brilliant new play called Ghost Light. Ghost Light was conceived and developed by Jonathan Moscone (Artistic Director of the California Shakespeare Theater) and Tony Taccone (Artistic Director of Berkeley Rep), written by Taccone and directed by Moscone. It explores the 1978 assassinations of Moscone’s father, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and Supervisor Harvey Milk by Supervisor Dan White. But rather than being a docudrama that recreates historical events, Ghost Light focuses on Jonathan Moscone’s response to the loss of his father, both as a fourteen-year-old boy and as an adult man, struggling to direct a production of Hamlet.

The story that emerges is rooted in historical events (events that I remember vividly, as a twelve-year-old at the time of the assassinations) yet at its heart it is an intimate look at coming to terms with the loss of a parent. As such it is both specific to the characters involved and wonderfully universal. We all struggle to understand our parents as individuals. Loss of a parent is a haunting fear, and losing a parent is never easy, at any age.

Ghost Light is a haunting play, beautifully acted and directed. It was the first play we saw on the trip, and I thought about it and talked about it a great deal afterward. Among other things, I found myself mulling over what it is to write historical fiction. Real events form the framework in my books (particulary my recent books), but within those events, the arc of the book focuses on the personal journey of the characters. Both the fictional characters and also the real historical characters, such as Wilhelmine and Dorothée in Vienna Waltz and Hortense Bonaparte in The Mask of Night. Hopefully there’s something universal in those character arcs, at the same time the story is rooted in a specific time and place. It’s a tricky balancing act, that I struggle with constantly when I’m writing. Often in the first draft I’m focused on just having, the historical narrative in place, and a lot of my work in subsequent drafts involves adding layers to the character arcs. My own struggles made me appreciate the brilliant writing in Ghost Light all the more.

What appeals to you most in historical fiction? The historical narrative or the personal stories of the characters? Both? Writers, if you write historical fiction how do you balance historical context and character development?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Raoul to Mélanie/Suzanne, reacting to the news of Charles/Malcolm’s imprisonment.

For this week’s post, I thought I’d return to some of the Vienna Waltz discussion questions. The following questions all relate to Malcolm/Charles and Suzanne/Mélanie – their marriage, their work as spies, their roles as parents. Feel free to comment on any or all of the questions or to share other questions or thoughts on Suzanne and Malcolm and their relationship.

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?

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

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?

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

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?

In this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, Aline also speculates on Malcolm and Suzanne’s relationship in a letter to Gisèle just before the Carrounsel.

Charles nodded and turned his horse. Men and horses littered the ground, wounded, dying, dead. Bullets sang through the air, shells exploded, cannons rumbled. Beneath his coat, his shirt was plastered to his skin. The smell of blood and powder, the screams of men and horses, the sight of gaping wounds and blown off limbs had become monotonous reality. He steered his horse round two dead dragoons sprawled over the body of a horse with the lower part of its face shot off.

That’s a quote from Imperial Scandal, which I’m currently in the midst of revising. Imperial Scandal begins in a world much like that of Vienna Waltz, at a ball given by the British ambassador (where you met Cordelia Davenport in last week’s excerpt). But that glittering world teeters in the brink of war as the Allied army waits in Brussels for Napoleon to march from Paris. The glamorous world of the British ex-patriates in Brussels is shattered at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball with the confirmation that the French have crossed the frontier. Soldiers march off to fight in ball dress. The last part of the book moves back and forth between the battlefield where Charles/Malcolm is pressed into delivering messages for Wellington and Brussels where Mélanie/Suzanne and Cordelia are nursing the wounded.

I’m currently in the midst of revising the battle scenes, which are some of the most challenging I’ve ever written. On my first draft I was preoccupied with getting down the logistics of the battle, weaving in the plot developments that needed to happen and getting my characters in the right place at the right time for the historical chronology. Not to mention making sure I had details of uniforms and weapons right. I was reasonably happy with how the battle sequence turned out in the preliminary version. But now I’m layering in more texture and emotion. And sheer horror. Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field was strewn with dead or dying men and horses.

Earlier this week I heard a clip on NPR of Kurt Vonnegut talking about how he wanted to write about war in a way that didn’t glamorize it. That really resonated for me with the scenes I’m currently working on. It’s a challenge to capture the bravery and acts of courage and yet not lose sight of the horror and insanity. Which also means not pulling back in describing the violence and brutality.

It’s a grim world to live in as a writer. A couple of days ago I saw a fabulous final dress rehearsal of Götterdämmerung, the last opera in Wagner’s Ring at San Francisco Opera, which with its destruction and tragedy and wasted lives seemed very apropos of the scenes I’ve been writing. I drafted this post outdoors in the café at the California Shakespeare theater waiting for their production of Titus Andronicus to begin. A play rooted in war and definitely about violence, which also seems apropos. And having now seen, the production, which was brilliant and disturbing, these lines seems particularly to resonate with the scenes I’ve been writing, which moves back and forth between the Allies and the French:

But must my sons be slaughter’d in the streets,
For valiant doings in their country’s cause?
O, if to fight for king and commonweal
Were piety in thine, it is in these.

The battle of Waterloo has been dramatized brilliantly by a number of writers. Two of my favorite depictions, both brutal and heart-rending, are Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army and Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo. I’m only hoping I manage to not disgrace myself in comparison.

Which battle scenes in fiction do you find particularly effective? Writers, if you’ve written battle scenes, what are the particular challenges you faced?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Melanie to Raoul, where, among other things, she talks about Frederick Radley. Which brings up another question. What did you think of the revelations about Mel/Suzette’s relationship with Radley in Vienna Waltz, and did you think she was telling the full truth to Charles/Malcolm?

This month’s teaser is another excerpt from Imperial Scandal. This excerpt introduces a new character who plays an important role in Imperial Scandal and will also appear in subsequent books in the series, Lady Cordelia Davenport. Last year, readers of this blog were very helpful in helping me select names for Cordelia and her estranged husband Harry.

This scene comes in on Lady Cordelia at the British ambassador’s ball in Brussels at which Imperial Scandal opens (also featured in last month’s teaser), talking to her friend Lady Caroline Lamb and to Mélanie, to whom she’s just been introduced.

“Cordelia. What in God’s name are you doing here?”
Cordelia Davenport turned from her conversation with Caro and Mélanie Fraser to see a tall, broad-shouldered man with close cropped golden-brown hair and an all-too familiar smile striding along the edge of the dance floor.
“Major Chase.” Cordelia extended her hand. “Why shouldn’t I come to Brussels? All the world seems to have flocked here. I’m not usually so behind the fashion.
George brushed his lips over her hand, a bit stiffly. He met her gaze as he straightened up. “For God’s sake, Cordy, it’s dangerous.”
“I doubt Wellington would care to hear you say so. You know Lady Caroline, of course,” Cordelia said, grateful for the mask of social convention. “May I present Mrs. Fraser? Her husband is on Stuart’s staff.”
George nodded at the other two ladies with one of his quick, disarming smiles. “Forgive my informality. Cord-Lady Cordelia and I have known each other since we were children. I’m in the habit of worrying about her.”
“A fatal mistake, Major Chase,” Caro said. “Cordelia could look after herself at the age of six, and nothing puts her in such a temper as being fussed over.”
George grinned. “With Cordy I’ve always been slow to learn my lessons.” The look he turned to Cordelia was a mix of ruefulness and regret. It reminded her of the way he’d used to turn his head to meet her gaze one last time before he stepped into the carriage to return to Eton or Oxford, knowing it would be many months before they met again. Against all instincts to the contrary, her throat went tight.
George turned to Mélanie Fraser. “You’re Charles Fraser’s wife, aren’t you? I knew him a bit as a boy when he used to visit the Mallinsons at Carfax Court in Derbyshire. Always thought he’d do something remarkable.”
“He was frighteningly clever,” Cordelia said, recalling the tall, gangly boy with intent eyes and a quick wit. “And inclined to spend all his time in the library.”
Mélanie Fraser smiled. “Some things don’t change.”
“I hear Wellington claims Fraser’s the civilian he could least do without,” George said.
“My husband would say one can’t believe everything one hears in Brussels theses days.”
“You seem very sanguine, Mrs. Fraser.”
“As a diplomat’s wife, one of my first duties is to calm the panic.”
“And yet”—George cast a glance at the couples circling the floor—“I fear life in Brussels is not the picnic it appears.”
Cordelia unfurled her fan, willing her fingers to hold steady against the ebony sticks. “Have you sent your own wife back to England?”
She heard George suck in his breath. He looked directly into her eyes, his own shadowed with—guilt? Apology? “No, Annabel’s somewhere in the ballroom as it happens. We talked about her taking the children back to England, but we— She felt it would be harder to be separated at such a time.”
“How sweet.” Cordelia took a sip of champagne and then cursed herself. She was being spiteful and neither George nor Annabel deserved that.
“It’s different for Annabel,” George said quickly. “She’s a soldier’s wife—“
“So am I if it comes to that. I don’t suppose it occurred to you that I came to Brussels to see Harry?”
The look on George’s face might have been comical had she been able to muster up anything remotely approaching laughter. “I’m sorry, Cordy,” he said, “I should have realized—“
“Oh, don’t look so apologetic, George. Harry isn’t even in Brussels as it happens. I came here to see Julia, only I can’t seem to find her anywhere in the ballroom or salons. Have you seen her?”
George frowned. “Not since supper, I think. But she’s bound to turn up before long. Julia’s not the sort to fade into the woodwork. She’ll be glad to see you.”
“I hope so,” Cordelia said, for once speaking the unvarnished truth.
George touched her arm. “Don’t be silly, Cordy. Whatever else, Julia will always be your sister. Ladies.”
George inclined his head to Caro and Mélanie Fraser and walked off along the edge of the dance floor.
Cordelia felt Caro’s concerned gaze on her and Mélanie Fraser’s appraising one. How much of the story had Mrs. Fraser heard? Not that it mattered. She was damned in any case. “George and I’ve known each other since we were both in the nursery,” she said.
“Old friends know one in a way no one else quite does,” Mélanie Fraser said. Cordelia could see her trying to piece together the past, yet there was a surprising lack of judgment in her gaze. Not what Cordelia was accustomed to from respectable happily married women.
“Damnable isn’t it?” Cordelia said, throwing out the curse like a challenge. George was talking with two of his fellow cavalry officers, head bent at a serious angle. A bit of a change. The old George would have been dancing with a pretty girl.
“Quite damnable.” With two words Mélanie Fraser, picked up the challenge and rendered it irrelevant.
Caro touched Cordelia’s arm. “Cordy—“
“It’s quite all right, Caro. If I couldn’t confront my past I’d never be able to go out in society.”
“Lady Cordelia?”
Cordelia turned to tell the footman she didn’t need any more champagne and saw that he was holing out a square of paper. “A gentleman asked me to give you this.”
Cordelia took the paper.
I’m sure you find this as awkward as I do, but I have important news to impart. I beg you will grant me a few moments of your time. I fear I’m not fit for the ballroom.

She knew the precise, slanted handwriting at once. Speaking of confronting one’s past. She folded the paper between fingers that had gone nerveless. “Where is he?”
“In one of the salons.”
Cordelia turned to Caro and Mrs. Fraser. “Pray excuse me. It seems I need speak with my husband.”
Caro made a quick move toward her. “Dearest- Do you want me to go with you?”
Cordelia drew together defenses carefully built over the past four years. “No, I shall be quite all right. I knew I might encounter Harry in Brussels after all. And I’ve just dealt with George. How bad can this be?”
The footman guided her along the edge of the ballroom and then held open a white-painted door. Cordelia stepped beneath the gilt pediment, feeling like Anne Boleyn on her way to her execution.
Oh, that was absurd. She wasn’t a fanciful girl anymore.

Do let me know what you think of Cordelia and the excerpt. Also, as a follow up to the wonderful discussion on my sympathetic characters post, I’m curious to know how many of you who read Vienna Waltz believed Malcolm/Charles might have actually been Princess Tatiana’s lover (before or after his marriage to Mel/Suzanne).

Speaking of Princess Tatiana, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Charles to David about the rumors surrounding the princess and her murder.

Though real historical people play a role in most of my books, I’ve never used them as much major characters as in Vienna Waltz. It was both fun and a challenge to put fictional words in the mouths of real people and involve them in fictional events while trying to stay true to who they were. In writing the book, I realized that in order to bring them to life, I need to mentally cast the roles, just as I do for the fictional characters in my books. I often find that a character doesn’t fall into place until I settle on the right actor, and it was just the same with the historical figures. It wasn’t enough to look at paintings. I needed actors I could imagine moving, talking, interacting.

I’ve just posted my cast for Vienna Waltz on StoryCasting. But I’d love to hear from readers on whom you would cast. I find hearing other people’s casting choices often lets me see my characters in a whole new light, which is fascinating. So do post your thoughts on whom you’d cast, as Malcolm/Charles and Suzanne/Mélanie and in any of the other roles, real or fictional (you can mention as few or as many characters as you like). Before or after, you can view my cast on StoryCasting. And you can also post your own cast on StoryCasting, which is a lot of fun–it’s a great site.

I’ve also just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Mel/Suzanne to Raoul about the events of the Metternich masquerade.

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.

On her wonderful website, Lauren Willig has started Tuesday Teasers, which are so much fun. Since blogging and updating the Fraser Correspondence once a week is about all I can manage, I thought I would start monthly teasers. Here is April’s. It’s from the book I’ve been calling “the Waterloo book”, now provisionally titled Imperial Scandal. It will be published next year and it’s set in June 1815, about seven months after Vienna Waltz. Napoleon has escaped from Elba and the Allied Army is gathered in Brussels preparing to fight the French. This excerpt is from the first chapter and finds Suzanne/Mélanie at ball given by the British ambassador in Brussels.

Suzanne Rannoch stirred the heavy perfumed air with her silk-painted fan. The youth and beauty of the Allied army swirled on the dance floor before her. Hussars and Horse Guards in brilliant crimson and silver lace, staff officers in dark blue coats, riflemen in dark green, Dutch-Belgians in orange-faced blue. They circled round the floor with girls in gauzy frocks of white and pink, primrose and forget-me-knot, champagne and ivory. The candlelight glanced off gold braid, medals, pearl necklaces, diamond eardrops, silver thread embroidered on sleeves and hems.
It might have been any ball in any elegant house. Save for the profusion of military brilliance and the dearth of sober dark civilian coats. This waltz had been a favorite at the Congress of Vienna, where Suzanne and her husband had spent the fall and winter. But even in Vienna military uniforms had not so predominated. The threat of war had hung over the Congress, but as a consequence of council chamber quarrels, a constant ripple beneath the surface of balls and masquerades and champagne-filled salons. Then Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped his exile on the island of Elba and returned to power in France and everything had changed.
“Standing about?” Sir Charles Stuart, Britain’s ambassador to Belgium and the evening’s host, put a glass of champagne into her hand. “We can’t have that. Where’s your husband got to?”
Suzanne took a sip of champagne and gave Stuart her most dazzling smile. “Surely you don’t believe my husband and I spend the evening in each other’s pockets, sir? Have I learned nothing in two and a half years as a diplomatic wife?”
“Off on an errand, is he?” Stuart gave her a lazy grin. “Wonder who sent him.”
“It wasn’t you?”
“In the middle of my own ball? No, ten to one he’s been seconded by the military.”
Malcolm had met her gaze across the ballroom an hour since, raised his champagne glass to her, and then slipped between two stands of candles and melted away through one of the French windows. Even she didn’t know where he had gone. Malcolm had come to trust her a great deal in the two and a half years since they had entered into their oddly begun marriage of convenience, but not that much. There were some secrets a good intelligence agent didn’t even share with a spouse. She understood that better than anyone.
Stuart put a familiar arm round her and squeezed her shoulders, left fashionably bare by the satin and gauze of her gown. “You’re a damned fine hostess, Suzanne. Couldn’t have pulled the party off with out you.”
“Nonsense. You were an excellent host long before I met you.”
“Lisbon was different from Brussels.” Stuart kissed her cheek, managing at once to be flirtatious and brotherly. “He’ll be safely back before dawn, never fear. We’re weeks away from fighting.”
“Weeks?” Even were Napoleon really still in Paris, he was only five days’ march from Brussels.
“Well, days at any rate.”
“Mrs. Rannoch.” A tall man in an austere black evening coat, his fine-boned face distinguished by a distinctive hook nose and piercing blue eyes, materialized out of the crowd. “You look lovelier every time I see you.”
Suzanne held out her hand to the commander of the Allied army. “Is that the secret of your success, your grace? Always knowing precisely the right thing to say?”
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, gave one of his brusque laughs. “Hardly. My brother’s the diplomat in the family. Like your husband. Where’s he disappeared to?”
“I fear I haven’t the least idea,” Suzanne said. “Though I thought perhaps your grace might.”
Wellington gave her a shrewd look. “Possibly, my dear. Possibly. Don’t let it get about that I said so, but diplomats can often prove remarkably useful.”
Despite the heat in the candle-warmed room, a chill coursed through her. She knew Wellington was fond of Malcolm. And she also knew he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice her husband or anyone else if he thought it necessary to achieve victory.

Let me know you think. Also, feel free to post more thoughts and questions about Vienna Waltz and The Mask of Night here. Love the discussion that’s been going on.

I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mélanie to Raoul, shortly after she and Charles discover Princess Tatiana’s body.

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?

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