History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

24 June 2011

Are We Having Sex Yet? More on a Favorite Topic

So sorry to have missed Leslie's last post about writing sex. I've been away from the web for the most part, trying to get get a little ahead on my writing while prepare to head east, first to stop briefly at the Romance Writers of America National Conference in NY and then -- big smile -- to head down to Baltimore for my son's wedding.

But when I'm not being a proud, ecstatic Jewish mother of the groom and a kvelling recent grandma (there's a complicated contemporary story here, of course), I'm happy and proud to be called a "master (or mistress) of the powerfully erotic sex scene." Thanks, Leslie, and thanks too, since I missed the discussion, for giving me the topic for this post, which is a more extensive take on how I do it.

First and foremost by spending an inordinate amount of time and effort on it. Not so much searching for the right words for particular acts or body parts (though that's tricky, particularly in a historical setting), but much more often doing something like looking for the right two-syllable word for "put" or "grasp," or even "touch," let's say, as the rhythm of the sentence, the paragraph, the scene requires.

Because isn't what that's about? Somehow figuring a way to communicate, through those little black marks on the page, the strange experience of being beyond language, or perhaps of being close to the root of expression and communication? Somehow extracting a sense of all that, through a series of sounds and meanings -- and even pauses for breath -- in the reader's mind.

Somehow it's about the amazing business of expressing the shifting of characters' point of view through time and space -- and no, I don't worry about head-hopping in a sex scene, hell, for me that's the point: how to make clear verbal sense of what goes on as a lover perceives what she's feeling and what he's feeling at the same time -- what she knows when, what she wants to make happen next or perhaps is moved to do right now -- and what, sometimes, finally, she's just too far-gone and grateful and greedy to care about. So the reader can't ever forget there are two separate beings here being less separate than any other experience allows.

It's all about the contending and coalescing of separate selves -- take one set of perceptions and don't just double it, square it. And don't forget to vary your writerly focal length as you move through time, to help the reader follow the dance of many steps and possibly, if you're lucky (and my characters often are), a step you've never tried before, from as many points of view as it takes. You want it as devilishly, angelically surprising and multifaceted as sometimes it can be in life -- and yet in a clear sequence that the reader can take in (and at best, be in two skins besides her own).

To imagine, to feel, the complexity of human interaction and to make it verbally explicable. When you say it that way you realize that it's just writing, and that it takes everything that good writing takes. Which is to say it's hard.

But it's not hard in the way that I often hear romance authors talking about, as though they've done all that sacrificial labor in a kind of nunnish obeisance to The Story and at great cost to themselves. Oh, come on.

As my brilliant friend Susie Bright puts it in her highly recommended How to Write a Dirty Story, "a good sex scene is one that arouses its author." Which is maybe not exactly ladylike or professional to admit -- and which might bother some people to hear, that somebody actually got hot writing what you got hot reading. But I think it's how it works.

Leaving for the last the best, which kept me going for years before my erotic writer alter ego Molly Weatherfield or even Pam Rosenthal got published -- that erotic writing is, and should be, its own reward.

I'm curious, admit it, erotic writers out there -- is it good for you?


22 June 2011

Writing Sex : Passion ...? or Purple Prose?

So I have finally reached the point in the manuscript of my novel-in-progress where the heroine and her about-to-be-lover are going to consummate their star-crossed romance. It's 300 pages into the narrative (much else is going on, as it is based on historical events) and as I search for all the right words I also began to second-guess myself. Have the characters earned this? Have I shown them earning it in their previous scenes? And what about the words themselves? Am I being overly lyrical? Too overtly graphic for a historical setting? Are my sentences reading mawkish or maudlin? Am I feeling what my characters are feeling?

Some of the hoydens are masters (mistresses?) of the powerfully erotic sex scene (I'm talking to you, Pam and Isobel). Do you (and the other hoydens, and our visiting authors) ever struggle with the words, or do you find writing sex scenes one of the easier aspects of crafting your novels?

From a craft standpoint, do you have any rules you apply to your scenes (e.g., if they make you giggle when you read them aloud, you start rewriting?) Do you tend to go for the graphic, or employ euphemisms? Given the fact that there are a limited number of body parts and names for them, and unless your characters are well versed in the Kama Sutra, a fairly narrow repertoire of positions they'd be familiar with, how do you keep these scenes fresh, even when they are character-driven?

And to both authors and readers ... what makes a sex scene in a novel work for you?

17 June 2011

Jane Eyre the Movie: Again

Charlotte Bronte's, Jane Eyre is turned into yet another movie adapted from the 1847 novel---and for those of you who haven't seen it, oh, what a movie!

I've always been a fan of Jane Eyre. She is such a strong, independent heroine who respects herself and has pride in who she is though she lacks wealth, beauty, or social status. The latest film adaptation of the novel is true (almost) to the original plotline and feels so authentic it would move even those who would not ordinarily be drawn into period pieces. The director, Cary Fukunaga, brilliantly cast Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender as Rochester.

What an amazing pair. Mia Wasikowska looks at home in her corset and plain, business-like clothes but at the same time, exudes passion and moral character---there is a bright light behind those soulful eyes, a light that is impossible to overlook. Fassbender is effortlessly sexy---the perfect Mr. Rochester. One of the first conversations they have in the drawing room one night beside the fire (long before they actually fall in love) crackles with sensuality---I'm paraphrasing here, but he asks her what her "governess' tale of woe is, for every governess he's ever met must have one…" and she looks him straight in the eyes and declares she "does not have a tale of woe, she was raised in a house far grander than this one, and simply was sent to school because she was an orphan whose Aunt did not like her."

I could see the smile behind his stern look. And boy, how I wish I could write dialogue like that. Sharp, deep and with so few words!

Thornfield Hall is sufficiently spooky, but I wish we had seen more of it. I love castles and manors in any story. They are a character in the tale. I kind of grieve when we lose that house in the end.

Judi Dench is Mrs. Fairfax, and she is kinder to Jane than I remember from the reading the book. The rest of the characters were as rich as I had always imagined them.

In the end, Jane and Mr. Rochester of course, have an HEA (well, he is injured and disfigured for his heroic efforts)---but it's still a romance with an HEA. The only criticism I have of this film is that it ended without closure. It needed the last few chapters included in the book. Jane and Mr. Rochester are left in the film, just embracing. I wanted the last scene to be the one from the book where he regains his sight and sees his and Jane's newborn son (as happens in Ms. Bronte's original telling). But other than that, this is a must movie for historical romance fans!

Did you see this movie? What did you think?

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15 June 2011

Waterloo and Writing About War

Malcolm nodded and turned his horse. Men and horses littered the ground, wounded, dying, dead. Bullets sang through the air, shells exploded, cannon rumbled. Beneath his coat, his shirt was plastered to his skin. The smell of blood and powder, the screams of men and horses, the sight of gaping wounds and blown off limbs had become monotonous reality. He steered his horse round two dead dragoons sprawled over the body of a horse with the lower part of its face shot off.

That’s a quote from Imperial Scandal, which I’m currently in the midst of revising. Imperial Scandal begins in a world much like that of my recent book Vienna Waltz at a ball given by the British ambassador in Brussels with champagne and waltzes. But that glittering world teeters in the brink of war as the Allied army waits in Brussels for Napoleon to march from Paris. The glamorous world of the British ex-patriates in Brussels is shattered at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball with the confirmation that the French have crossed the frontier. Soldiers march off to fight in ball dress. The last part of Imperial Scandal moves back and forth between the battlefield, where the hero Malcolm is pressed into delivering messages for Wellington, and Brussels, where the heroine Suzanne is nursing the wounded and dealing with her own complicated loyalties.

In June 1815 he British, the Dutch-Belgians, and the Prussians were spread out along the border between Belgium (part of the Netherlands after Napoleon's downfall) and France, the British and their Dutch-Belgian allies to the west of the old Roman road from Bavay to Maastricht, the Prussians to the east. Eventually, when their Austrian allies were ready, they would advance into France to take on Napoleon, returned to power after his escape from Elba. But if Napoleon, as seemed likely, crossed the border first they would close in and trap him. Only of course it was a long border and there were any number of ways the master strategist Napoleon Bonaparte could move. Together, the Allies and the Prussians outnumbered the French. But if he could separate them, Napoleon would have the advantage.

Today, 15 June, is the 196th anniversary of the Duchess of Richmond's ball, at which rumors were already rife that the French had crossed the border. Earlier in the day, the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied British and Dutch-Belgian army, knew there had been attacks on Prussians outposts and the French had been seen to the south around Charleroi. But he suspected the attacks were a feint and the real attack would come from the west, to separate the Allies from the sea and their supply routes. He'd ordered the army ready to march, but he was waiting for confirmation of where the French attack was coming from. Wellington let the ball (given by his good friends the Duke and Duchess of Richmond) go forward because to have canceled it would have led to panic in the city and encouraged the many Bonapartists among the Dutch-Belgian citizens. Also, many of his officers would be there, and it was a good chance to speak with them.

At the ball, Wellington received confirmation that Napoleon had crossed into Belgium through Charleroi to the south to separate the British and Dutch-Belgians from their Prussian allies. He famously exclaimed "Napoleon has humbugged me by God!" He went into the Duke of Richmond's study to look at a map of Belgium and said he had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre-Bras, but they wouldn't stop him there. "In which case," Wellington is reported to have said, "I must fight him here," pressing his thumb down on the village of Waterloo.

The Allies fought the French, under Marshall Ney, at Quatre-Bras on 16 June. The results were inconclusive, but on 17 June the the Allies had to fall back north toward Brussels to keep close to the Prussians, who had been driven back by Marshall Grouchy. The retreat took place in torrential rain, thunder, and lightning. Wellington and the other senior commanders and their staffs spent the night of the 17th in quartered in the village of Waterloo. The battle took place the next day, 18 June, on a nearby stretch of ground between two ridges on which each army assembled.

In my first draft of Imperial Scandal I was preoccupied with getting down the logistics of the battle, weaving in the plot developments that needed to happen and getting my characters in the right place at the right time for the historical chronology. Not to mention making sure I had details of uniforms and weapons right. I was reasonably happy with how the battle sequence turned out in the preliminary version. But now I’m layering in more texture and emotion. And sheer horror. Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field, a relatively confined stretch of ground, was strewn with dead or dying men and horses. The 5th division was reduced from four thousand to little more than four hundred. General Cavalié Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery reported that "of the 200 fine horses with which we had entered the battle, upwards of 140 lay dead, dying, or severely wounded."

A couple of weeks ago I heard a clip on NPR of Kurt Vonnegut talking about how he wanted to write about war in a way that didn’t glamorize it. That really resonated for me with the scenes I’m currently working on. It’s a challenge to capture the bravery and acts of courage and yet not lose sight of the horror and insanity. Which also means not pulling back in describing the violence and brutality.

The battle of Waterloo has been dramatized brilliantly by a number of writers. Two of my favorite depictions, both brutal and heart-rending, are Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army and Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo. I’m only hoping I manage to not disgrace myself in comparison.

Which battle scenes in fiction do you find particularly effective? Writers, if you’ve written battle scenes, what are the particular challenges you faced?

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12 June 2011


There's been a bunch of talk about this first image on the Beau Monde loop this week (this is a yahoo group for Regency Romance writers). As the image doesn't appear to be available online, and I own Sex in Georgian England by A.D. Harvey, I thought I'd share it (sadly it's just a phone pic, as my scanner doesn't work with my new computer and I haven't got around to buying a new one).

Quality control at the condom warehouse, c.1744.

The man behind the table is a clergyman, who is apparently blessing the wares. The girl is blowing them up, looking for leaks.

Period condoms were made of sheep gut (intestine) and were sold in envelopes, inside boxes. They were dry, and had to be soaked in water before use (not exactly spontaneous) and they were not normally used to prevent pregnancy, but by men who didn't want to contract a disease from the whores they slept with.

The length of intestine was closed at one end with thread, and was held in place on the man's "yard" by a ribbon. They were expensive, and frequently were washed, dried, and reused (*shudder*).

Other tidbits: The English called them "French letters", but the French called them "English overcoats".

10 June 2011

Lady Godiva and Lady Gaga

A friend (bless him!) recently sent me a box of Godiva chocolates. After the first gooey, delicious bite, I got to thinking about the name Godiva and how interesting it is for a chocolatier to choose that name for his product! Which leads me to...

Lady Godiva. The historical Godiva, or Godgifu, was an 11th century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who pressured her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, into relieving the tax burden on his people. She nagged and nagged until he finally said, “If you will ride naked through the streets of Coventry, I will lift the taxes.” So she did, and he did, and thus the legend was born.

At least that’s the story. Roger of Wendover, writing at the end of the 12th century, credits Godiva with this feat, but modern scholars dispute it, pointing out that the story was highly romanticized by Tennyson in the Victorian era and the whole tale was probably an embroidered tale about a simple shopping trip to town.

But if Godgifu did ride naked through the town, what an outrageous act it was. Supposedly the town residents closed their shutters and didn’t peek (except for someone called Peeping Tom in the 17th century, who supposedly did peek and was blinded for his temerity).

At bottom, the story is a superb example of exhibitionism for a cause - oppressive taxation in that long-ago century. The act riveted attention on the rider, and the issue of taxation for centuries afterward, and to this day, we still talk about Lady Godiva’s famous ride and even name our chocolate candies after the lady. Which leads me to . . .

Consider the act of riding on horseback with only your long, thick hair hiding your nakedness. What a unique example of “performance art.” And what an attention-getting advertising gimmick! One could sell new CD releases or timeshares in Spain or even Wendy’s hamburgers by attracting the attention of viewers and entrancing them into doing whatever one asked.

Which leads me to . . .

Lady Gaga. Here is a woman who works hard to be eye-catching, to rivet attention on herself. (Surely we are deep in the Age of Narcissism?) Whether exhibitionism, performance art, or just plain craziness, what Lady Gaga wears, the world notices. Her audiences wait, breathless, for her next appearance sporting something weird and unforgettable. Millions of people watch her.

Which leads me to . . .

What if Lady Gaga promoted something worthwhile, like money for schools or peace in Afghanistan or help for Japan’s earthquake survivors or world-wide literacy? What an advertising goldmine! Goodness, it might even be the history-making stuff that legends are made of . . .

Which leads me to . . . another cappuccino truffle from the gold Godiva box on my desk.

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07 June 2011

A Foggy Day in High Summer

Yesterday I escaped from the summer heat and spent time with Johnny Depp. His celluloid double, that is. I saw Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides at the local cinema. Johnny Depp was, of course, delightful and the rest of the scenery was engaging.

To my fascination, the opening scenes were shot in London and I found myself trying to pick up small pointers for historical flavor. (Are there any lengths an author won’t go to justify playing hooky?) Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s character, made fools of the judicial system in a very interesting courtroom and dined with King George in a lavishly decorated palace. After that, he led a cavalry troop on a hair-raising chase through London’s streets, before finally dumping a wagonload of fiery coals across their feet to escape.

Coals? That many? In the late seventeeth or early eighteenth century? My historian’s nose pricked up. Just how common were coal-fired stoves close to the royal palace at that time? And come to think of it, I’ve often been fascinated by how many London-set movies have a generic grey sky. But Pirates 4 takes place earlier than London’s more notorious fogs in the Victorian and twentieth centuries. How smoggy were those urban skies in 1700?

Where could I find the answer? Emily Cockayne’s fabulous Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England, 1600-1700. Anyone who is remotely curious about the five senses in Elizabeth, Restoration and Georgian England should read this book. The chapters’ titles describe her topics: ugly, itchy, mouldy, noisy, grotty, busy, dirty, gloomy, and ‘such things as these…disturb human life.’

Ever wondered what the flower sellers sounded like? Or how the oyster sellers cried their wares? What Bath looked like before the big urban renewal, which made it such a fancy spa town? Or how did people take out all their various forms of trash? Emily Cockayne answers these questions with period engravings and wonderful prose, based on delving into the top diarists from the era and modern researchers.

Coal was a dirty fuel, originally used only as a last resort by the poorest. It created more smoke than timber and its waste stuck more readily to the sides of chimneys. Yet it was far cheaper and the price dropped twenty-fold from 1580-1680. The results were appalling, given how it spoiled books, furniture and painting. Foreign visitors described Westminster’s tapestries ‘so wretched and tarnished with smoke that neither gold nor silver, colours nor figures can be recognized.’

A wise housekeeper even put the kitchen far away from the main house, simply because of the coal smoke’s stench. King James I loathed tobacco smoking and compared it to a kitchen long before coal fires were widely popular, saying both were soiled and infected ‘with an unctuous and oylie kind of soot.’

Smog was definitely a seventeenth century problem. One goldsmith working in London’s Fleet Street engulfed all passers-by whenever he fired up his forge. Cities passed ordinances demanding that brick kilns be located far from the city center, since their choking fires smelled exactly like carrion. The prevailing west winds kept foul odors away from towns’ west ends and made these areas the most attractive.

But London’s air was always considered particularly blighted. In In 1676, Robert Hooke noted a mass of smoke more than twenty miles long and a half mile high over the city. Mid-morning gloom forced more than one traveler to write their letters by candlelight. Chemists sold special concoctions to reduce coughing in churches so the other congregants could hear the service.

The Pirates 4 movie makers clearly knew what they were doing when they gave Captain Jack Sparrow a wagon full of coal and cloaked him in cloudy skies.

What movies have you seen in the guise of historical research? Any surprising historical tidbits?

PS – If you have the chance to see Pirates 4, keep an eye out for the Society Lady.

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05 June 2011

Evidence and Speculation: Coming to You From the Plum Room

In my last post, I promised I'd tell you what the Plum Room is -- because I hadn't yet found out about it myself. All I knew that it was one of many in the house that's the subject of the book I was enjoying so much -- At Home: A Short History of Private Life, in which the popular historian Bill Bryson takes us on a virtual tour of the rooms and sundry recesses of his house in England, for an delightfully informative and thoroughly engaging ramble through the byways of (mostly) modern western history.

Bryson, by the way, is much more than "just" a popular historian: if you check out his Wikipedia entry, prepare to be gobsmacked by the breadth of his occupations and accomplishments.

In any event, so engaged and delighted was I by this most recent book of his (even if it did sting to have a hitherto unsuspected anachronism in my novel Almost a Gentleman exposed) that I rushed to blog about it in mid-tour. Breathless from a trek through the hall, kitchen, scullery and larder; electrified by the contents of the fuse box; entertained and diverted by the conversation in the drawing room (about period furniture, furniture design, and the best furniture wood that ever existed but which exists no longer) -- when you last saw me (in the dining room, fortified by what I'd just learned about the history of the vitamin), I was fairly rubbing my hands with glee that I still had "the cellar, the passage, the study, the garden, the plum room (??!!), the stairs, the bedroom, the bathroom, the dressing room, the nursery, and the attic" still to go.

Especially the plum room -- and comments on my blog post revealed that the name had which piqued other imaginations besides my own. But although the remainder of at Home did indeed constitute a gleeful journey -- and one that I still recommend to history hoydens everywhere -- sadly, the plum room didn't yield up as much juicy substance as we'd hoped.

"Plum" was simply what Bryson and his family called that room when they moved in, the walls being painted that color. The original architect had called it a drawing room; but soon after the place was built in 1851, the original owner -- a country rector, the Reverend Dr. Marsham -- made some changes. There are bookshelves; the plum room might have become a library; Bryson doesn't know. Nor does he know why Mr. Marsham, a young single gentleman of quite sizable income, chose to have the plum room adorned with all manner of wood and plaster moldings, popular in the earlier part of the Victorian era, a bit dowdy and provincial by the 1850s, but still a mark of of an intention to make this room somehow special.

"Nineteenth century pattern books," as Bryson tells us, "offered homeowners an almost infinite array of shapely, esoterically named notifs -- ovolos, ogees, quirks, crockets, scotias, cavettos, dentils, evolute spirals, even a 'Lesbian cymatium,' and at least two hundred more ways" to individualize a room's walls and ceiling. "Mr. Marsham chose liberally," Bryson continues, "opting for bubble-like beading around the doorcase, fluted columns at the windows, ribbony swags fluttering across the fireplace breast, and a stately show of repeating demi-hemispheres in a style known as egg-and-dart around the ceiling trim."

Why here? For what purpose? There never was a Mrs. Marsham, but might there have been a time when Mr. Marsham thought there was going to be? The rector was in his late twenties when he came into his living and built this substantial house. Perhaps there was a broken engagement. Or -- I've blogged elsewhere about the prevalence of illness (particuarly consumption) during this period -- perhaps there was a more fatal end for the high hopes that seem to have gone into designing this room. Bryson speculates delicately about Mr. Marsham's domestic life, or lack of one (all that's known for certain is that his housekeeper, Miss Elizabeth Worm, stayed with him for over fifty years -- and tantalizingly, that their bedrooms were in some proximity). While I have to admit that, in my capacity as writer of erotic romance, I've indulged in some rather less delicate speculations.

But the house, even in the plum room, doesn't yield up more than speculations.

Still, I find myself wondering about the story that might be hidden in the plum room or in the arrangement of bedrooms upstairs...

Do you?

(And do check out At Home).

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01 June 2011


I suppose I should introduce myself as well, as this is my maiden blog post for the History Hoydens ... I am the author of a historical fiction trilogy on the life of Marie Antoinette, to be published in trade paperback by Ballantine, beginning with the August 9 release of the first of the three novels, BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE.

(It will also be available on Kindle, Nook, Ipad, and even your iPhone!); and I had the wonderful experience of recording the unabridged audiobook version of the novel last month, flying out to Woodland Hills, CA, the home of Random House Audio, to do so. Although the events of the narrative are all based on heavily researched factual information, I knew my book was also character-driven and dialogue-heavy in some places -- but it really hit home when I began to record scenes involving multiple characters, both male and female, some of differing nationalities and realized I needed to voice them all and differentiate each one with cadences, intonations, and personalties (and occasionally accents) commensurate with the text. It wasn't just reading a book into a microphone; it became a week-long performance.

The palace of Schönbrunn on the outskirts of Vienna, Maria Antonia’s childhood home during the summer months

BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE opens on the day when Archduchess Maria Antonia, the youngest daughter of the formidable Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, learns that she is to be betrothed to Louis-Auguste, grandson of Louis XV and the dauphin of France, or heir to the French throne.

Louis, at the age of 20, by then Louis XVI

The narrative ends on the day of Louis XV's death, May 10, 1774.

From the Amazon product description:

This enthralling confection of a novel, the first in a new trilogy, follows the transformation of a coddled Austrian archduchess into the reckless, powerful, beautiful queen Marie Antoinette.

Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother’s political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.

I was so surprised to discover, as I read myriad biographies of Marie Antoinette, how little of her childhood is discussed. I will not enumerate any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that young Maria Antonia was no stranger to loss as a little girl. Not only that, at the instigation of her mother and at the prompting of Louis Quinze, who was not prepared to accept her as the future dauphine of France until she was deemed fully baked in every way (the first thing he inquired about her when the marriage was first proposed -- and Antoinia was only ten -- was whether she had good breasts!), the preadolescent archduchess was subjected to a full makeover of both mind and body. This included a radical change to her hairline to make her forehead appear less prominent and several months of orthodontia in a device known as Fauchard's Bandeaux.

As I researched the novel I became determined to find out the identities of everyone involved in Maria Antonia's transformation; you will meet all of them in the novel.

Her diction and elocution were improved by a pair of native French speakers; she was taught all the court dances performed at Versailles, as well as the unique step known as the Versailles Glide that all of the court ladies had perfected to make it appear as though they floated through the opulent halls and corridors. Moreover, for a girl who had never mastered the rudiments of either her native German tongue, nor her future French one, she was rigorously tutored in grammar and penmanship, French history, geography, and royal genealogy.

Although the archduchess Maria Antonia was quite the little hoyden as a child, and did not mend her ways for several years, even as dauphine of France, she did not go from heedless to headless, as many historians would have us believe. She was a passionate, and compassionate young lady who wore her large heart on her sleeve and who was taught the blessings of charity at an early age. Unfortunately, she was wed to a total stranger at the age of fourteen and entered the Bourbon court as an enemy, because Austria and France had been adversaries for nearly 950 years previously; and there were still many at Versailles who spoke against this Franco-Austrian alliance, even after the marriage vows were taken on May 16, 1770.

The palace of Versailles

Marie Antoinette's life was one long series of hurdles. Often she stumbled and fell, but more often than not she picked herself up, dusted herself off and glided ahead ... until the next hurdle hove into view. She detested convention and etiquette and in a court hidebound by the protocol devised by the Sun King, Louis XIV, this was anathema, so she soon made many more enemies. One of her fatal mistakes was that she didn't take them seriously.

What's your opinion of Marie Antoinette, and what has formed it? Biographies? Films? Something else?

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