Feuding with Marie Antoinette – guest post

I examined a couple of Marie Antoinette’s most prominent feuds, and you can find the details – and determine if they were justified or not – over at Jenny Q’s wonderful blog, “Let Them Read Books.” Definitely check out her site – she has some exciting book giveaways running right now!

I met Jenny at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June, and even though she was extremely busy helping to make sure it was the best conference ever (and it was), she found time to chat with me and is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I’m so excited to have a guest post with her today.

Speaking of posts elsewhere on the internet, I also have an interview with Carrie Pestritto, and an essay about my inspiration behind The Wardrobe Mistress over on Women Writers, Women’s Books.

Available at:

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In Which My Book Becomes Completely Real

Today is publication day for my novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, the story of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution.

I feel a bit dream-like, my thoughts blurred around the edges. It’s almost hard to believe that a story I wrote is actually sitting on shelves, available for readers to pick it up. It’s becoming a real thing – not just a bundle of paper, but something that someone might connect or react to. It made me think of a quote by Ursula K. Le Guin: “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

If that’s true, then the book has been gradually sparking to life for a while now, since publishing is a team effort and I’ve been lucky and grateful to have some early reviews and lovely quotes from other authors and very supportive friends. But today, the book is out there for everyone, and it makes it different, more vibrant. It’s a live thing. It’s not just mine anymore. And I can hardly describe how exciting that is. Happy Book Birthday, The Wardrobe Mistress!

 

Available at:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

The Myth of ‘Let Them Eat Cake’

For many people, the first thing that jumps to mind upon hearing Marie Antoinette’s name is the phrase ‘Let them eat cake.’ This quotation is frequently ascribed to France’s doomed queen, given as her careless response to the famine affecting the people as the revolution began.

‘Let them eat cake’ is evidently a catchy phrase, because it’s been recorded in use multiple times, dating back to sometime earlier than 1737. It was first ascribed to a Spanish princess, Marie Thérèse, who was the wife of French king Louis XIV, who reigned several decades prior to the French revolution. Marie Thérèse’s apparent use of the phrase was slightly different, being more in reference to crusts of bread left in the pan.

In 1751, four years before Marie Antoinette was even born, the phrase was again attributed Madame Sophie of France and other times, to Madame Victoire of France. Sophie and Victoire were both great aunts of Marie Antoinette’s husband, Louis XVI, and high-ranking within the royal family.

But the most telling proof of its origin prior to Marie Antoinette’s reign as queen is that it can be found in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, which was a popular work during the queen’s lifetime. Completed in 1769 but not published until about twenty years later, the work contains the line, “At length I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being informed that the country people had no bread, replied, “Then let them eat cake!”’ Sometimes it is translated as pastry, but the sentiment remains the same – an utterly naïve royal lady betrays a lack of comprehension and sympathy by making such a frivolous remark.

It must have been particularly frustrating for Marie Antoinette to hear slander that attributed the quotation to her. After all, she would have been familiar with Rousseau’s work since it was very popular at the time, and one of her closest ladies in waiting, Madame Campan, often read aloud to her. I had some fun writing this scene in The Wardrobe Mistress.

It’s often thought that the cake of the quotation refers to brioche, a rich type of bread, which could account for the alternate translation to pastry. The texture of brioche is a cross between pastry and bread, with an even crumb and a dairy-sweet flavour – due to the high butter content. The richest brioche (which the upper classes would have eaten) can contain up to 80% butter! It’s best baked in a metal tin, to create a delicate, hairline thin crust. Less decadent brioche is closer to 20% butter, and ranges in the middle can be baked as well.

It’s especially delicious with strawberry jam, as I can personally attest.

Since Marie Antoinette undoubtedly would have eaten brioche sometimes, even if she never suggested it as an alternative to plain bread for the peasants, I wanted to try baking it. My mom and I made it together, so now I can not only recommend brioche as tasty, if rich, but it was also a fun activity to do together. I couldn’t help but think of Marie Antoinette while I ate it, enjoying the connection to history.



The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, is available now.

Buy links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

 

Everything I Learned about Marie Antoinette’s Perfume

In my research for The Wardrobe Mistress, I learned a lot about the intimate details of Marie Antoinette’s life, from clothing to perfume. For instance, I discovered she changed her outfit several times a day for various court functions, and she kept a book full of fabric swatches from which she’d select which garments she wanted to wear each day by putting pins in the appropriate swatches. In my novel, all the undertirewomen dream of getting to look through the book, stroking the soft chiné fabrics, and I wished I could do that too. I also loved imagining the fragrance of flowers pervading the Queen’s chambers, which were often so heaped with fresh flowers that a person could be scented just by spending time in the room.

Flowers were one of Marie Antoinette’s most consistent interests, a passion which combined her love for the pastoral luxury of her favourite retreat, Petit Trianon, and her enjoyment of perfume. She had her own perfumer, an innovative expert named Jean-Louis Fargeon. Upon Marie Antoinette’s request, he created a signature scent for her called Parfum du Trianon, meant to capture the fresh scent of the location so that she could carry its essence with her wherever she went.

The picturesque mill in the queen’s hamlet of Petit Trianon (Photo credit By Starus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15697249)

In general, Marie Antoinette loved concentrated perfumes, especially those with hints of rose, violet, jasmine, and jonquil. For her baths, she preferred more herbal scents as well as amber and bergamot. Unsurprisingly, her baths were also examples of queenly luxury, since the water was lightly scented and Fargeon also created sachets filled with blanched sweet almonds, bran (for exfoliation) and perfumed for her to use.

Sachets for use outside of the bath were also popular, usually made of taffeta or silk, and filled with a pot-pourri of aromatic plants. The Queen liked to present these sachets to her friends as gifts. Since she also took care to ensure the scent matched the personality of the recipient, they would have been quite a prestigious present to receive. For the liquid perfumes, Marie Antoinette kept them in a special cabinet full of gleaming coloured glass bottles with silver stoppers. She loved her perfumes so much that she placed an unusually large order with Fargeon before she and Louis XVI undertook their attempted flight to escape the Revolution (and we caught in Varennes). She also tried to pack most of them, in spite of having limited space for belongings. 

Marie Antoinette also liked to wear gloves in shades of white or pearl grey, and they weren’t only decorative accessories for one of her elegant gowns. Fargeon was skilled in the traditional Montpellier specialty of making perfumed gloves with flowers, and he also took pride in treating the gloves so they had restorative qualities for the skin. One of his pairs of riding gloves would soothe the Queen’s hands while she dashed through the countryside on a graceful horse. The gloves were perfumed with simple flowers such as hyacinths, violets, red carnations, and jonquilles á la reine, which had to be picked an hour after dawn or before dusk for the purest scent. Marie Antoinette typically ordered about eighteen pairs of these gloves per month, which would seem to suggest she likely only wore them once.

At the height of the revolution, when the royal family were imprisoned in the Tower, Fargeon sent a phial of parfum du Trianon to Marie Antoinette to comfort her. She also used his eau de vie de lavande to soothe her anxiety. Of course, Fargeon was not paid for these items, since Marie Antoinette didn’t have funds at her disposal in prison and the guards had no interest in paying him on her behalf. It was a kindness that must have provided some small consolation in her final days. 

For anyone interested in more details of historic perfume, and Fargeon’s methods in particular, I highly recommend A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer by Elisabeth de Feydeau.

 

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, is available now.

Order links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

Publication Day Approaches!

It feels like I’ve been talking about and excitedly anticipating the publication date for The Wardrobe Mistress forever. And it has been a year! But now the big day is actually within reach, and I will freely admit that I’m pretty much bouncing off the walls with exhilaration. I received my first copy in the mail and I can hardly describe the thrill of holding a real copy of a book I wrote! A bit surreal, but wonderful.

To share my excitement, I’ll be updating my blog more often in the next couple of weeks, counting down to pub day with lots of interesting facts about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. A few of them are guest posts elsewhere, so I’ll post the links on my own page as well.

Of course, I’ve written about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution a few times here before, including her beloved dogs, that time she made a really bad decision, how researching her gave me luxurious tastes in hot chocolate, everything I learned about the guillotine, and how loyalty became a theme in The Wardrobe Mistress.

I’m also sharing pictures of historical fashion items, similar to what the characters might have worn, on my Instagram page.

Last thing, the prequel short story The Diamond Deception is still available as a freebie for newsletter subscribers. A copy gets emailed as part of the confirmation of sign up. I’ll close off this post with a snippet from the story.


The queen of France tosses the sheaf of papers aside, paying no attention as one of the pages drifts to the floor like a crisp autumn leaf.

“Henriette, you’ve made excellent time. I didn’t expect you to arrive until this evening.”

“With good roads and a fast coach, the road from Crespy is not so long.”

When she smiles, happiness sparking in her blue-grey eyes, I feel my own mouth curling in response. Her charm can be irresistible, and I’m glad she summoned me back from the country estate. The last few days especially, I’d felt quite ready to return to court and my position as the first lady-in-waiting to the queen. Since she’s currently at her beloved retreat of Petit Trianon, the pastoral village within the grounds of Versailles, instead of the grand palace itself, I can ease back into the structure of court life.

“And Monsieur Campan and the family are well?” Marie Antoinette rises from her seat on the sofa. The toes of her violet shoes peek out from under the white muslin fall of her skirt as she approaches.

“Yes, thank you. My in-laws are preparing for the grape harvest.” It’s kind of her to ask, especially since she always remembers names and details. The queen meets so many people that I’m proud she remembers my family. I suppose after the fifteen years I’ve spent at her side, serving as one of her femmes de chambre, she must feel almost as if she knows them.

As we chat, one of the queen’s other attendants quietly retrieves the scattered piece of paper, stacking it back into the pile.

“I was just rehearsing,” the queen says. “I think I wrote you that I’m to play Rosine? Le Barbier de Seville is quite an amusing play.” She reaches for the script, casting a brief smile to the helpful lady who straightened the papers. “I’d like to rehearse now, if that suits you. No one else reads as well as you, Henriette.”

“Of course, let’s begin.” Although it’s customary between us that I often read aloud to her, while she’s sewing or in the bath, the praise still settles over me like a beam of sunshine. I’m glad to see she is in good spirits; I’d wondered a little about that strange visit from Monsieur Boehmer, while I was away, but the issue must have been resolved.

“Leave us, please.” She dismisses the other ladies, fanning the script in the direction of the sideboard. “We had tea earlier. I think there’s some left, or lemonade, if you’re thirsty.”

I cross to the sideboard, relaxing under the more casual atmosphere of Petit Trianon. We’d rarely sit at such ease at Versailles, where there’s always an audience or a person wanting an appointment. I pour for myself, and also for her since I’m fairly certain she’ll want to moisten her throat after reading Rosine’s lines for an hour.

She takes the cup with a graceful dip of her head, sweeping her skirt aside to sit back on the sofa. There’s a rose leaf caught in the ribbon of the pale blue sash tied around her waist, and though I’m sure she’s unaware, it fits with the rustic, carefree charm of Petit Trianon. Marie Antoinette is always happier here, briefly escaping from the rigorous ceremony of daily life at Versailles. She can truly be herself here, enjoying flowers and fresh air and harmless amusements like plays.

As we rehearse, and I read for the other characters, the queen finds more strength in her delivery of Rosine’s lines. After an hour, she smooths the script pages against her lap, and sits back with a pleased smile.

“I think that will do. The performance is tomorrow. Just friends, of course, both acting and as audience members. I do enjoy these amusements at Petit Trianon.” Her smile fades, and after she finishes her lemonade, she clears her throat. “Henriette, I must ask you why you sent that dreadful jeweler, Boehmer, to me. He called unexpectedly, giving your name, but I would not see him. I have nothing to say to him.”

Dread clutches at me.  I certainly had not sent Monsieur Boehmer to Her Majesty. In fact, I’d told him the opposite.

 

 

The Diamond Deception – a free short story

My debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, comes out in less than a month! Set during the French Revolution, it’s the tale of Giselle, an aspiring dressmaker who works in  Marie Antoinette’s household. When she’s asked to spy on the queen, she jumps at the chance, but as she becomes torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolutionary cause, she risks losing everything…maybe even her head.

To share my excitement, I’ve got a free short story for you. Called The Diamond Deception, it’s a prequel to The Wardrobe Mistress by about three years, and centers on the ‘Diamond Necklace Affair‘, a real event in history where a diamond necklace was stolen under the pretense that Marie Antoinette was buying it in secret. Though the queen was an innocent victim in this crime, it still damaged her reputation.

How do you get your hands on this short story? Just sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll receive a confirmation email with a downloadable pdf of the story.

My newsletter goes out a few times a year and contains book news, snippets of what I’m currently writing (that I don’t share anywhere else), book recommendations, and related historical items of interest.

Already subscribed? Don’t worry, I’ll be sending The Diamond Deception out to existing subscribers as well.

 

Stay tuned next week for an amazing new Book Addiction, and in the weeks leading up to August 15th, the publication date of The Wardrobe Mistress, I’ll be sharing lots of Marie Antoinette themed posts. Ever wondered if she really said ‘let them eat cake?’ I’ve got that answer for you, and plenty more, too.

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, publishes on August 15th with St. Martin’s Griffin.

Pre-order links:
Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

 

Book Addiction: Becoming Bonnie

My latest book addiction is Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh. I devoured this riveting novel in less than two days because I couldn’t bear to put it down. Evocative and honest, Jenni L. Walsh’s prose will immerse readers in the darkness and glamour of the 1920s, through the desperation of the Great Depression and the sultry jazz rhythms of Doc’s, the speakeasy where Bonnie Parker works. Going by Bonnelyn, she’s a wholesome, intelligent girl with big dreams. But as the Great Depression and strictures of prohibition show their teeth, she’s able to adapt to the pepper of gunfire. Bonnelyn is a likable, relatable narrator, and I felt like I knew her. And when she meets Clyde Barrow, his self-assurance and loyalty won me over, too. Thank goodness there’s an upcoming sequel, because I need more of these characters. Plus, it’s been optioned for a TV show!

One of my favourite aspects of the book is Bonnie and Clyde’s shared musical interest. They even write a song together, an adventurous, true-to-character ballad that I wish I could hear for real. I also enjoyed the relationship between Bonnelyn and Blanche, her sharp-tongued but pure-hearted best friend.

This is an extra special blog post, because Jenni kindly agreed to an interview. Welcome, Jenni!

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Interestingly enough, Becoming Bonnie isn’t the story I first sought to tell. Driven by my desire to write the story of that iconic figure, I first began writing my own version of Bonnie and Clyde’s 1930s crime spree. I quickly put on the brakes, realizing my first challenge: I needed readers to understand who Bonnie really was at her core. What made her tick? What was her background? What were her aspirations, at the beginning and the end? Why was she so loyal to Clyde Barrow? So I put what I’d written aside, hoping to one day use it in a sequel, and started over, going back five years to tell Bonnie Parker’s origin story, which also allowed me to drop Bonnie into a 1920s speakeasy in the middle of a foxtrot. Now that was a good time (and a pleasant surprise!).

What was your favourite scene to write?

As Meghan mentioned, Bonnie and Clyde pen a song together in Becoming Bonnie. It was such a fun element of the story to write, so I’d like to share a snippet of the scene where Clyde reveals their first verse.


Clyde settles himself on the couch, then the instrument on his knee. He pats the spot beside him, pauses with his fingers ready to strum. I sit and fold my hands in my lap, watching as he clears his throat, swallows, clears his throat again. Clyde’s head tilts down, and he looks up at me from under his lashes.

“I started this here song a while ago, but she ain’t done,” he says. “Was hoping you’d help me finish her.”

“Me?”

His fingertips slide down the strings once, letting the soft sound vibrate ’round us. “You’ll see.”

He goes back for more, a dark melody forming with each stroke, and moistens his lips. Clyde says, more than sings, “Death is a five-letter word, with a five-finger clutch.”

His head stays down, his jaw relaxed, eyes closed. “It cornered him, pitting him against the bigger man . . . By the throat, edging closer, nearing Death’s final touch.”

The rhythm quickens, the beat an unexpected surprise.

Then there she was, light in the dark, defying Death’s plan . . . She stared it down, held on tight, fired off a shot all her own . . . Ohh”—he draws out the word, as if taunting Death—“Oh, oh, oh, death for the boy has been postponed.”

Clyde’s fingers shift to a higher pitch on the guitar. He smirks and sings from the corner of his mouth, “’Cause lean closer, listen close . . . How the story ends, no one knows . . . But one thing’s clear, you’ll see . . . Bonnie and Clyde, meant to be, alive and free.”

That last line, that last note hangs between us.

I forget how to breathe.

“That’s all I got for now,” Clyde says softly. “Thought maybe we could do the next verse together.”

“Together?” I wring my hands, staring into the eyes of Clyde Barrow, the criminal, the charmer, the . . . boy who wrote me a doggone song to show me how he cares.

“Yeah, Bonnie. You and me. What do you say?”

© 2017 Jenni L. Walsh


This plot element became doubly fun when a friend put the last line of the chorus into sheet music for me!

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

My process is slow. Real slow. I’m one of those authors who has to get a line/paragraph just right before I move on. Then, I’ll often go back to add in new details that’ll support the new scene I’m working on. It takes me forever to complete a first draft. The upside is that my first draft is usually pretty clean and ready for a second set of eyes. As far as when I write, I got to wait for the a’ok from my bosses (my 1-year-old and three-year-old). My oldest gives me the stink eye when she sees my laptop out, so I generally only write during naptimes and at night, unless my husband is distracting them on the weekends.

How can we stay updated on your book news?

I have a newsletter (and a firm no-spam rule)! I also have three books, one of which is the sequel to Becoming Bonnie, coming in 2018 that I’d love to tell you about, if ya want to sign up here. You can also catch me on Twitter and Facebook, along with my website.

From the book jacket:

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

 

Author Biography

​Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia’s countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni’s passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet.

For the mamas, Becoming Bonnie is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. The sequel Being Bonnie will be released in the summer of 2018.

For the kiddos, the Brave Like Me series is her middle grade debut that features true stories from heroic women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.

 

 


Okay, now everyone go check out this book so we can talk about it!

How cool are these mugs?!