Wilhelmine of Sagan


Céline asked me to do my next writing craft post on research. A welcome suggestion as research is one of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction. As with many facets of writing–plotting, character development, drafting–i do my research in layers. Often it’s a piece of research from an earlier book that gives me the original idea for a book. My fascination with the Congress of Vienna. My research into Waterloo and the White Terror for the backstory of various books (and the central plot of Shores of Desire). An intriguing historical character like Wilhelmine of Sagan or Dorothée Talleyrand. As I plot the book, I need to do more research, and that research in turn inspires plot developments. A duel between Dorothée Talleyrand’s husband and lover became an important sequence in The Paris Affair. One of the early things I do is make a timeline of historical events for the period of my book (Scrivener makes it easy to keep the timeline and other notes handy0. Then I can layer my fictional events in with the real ones as I plot.

When I’m writing the first draft, I do more specific research, particularly into settings. For instance, with Vienna Waltz I knew enough about the Carrousel to know it would be central episode in the book, but I didn’t research it in depth until I was writing those scenes.

With later revisions, as now with The Paris Affairohv , there are details to check like whether or not there were benches in the Luxembourg Gardens in 1815 (which resulted. after inconclusive hours, in me having the characters sit on the ground).

I like to use primary sources–letters and diaries and other accounts by people who were actually observers of or participants in the events I’m writing about. I used to spend a lot of time at the Stanford and University of California, Berkeley, libraries. i still use those libraries, but I can find more and more on the internet now. A lot of the books I used to check out are now available through Google Books (mostly free because they’re in the public domain), so I have a research library I can carry with me. And I can highlight and type notes in the books. much easier to decipher than my handwritten scribbles. Some details that don’t make it into a book end up in the Fraser Correspondence as in the letter i just posted where Mélanie/Suzanne writes to Simon about a military review.

I also gather up nonfiction books by contemporary authors about the events I’m researching. Then there are some resources I return to again and again like my Oxford English Dictionary with historical usage examples, so I can see when a word came into use and how it was used. even though I’ve been writing in the same era for all of my writing career, there are always new things to learn. which is one of the challenges–and one of the delights.

Research is one of my favorite things to talk about so do ask any questions you have. Writers, how do you balance research and writing?

Photo: Raphael Coffey Photography

I had the fun of speaking on a panel of alumni at the Literary Festival at my high school, Marin Academy, last week (the picture above is Mélanie and me at dinner afterwards). It was exhilarating to be part of such a dynamic and diverse group of writers of both fiction and nonfiction, novels, short stories, and journalism. There were of course differences in how we approach our work but also a surprising amount of commonality. Particularly when it comes to the challenge of just getting the words down on paper – or rather, on the computer. I left feeling energized – perfect for diving back into revisions of The Princess’s Secret.

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d post one of Mel/Suzette and Charles/Malcolm’s “almost love scenes” this one from Princess’s Secret (in fact, from the scene I was working on this evening. It’s a good follow up to last week’s excerpt because they’re talking about Wilhelmine and Dorothée. (Minor spoilers, but for plot elements revealed early in the book). I still have Imperial Scandal ARCs to giveaway, so I’ll be giving one to another of this week’s commenters. Let me know what you think of the scene and what your favorite Valentine’s Day reading is.

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She looked up at him. The candlelight slid over her face. “I don’t know that I was ever a romantic even—-before. I just—“
“Believe people can be happy.”
Her fingers curled into the coverlet. “I believe happiness is possible, in fits and snatches if nothing else. Perhaps it’s precisely because it’s rare that I believe in grabbing hold of it.”
Growing up, watching his parents, happiness had never seemed like much of a possibility. He lifted his hand and pushed the loose strands behind her ear.
She smiled, but then went still, her hand on his back. “Darling—“ She broke off. He could feel the question in the tension of her fingers through the silk of his dressing gown.
“Don’t tell me there’s something you’re afraid to ask me.”
“No.” Her gaze moved over his face. “Not afraid. But I’m not sure it’s my place—“
“For God’s sake, Mel, since when do you worry about what it’s your place to do or not do?”
“I don’t think marriage should entirely strip one of privacy. But—“ She sat back against the bedpost and regarded him. “Have you thought about telling Willie and Doro about Tatiana’s child?”
He checked the instinctive denial. His fingers dug into the coverlet. His mother had trained him to secrecy when it came to his sister. But she was Wilhelmine’s sister as well, and he knew Dorothée felt a responsibility toward her. Tania and Dorothée did not share a biological father, but the man Dorothée had grown up calling father had fathered Tania. Questions of parentage and sibling relationships were complicated among the aristocracy. “You think they’d want to know?” he asked, his voice harsh to his own ears.
“I think so. I think I would in their place. And I think they could help.”
“We don’t—“
“Help can always come in useful, dearest. I think one’s wise if one learns to accept it when it’s offered. I know I’m trying to do so. There’ve been a lot of secrets where Tatiana’s concerned. Perhaps it’s time—“
‘For honesty? That’s what I was just saying to Wellington and Castlereagh.”
Mélanie sat back against the headboard as though to give him space to make his choice. “It’s your decision, darling. There’s no right answer. But for what it’s worth, I think you can trust Willie and Doro. I think we learned that in Vienna. After all—“
“I owe Wilhelmine my liberty and quite possibly my life.” Charles saw the heavy door of his Vienna prison sell swing open to let in his wife and Duchess of Sagan. And Prince Metternich. “And without Wilhlemine and Dorothée we might not have been able to save the tsarina. You’re right. One should be grateful for help where one finds it.”
“I know I’ll be forever grateful to them.”
For a moment in Mélanie’s eyes he saw the fear of the time he had spent in prison. It was still odd to think of such fear being focused on him. Of his safety mattering so much to someone.
Mélanie leaned forward, her dark hair ringlets stirring about her face, her silk gown rustling. The roses and vanilla and exotic tang of her perfume teased his senses. Her hand slid behind his neck and her lips met his own.
He closed his arms round her and returned her kiss with an urgency that took him by surprise. With the portion of his brain that could still think, he knew that she was trying to comfort him for his discoveries about Tatiana. Part of him rebelled against needing comfort, while another part craved it as a wounded man craves laudanum.
His fingers sank into her hair. She pushed his dressing gown off his shoulders and slid her hands over his back with familiar witchcraft. They fell onto the coverlet and pillows, and the last vestiges of coherent thought fled.

My daughter Mélanie is eight weeks old today. Hard to believe it’s already been eight weeks (she’s two weeks in the picture above) and at the same time hard to remember there was a time she wasn’t here. As we move into February, my late New Years resolution is to get back to regularly updating this blog (it may take me a bit longer to get the Fraser Correspondence back up to speed). This week’s post is an excerpt from my WIP, The Princess’s Secret, which is set in Paris after the battle of Waterloo (and after my forthcoming Imperial Scandal). I just finished a draft and am starting to revise, so it’s a fun time to be sharing a bit of the book.

The post-Waterloo Paris setting lets me revisit a number of the characters from <em>Vienna Waltz, including Wilhelmine and Dorothée who are in this scene. Let me know what you think and which other characters, real or fictional, you’d like Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzanne to cross paths with again. Once again I’ll give away an ARC of Imperial Scandal to a commenter.
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“How should I have the least idea what Edmond may or may not know?” Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord flung herself down on her chaise-longue. “I’m the last person in Paris he’d confide in. You should have seen the way he was looking at Karl and me at the opera the night before last.”
“I did see. It argues something other than lack of interest,” Mélanie took a sip from the gilt-rimmed cup of coffee Dorothée had given her.
Dorothée grabbed a cushion from the chaise-longue and plucked at the fringe. “Edmond isn’t any more interested in me than he ever was/ His pride was hurt. Stupid honor.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more there.”
Dorothée flung the pillow aside. “I’m sorry, Mélanie, I’m not usually so pettish. It’s being back in Paris. Having Edmond here even if I see next to nothing of him. Facing down the gossip. Worrying about Karl.”
“And then there’s the strain Monsieur Talleyrand is under,” Mélanie said.
“That too.” Dorothée reached for her own cup of coffee and took a careful sip. In Vienna, she had fallen in love with the handsome Austrian Count Karl Clam-Martinitz, who was still her lover. But her relationship with her husband’s uncle, Prince Talleyrand, had also deepened in ways she would not admit even to a close friend like Mélanie. Perhaps not even to herself. “Who is this man who was a friend of Edmond’s?”
“Bertrand Laclos. He died in the Peninsula in 1811.”
Dorothée frowned a moment, then shook her head, her glossy brown ringlets stirring about her fine-boned face. “I’d just married Edmond then [?} and come to Paris. Paris bewildered me, and I tended to want to sink into the shadows. Edmond’s friends were all a blur.”
“What are you looking so serious about?” Dorothée’s eldest sister, Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, swept into the room with a rustle of Pomona green sarcenet and a waft of custom-blended scent. She dropped down in a chair and began to strip off her gloves. “Do pour me out a cup of coffee. I drank too much champagne at the Russian embassy last night.”
“Do you remember a Bertrand Laclos?” Dorothée asked, pouring a cup of coffee for her sister. “A friend of Edmond’s.”
“I make it a point to avoid Edmond’s friends.” Wilhelmine took a grateful sip of coffee. She lowered the cup and looked at Mélanie over the gilt rim. “Is this to do with the Comte de Rivere being killed last night?”
“That’s quick even for you,” Mélanie said. “How did you guess?”
Wilhelmine tugged at the ribbons on her cottage bonnet and lifted the straw and satin from her burnished gold curls. “Someone dies under mysterious circumstances, and you and Charles start asking questions. I’ve learned to put two and two together.”
Dorothée regarded her sister. “Besides, I suspect Lord Stewart told you.”
“Possibly.” Wilhelmine took another sip of coffee., then shrugged her shoulders, fluttering her gauze scarf. “Oh, very well. I was there when he got the message from Castlereagh this morning.”
“I don’t know what you see in him, Willie.” Dorothée made a moue of distaste. “When I remember how he pinched me at the Metternichs’ masquerade—“
“I admit Stewart isn’t always subtle—“
“That’s an understatement if I ever heard one. I think Talleyrand would have struck him at the masquerade if I hadn’t intervened.”
Wilhelmine took another sip of coffee. “Yes, well, we know how protective Talleyrand is when it comes to you.”
Dorothée flushed. “Don’t make this about me, Willie. I liked Alfred—“
“Alfred, if you’ll recall, left me.” Wilhelmine rubbed at the lip rouge smeared on her cup.
Dorothée bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Willie—“
“Don’t be. Every love affair has to end with someone leaving.” Wilhelmine’s mouth curved with customary cynicism. Yet in Vienna last autumn, Mélanie had seen how deep Wilhelmne’s feelings for Alfred von Windischgrätz ran.
“Then there was Fred Lamb,” Dorothée said. “I liked him as well.”
Wilhelmine leaned forward to pour more coffee into her cup. “Agreeable. But not serious.”
“And now Alfred’s in Paris and seems very—“
Wilhelmine clunked the coffee pot down on the silver tray. “Are you saying you think I should come running the moment he crooks his finger?”
“No, course not. But if love him—“
“I don’t believe in love. Or at least I don’t trust it.” Wilhelmine tugged out her handkerchief and wiped at the coffee that had spattered on the tray and the porcelain tiles of the table. “Whatever Alfred may think he feels, within a few years he’ll be married to a nice, respectable girl. It was never going to last—“
“And you think—“ Dorothée stared at her sister. “Willie, are you considering marrying Stewart?”
Wilhelmine lifted her cup, full to the brim, and took a careful sip. “You say that as if marriage was some new form of sin.”
“You’ve sworn you’re never going to marry again.”
Wilhelmine, twice divorced, gave her sister a careless smile. “You’ve known me all your life, Doro. Surely you realize I’m changeable.”
Dorothée shook her head. “I can’t believe you love him.”
“My dear child. You’re nearly two-and-twenty. You can’t still think love has anything to do with marriage.”
“It does for some people.” Dorothée flicked a glance at Mélanie.
“There are always exceptions.” Wilhelmine’s face relaxed into a smile. Then she studied Mélanie. “Though I don’t know that even Mélanie would claim her marriage began with love.”
“It began with necessity,” Mélanie said. Which was the truth. Though as with so much else to do with her marriage, a twisted truth.
Wilhelmine’s gaze held perhaps more understanding than Mélanie would have liked. “There are all sorts of reasons one marries. Necessity. Security. Position.”
Dorothée stared at her sister, as though she were a puzzle with unexpected angles. “And you think Stewart will give you—“
“His brother is the foreign secretary of England. It might be amusing.”
“It sounds beastly.” Dorothée reached for her lace shawl and pulled it tight round her shoulders. “Take it from me, there’s nothing worse than being tied to a man one can’t respect.”
“But then I’m not a romantic, Doro. That makes it easier.” Wilhelmine turned her gaze back to Mélanie. “I don’t know anything about this Bertrand Laclos, but if you want to learn about Rivere, you should talk to Lady Caruthers.”
Mélanie was used to making quick leaps of thought, but this was too much even for her. Gabrielle Caruthers was a French émigrée to England now married to a British officer. “Why?” she asked. “What does she have to do with Rivere?”
Wilhelmine settled back in her chair. “She was his mistress.”
“Gabrielle Caruthers”?” Dorothée said. “That’s a bit of gossip I hadn’t heard.” Her eyes narrowed. “I suppose Stewart told you.”
“No, Annina did. Maids always hear gossip first.”
“Lady Caruthers always seemed so demure.”
“They’re often the most scandalous ones.”
Dorothée shot her a sisterly look. “You’ve never been the least bit demure, Willie.”
“There are always exceptions.” Wilhelmine settled back against the cushions, cradling her coffee cup in one hand. “I expect you want to talk to Lady Caruthers. I understand she’s in the habit of taking coffee in the late morning in the Café Luxembourg. Quite like a Frenchwoman. Which of course she is. Though she hasn’t live here for years.”
“Much like me,” Mélanie said. Which was a truth, caught in the myriad lies she told about her past, even to her closest friends.
““Is that why you’re looking into Rivere’s death?” Dorothée asked. “Because you suspect Lord Caruthers was involved?”
Mélanie took a sip of coffee. “Until two minutes ago I hadn’t the least idea Lady Caruthers was involved with Rivere.”
“According to Annina, Rivere and Lady Caruthers had become quite reckless,” Wilhelmine said. “Though Lord Caruthers doesn’t particularly seem the jealous sort.”
“One never knows.” Dorothée’s face darkened. “I’d have never thought Edmond—“
“Edmond’s just the sort to get his pride hurt. Rupert Caruthers seems more—“ Wilhelmine’s delicate brows drew together as she searched for the right word.
“Temperate?” Mélanie suggested. She pictured Lord Caruthers, well-cut features, an agreeable smile. The sort of man to get a lady lemonade at a military review or return to the carriage for her parasol. And it was all done with sincerity rather than an attempt at flirtation.
“Yes, that’s it precisely.” Wilhelmine nodded. “Too well-bred to fight a duel.”
“That’s all very well,” Dorothée said, “but betrayal can take people the oddest ways.”
Mélanie reached for her coffee, a dozen thoughts tumbling through her brain, not all to do with Antoine de Rivere and the Carutherses. Her fingers closed hard round the delicate porcelain handle. “So it can.”

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.

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?

I’m getting the Vienna Waltz copy edits tomorrow and last night was the glorious Merola Grand Finale, the concert that’s the culmination of the Merola Opera Program’s summer, so I’m spending the weekend trying to get to the midpoint of the first draft of my Waterloo book. With Vienna on my mind, this week’s video clip is about the Palm Palace, the site of many of the real-life behind-the-scenes intrigues at the Congress of Vienna and many key scenes in Vienna Waltz. Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, and Princess Catherine Bagration both lodged in the Palm Palace during the Congress and so does my fictional Princess Tatiana Kirsanova (called Tatiana Volkonsky when I recorded this interview).

What real buildings play a key role in your favorite historical novels? Have you visited them or looked at pictures after reading the novel? Any questions about copy edits and the publication process?

I’m having fun working my Waterloo research into the Fraser Correspondence. I’ve just posted a new letter from Mélanie to Raoul about her and Charles’s arrival in Brussels with Wellington in the run up to Waterloo.