Staying In The Past’s Present

One last major piece of work here in the new house. I decided to attack it first thing this morning. Yes, I managed to get a bathroom mirror and shelf affixed in the cloakroom:

Cloakroom mirror and shelf. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Cloakroom mirror and shelf. [Photo by me, 2016.]
I also managed to do it without “wrecking” the wall, which is no mean feat. Drilling into plaster walls is definitely not like tacking something up on a wood-walled American house. Whew.

Oh, and speaking of America, “he” is now unpacked in my new office and watching me:

Thomas Jefferson, by Rembrandt Peale, 1805. And assorted books on my desk. [Photo by me, 2016.]
Thomas Jefferson, by Rembrandt Peale, 1805. And assorted books on my desk. [Photo by me, 2016.]
And I’m sure what I’m writing would irritate him.

I’m trying to portray Thomas Jefferson in Conventions not as some Mt. Rushmore secular American founding saint. Instead I want to catch him as he was increasingly perceived by my New Yorker young main character, his family, and many other Americans (especially in the northeast) of the 1790s. Bad enough that he was in their eyes apparently a “slippery” anti-George Washington politician (our 21st century has certainly not invented partisan politics), but he also continued to back the French Revolution to the hilt even as it descended into a paranoid murder-spree by late 1792 and some he had befriended while a U.S. diplomat there in the 1780s had been murdered:

Sneak Peek into  "Conventions." Click to expand.
Sneak Peek into “Conventions.” Click to expand.

In a sense, I’m asking of myself as a writer on behalf of those characters what they think of him given only what they know in their then present. Trying to separate oneself from everything we know about him that occurred afterwards, as well as much else we know about him that they then did not know, is not easy. And such naturally applies to everyone else portrayed, real or fictitious.

Getting a timely impression “right” in an historical novel is a creative challenge and an absolute necessity.

Hope you’re having a good day. ๐Ÿ™‚

2 thoughts on “Staying In The Past’s Present

  1. manfromatlan July 27, 2016 / 9:35 pm

    Yes, Jefferson is an interesting, if conflicted character. Support for the French Revolution but not the slave revolts of Virginia, Haiti and St. Domingue https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jeffworld.html I think he was influenced by his friendship for Lafayette. He did write “The Tree of Liberty, the blood of patriots and tyrants” after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • R. J. Nello July 28, 2016 / 6:37 am

      He is impossible to sum up in a sentence, or even a paragraph or two. His inconsistencies are legendary. His writings are all over the place – he has something for just about everyone in there somewhere. But his ability with a pen was second to none. After she died, he destroyed his personal correspondence with his wife of ten years, and later in life apparently lied to his entire (white) family about a certain intimate relationship with a woman who was possibly her half-sister. It goes on and on. He was so multi-sided, and fault-ridden, and, in the end, debt-ridden, but essentially human and optimistic about humanity and the future: I think that is the core of his appeal. In contrast, we think George Washington is a man of granite: that we can’t “relate” or “warm” to him in the same way, which is a shame because we could if we tried.

      Like

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