Tag Archives: history

trust

DSC_0132I love it when a historian echoes one of my hunches. I read a lot of history: biographies, memoir, overviews, always have since I was a girl and became intrigued with the Plantagenets and Elizabeth I. I think I’m looking for tone, the shading I’ll paint under the story I write. I really don’t know; I just absorb and let the vapor appear filtered through whatever it is that makes up me.

So, I’ve read dozens of biographies about Louis XIV, and only this one—by a woman—and just read this week said what my gut told me as I wrote a piece of Louis’s personal story in Before Versailles. “The young King, entranced by the sincerity and intensity of Louise’s feelings towards him, loved her as he had never loved before, and was never to love again.” (Therese Louis Latour 1924) As I read other biographies, in which Louise de la Valliere is a footnote, glanced at and abandoned by the writers, I always felt there was a unique tenderness in the love affair. And that’s what I wrote.

DSC_0132It’s nice to have my hunch validated, even if the writer isn’t current or well known. I think much of what I do has to do with subtlety. And I must trust subtlety.

Grace notes: Saw a dove sitting in her nest in one of my trees. Nests used to mean much to me; they were a symbol of my own task in this younger life I was living.

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baby, baby Edith

(Spoiler Alert: This is about last season of Downton Abby.)

TBP_9950Thinking of Edith’s plot line in Downton Abbey. How does one convey the shame an unmarried pregnant woman carried for centuries?

Centuries. Shame. No mercy. Kicked to the curb. Outcast. Pariah.

Downton got close to it in earlier seasons when we followed the housemaid seduced by the convalescing soldier who died. His parents would take the baby, without her. She said no. But historical catch 22. Who is going to hire a housemaid without references? And baby meant no references. She ended up in prostitution. And then she gave the parents the baby. The parting scene between her and the baby conveyed a bright, sharp, real sliver of historical pain to viewers.

Edith’s plight was shortchanged. She had relatives and money to help her, but she still had to hide. I needed to see her give birth, nurse (as is implied in the plot), and walk away from the little being she loved. I needed to feel the historic mercilessness of unmarried pregnancy no matter what your circumstances. I can still remember the girls who got pregnant in my high school, how we whispered about them. How we had no absolutely no mercy for them.

roseThere are centuries of pain in women’s history. Of being used: raped and incested and/or punished for giving in to sensuality.

Immense and implacable.

That describes the historical fate of an unmarried pregnant woman. Right now, right here in river city, we have the story of a 16-year-old who put her newborn in a dumpster. I feel anguish. It’s better than it used to be, but it’s still bad….thank God we can vote, have birth control, and are allowed to make money. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of the times and our bodies, and the times are only a little more civilized about pregnant unmarried women than they used to be. Only a little bit.

legacies

“Caustic and eccentric, proud of having nothing to live on but his pension after having once been rich, he possessed courage, effrontery, intelligence, contempt for death, and thirst for life.”

The words stopped me. I had to reread them. What a way to be described. Sharp-tongued, not one of the herd, able to let riches go. Courage I understand. Effrontery (shameless boldness) I’d like to emulate. Contempt for death is grander than what I possess. Thirst for life. Primal. Basic. That I would like to have. And who’s being painted thusly? One Marquis de Galliffet, Prince de Martigues, nearly 70, in Barbara Tuchman‘s The Proud Tower. Tuchman, a fine historian, is writing of the political world before World War I…. when the danger of more and more sophisticated weapons and the threat that war between two nations could drag in all the rest were gradually forming on a horizon no one wanted to see.

How will I be described, I wonder? How will you? What legacies am I leaving? Are there only political ones? Surely not. Surely we small ones count for something other than cannon fodder.

A photo of his shining

bar

Where were you when Barack Obama became the next president of the United States? The emotion of the election Tuesday night will remain in my memory, just as I remember where I was when John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy were killed. The wound around the assassinations of my girlhood and young womanhood has been somehow opened for cleansing with this man from Illinois’s election. I’ve been crying on and off since Tuesday, when I see a photo of his shining smile, or read again one of his potent quotes, or see photos or videos of people’s happiness and amazement. Idealism again? Possibility again? Devotion to the higher ground again? John McCain’s concession speech was eloquent, truly gracious and even better, truly patriotic. In that moment I loved him, and when he called Obama “my president,” I started crying all over again and thought, you are indeed, at your best, a grand old man, all that is best in the word: warrior. Historical novels are built off the emotion and memories of moments like this past week.

I want to mention two lovely and deep memoirs out there, one by my agent Jean Naggar, called Sipping From the Nile. Jean writes of her life in a closely knit banking family in Egypt, their exile because of politics, and the remaking of a life in Europe and New York. The other memoir is by a spiritual mentor, Dunya Dianne MePherson. Called Skin of Glass, it is the story of her interior and exterior journey from gifted performer to Sufi mystic and gifted performer.