Who “Are” They?

I suspect I may have either exhausted you, or frightened the heck out of you, or both, with the previous post. It was definitely heavy reading. So now to a more normal post – as if anything any writer posts may be called, err, “normal,” that is. LOL!

[From Twitter.]

Uh, no; although I have found “Cora Munro” (The Last of the Mohicans) and “Natasha Rostova” (War and Peace), rather intriguing. That said, real women in history have a major impact on my writing – in fictionalization. For that is the nature of writing fiction: I believe all fictionalization is invariably sourced – even subconsciously – from real people a writer has, in some way, shape, or form, bumped into somewhere in life.

[Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Napoleon. (1975) Photo by me, 2020.]

Above is a volume from a famous and massive “survey” of history – this one covering mostly Europe, 1790-1820. As its title indicates, history is full of men who grab the headlines. Yet women are of course inseparable from history, and in that (and other books of theirs) to their credit the Durants paid lots of attention to non-military, non-“great man” history, too, including women’s contributions.

That tweet, and my reaction to it, led me reflect on some real women who have made impressions on me and thus in varying ways have made their ways into my historical and fictional writings.

One: Mary Wollstonecraft (1755-1797):

[John Opie, c.1797, Mary Wollstonecraft. Public Domain.]

She is nowhere near a basis for all of “Carolina Beckington.” However, Wollstonecraft’s real-life troubles in France – especially her near-imprisonment as a British woman and involvement with an American man during the French Revolution’s terror of 1793-94 – served for me as something of an “inspiration” for “Carolina” at least in that sense:

[A 1792 France excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. On Kindle for iPhone and iPad. Copyright 2017. Click to expand.]

Then there was French artist Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842), here in a famous self-portrait from when she was age 26 or 27:

[Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842): “Self-portrait in a Straw Hat” (c. 1782). Public Domain.]

She painted so many self-portraits, one has to believe if she were with us today, she would be a “selfie queen” on Instagram!

All kidding aside, Madame Le Brun’s long life certainly merited an autobiography. In hers that she wrote in 1835 (at age 80), and which was not long afterward translated from the French, she recalls, for instance, Lady Hamilton, British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s longtime (extramarital) love, visiting her in 1802. She had met Lady Hamilton before (even painted her in 1792, when they were both in Rome at the same time), and her opinion of the lady’s behavior at that 1802 meeting is no holds barred:

When I went to London in 1802 Lady Hamilton had just lost her husband. I left a card for her, and she soon came to see me, wearing deep mourning, with a dense black veil surrounding her, and she had had her splendid hair cut off to follow the new “Titus” fashion. I found this Andromache enormous, for she had become terribly fat. She said that she was very much to be pitied, that in her husband she had lost a friend and a father, and that she would never be consoled. I confess that her grief made little impression upon me, since it seemed to me that she was playing a part. I was evidently not mistaken, because a few minutes later, having noticed some music lying on my piano, she took up a lively tune and began to sing it.

As an aside, Madame Le Brun’s recollection there from three decades’ looking back is also apparently a bit faulty; or the year 1802 (there was then briefly peace between Britain and France which allowed travel) is somehow incorrectly recalled. Because for ALL of 1802 Sir William Hamilton was very much alive; he died April 6, 1803. Perhaps Le Brun had indeed seen Lady Hamilton immediately after his death, which is why she remembered in her memoirs above Lady Hamilton dressed in mourning and talking about her husband as deceased, but just got the year incorrect.

Any possible calendar confusion there notwithstanding, Le Brun’s writing throughout her autobiography is often engrossing. Appealing about her is not only her self-portraits and portraits (including numerous ones of Marie-Antoinette) that immortalized many women of her time. She is also a compelling example of a “no nonsense” woman of the (1770-1820) era.

“Marie-Therese Durand” is similarly based on no single woman either. The fictional Frenchwoman is – like “Carolina” – a blend of certain women of that (1770-1820) era, as well as several modern ones. Madame Le Brun is one “source” for her:

[A 1787 France excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace. On Kindle for iPhone and iPad. Copyright 2019. Click to expand.]

Others, such as Polish “Aneta (Annette) Kłosowska” and half-Spanish/half-South American “Ana Sánchez,” are similarly fictionalized based on examples and inspirations from the 1700s… as well as from our present day.

Lastly here, this German princess (whose future niece would be Queen Victoria): Juliane Henriette Ulrike of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. At age 14 in 1796, she was married to the 16 year old Russian Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich. The teen Juliane was painted below by Vigée Le Brun around the same year:

[Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842). Portrait of Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1795-1796). Wikipedia. Public Domain.]

She became Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna. However, the marriage was a disaster: he was violent and jealous, and also sexually uninterested in her. Wikipedia says:

…the young grand duchess began to grow up and became more and more attractive to the Russian court, who nicknamed her the “Rising Star”. This made Konstantin extremely jealous, even of his own brother Alexander. He forbade Anna to leave her room, and when she had the opportunity to come out, Konstantin took her away.

In 1799, ill, she went back to Germany for treatment, and tried not to return to him in Russia. However, her family forced her to go back. In 1801, again she was ill; and this time her mother jouneyed to Russia after hearing that she had died. She left Russia again with Konstantin’s (and Czar Alexander I’s) consent, but this time she refused to return – and refused his requests that she do so – and never did.

In 1808 and in 1812, determined to be a mother, she had two “illegitimate” children by two different men. In 1820, the Grand Duke had the marriage annulled. Juliane lived the rest of her life in Switzerland.

Juliane is something of an “inspiration” for a slightly older new character… in the current manuscript that will probably conclude my three novels of the late-1700s and early-1800s.

And so it goes on. Finishing here, I think now that for equality I have to in my next post explain “who” some of my fictional men “are.” Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂

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UPDATE, December 5: As promised above, the men are (click) here.