Things I Learned While Writing About the French Revolution

The French Revolution is an extremely complex part of history, and I found it rather daunting to write a novel set during this time period. I needed to do a lot of research, and in some ways, the fact that there are plenty of sources available made it almost more difficult to sort out which ones were reliable. Sometimes I still don’t think I have a proper understanding of it all, but I believe I covered the parts I needed to in my manuscript. Luckily, the characters living in this tempestuous time period didn’t have the ability to reflect on the revolution as a whole, the way we can now, so that helped me concentrate on the story and how I imagined my characters would have dealt with various events. I learned many interesting facts during my research, and I thought I would share some of them here, along with my reactions. Some facts are serious, others not so much. This list goes in vaguely decreasing order of significance.

 

The guillotine was not a fixed entity, and moved around sometimes for special executions, like Louis XVI’s, when it moved from the Place du Carrousel to the Place de la Revolution. How weird would it be to just be out running errands, walking to the bakery and hoping bread doesn’t cost as much as a house today, and looking up to see the guillotine being wheeled down the street…

The infamous ‘Let them eat cake’ quotation often attributed to Marie Antoinette is actually from Roussesau’s Confessions, which was written several years before Marie Antoinette supposedly said it. I expect she found this particularly infuriating, and can’t blame her.

Marie Antoinette, in one of her many gorgeous gowns.

Marie Antoinette, in one of her many gorgeous gowns.

The numerous government changes were hard to keep track of, even for people of the time. It started as The Estates General, became The National Assembly, then the Constituent National Assembly, then the Legislative Assembly, then The Convention, all within a time spanning 1789 to 1795. Sometimes I have nightmares that I mixed them up in my manuscript, and then I remember I can still edit. It’s calming, until it also reminds me that there is no way I am done editing at all.

France had about 27 million people in 1788, most of which were Third Estate. This is a larger number than I expected, and given how little representation they had, and what a small portion of the wealth, it takes away some of the surprise that a revolution even happened.

People collected stones from the ruined Bastille and used them in interesting ways, including as necklaces and even as elaborate hairpieces. These are sometimes incongruously mixed wealth with a revolutionary symbol. My two favourite recorded relics are a locket set with a Bastille stone, but also incongruously decorated with tiny diamonds that spelled out the word Liberté, and a tall headdress featuring white satin towers, meant to represent the Bastille.

Marie Antoinette had a book filled with swatches of cloth, and she would select which outfits she wanted to wear by pushing pins into the chosen samples. This really struck a chord with me, because it’s a reminder of how all of our clothes nowadays are ready-made. To have a cloth sample, you’d likely have to cut off part of a hem, and that would ruin the garment. Of course, even now, very few of us have a wardrobe budget to even rival Marie Antoinette’s. She regularly exceeded her clothing allowance.

Approximately 50% of the men are named Louis. It makes research very confusing.

I cannot type courtyard. (It’s always ‘couryard’). I surprised and disappointed myself by how often this happened. A quick search tells me the word came up 15 times in the manuscript, and I bet I typed it wrong every single time.

The abbreviation of my book’s title, Lady of the Revolution, is the same as Lord of the Rings. It makes me laugh every time I mention to my agent that I’m working on LOTR revisions.

 

It’s been a long time since I updated my blog, but hopefully I have provided some entertaining facts for you to dazzle others with at your next party and therefore become a fascinating person.

buzz killington

I know, these facts will probably win you this award instead. Unless you have awesome friends who know that history is actually cool.

It really has been busy, although it’s not much of an excuse for neglecting the blog. I’ve been working on LOTR revisions (ha), and I ended up revisiting Firelock again to look at some potential revisions. I’m also trying to figure out how my next project will go, and in the middle of all this, I am also an aunt again, which is quite exciting. Oh, and I went on vacation last month too. But now I have to get back to work!

 

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