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Five Letters

One of the biggest challenges of writing The General's Mistress and the other Age of Revolution books is integrating the actual documents and real lines with fictional ones. This wasn't an issue with the earlier books, because we have so few actual letters and usually do not know what people actually said, but in the 18th and 19th centuries we do! In The General's Mistress we are first introduced to Michel Ney, my former Hephaistion and Agrippa, through his letters. Parts of these letters are real and survived to be quoted in the 1820s, but the quotes do not make up the whole letter, and so the rest is written around the quotes, as are Elza's responses, which we do not have at all. It was a fascinating and challenging task!

The letters are interspersed with other action in the book, but all you need to know is that Michel is with the Army of the Rhine in Germany, and Elza is in Milan in the theater, where her role is bringing up memories she might rather forget.




17 Messidor, Year VIII

Dear Madame St. Elme,

I have had the Pleasure of Mail from Colonel Meynier, who is known to us both. He said that he had greeted you in Milan. I am happy to hear that you are well. He said that you were the very picture of Health. I am glad the climate of Italy agrees with you. He said that it did. I am pleased that you suffer no ill effects and that you are comfortable.

He suggests that I should write to you and renew our Acquaintance, distant as it may be. And that moreover I should tell you some Interesting Military Anecdotes that are Revealing of my Character. I am uncertain of the wisdom of this, but I bow to his Superior Understanding of Women.

We are currently in Munich, having won at the Field of Oberhausen on 9 Messidor, and marched into the City without further Resistance. The Bavarians, for their part, are not eager to support the Austrians, and do not seem Dismayed at the Change in their Fortune.

The enemy flies whenever we are near. We have taken more than 20,000 prisoners in these Late Months, and widespread desertion makes the Fearful Plight of the Austrians worse. Ulm, which had only a weak garrison, surrendered Without A Shot, to my satisfaction. I hope that Victory, which is with our arms everywhere, will soon end this Struggle and give us Peace. Then I shall hasten home to Enjoy Her Blessings.

Your Obedient Servant,
Michel Ney




My dear General Ney,

I can hardly express my pleasure upon receiving a letter from you! I did not think that you would remember me based upon our brief acquaintance. I am glad to know that you do.

The climate of Italy is very agreeable, and we are having considerable success with our plays. We are doing The Comical Romance, which is very light and pleasant, and also Antony and Cleopatra which is tragic but is much appreciated by our troops. Every performance is packed. I don’t imagine most of the men have ever been to a play like this before, but everyone seems to enjoy it. Is that not the truest form of Republicanism, to make available to everyone entertainment formerly reserved for the wealthy? I cannot think but that we are all better for it. And certainly the troupe is better for packed houses. I am playing Sebastienne in The Comical Romance, who is one of the young ladies courted and won in the last scene. Also the Handmaiden, in Cleopatra.

I hope that this letter finds you still at Munich and still safe. While I know little enough of military endeavors, I can still read between lines and tell that your peril has been grave. Pray be safe, and write to me again!

Ida St. Elme




11 Thermidor, Year VIII

Dear Madame St. Elme,

I am glad to know that your plays are doing well. I did not see any until I was in the army, but now I like them very much. I should like to see you as the Handmaiden in Cleopatra, though the idea disturbs me somewhat. It is such a sad play, I expect. I mean that the ending cannot be good. She must die by poison, if I remember. I should not think that I would enjoy watching you do that, even the counterfeit of it. But I suppose it would not be the same play were someone to provide an 11th hour rescue.

I hear that Peace has been proposed. In the meantime, we are Making Certain of our position. Which involves a great deal of running at Alarms and snapping back and forth like a dog on a chain, not venturing too far from Munich and yet charging at any Rumor of an Austrian advance.

My Peril as you put it is not so very great. There is that Austrian army of 100,000 warriors which was not only going to invade the Alsace Brabant and so on, but was going to change our political status entirely and end the Republic. There is that Army, I say, reduced to 40,000 runaways not daring to face Republican Phalanxes, which are in rags but are full of courage and sauce. They will make peace, of that I am sure.

Your servant,
Michel Ney




My dear General Ney,

I do not think she would thank you for an 11th hour rescue from her fate. Surely the only thing more tragical that the Handmaiden could endure would be to outlive her Mistress, knowing that she has been untrue and failed in her charge. How should you live, an outcast man, who had the misfortune to live when your world is gone? Pity the poor Handmaiden her death if you will, but do not wish it otherwise, I pray. She would rather your tears upon her faithful grave.

I have never yet been to Bavaria, so I do not well imagine your endeavors, your running back and forth. But I am pleased to hear that it is going well, and I thrill to imagine your feats of arms!

You have saved the Republic, you and men like you. We do not even reckon the worth as yet, for most of us are still sleeping and do not understand the liberties we should lose if you should fail. I know what I should lose. I have my own money in the bank. I should not keep it if the Republic fell, for before I could not have a bank account separate from my husband. I have my own lodgings. How should I live if I could no longer be party to contracts and I could not rent? I may travel freely, and live as I like, with liberty unknown to females of other states.

I am no longer sleeping, but awake, and the cause of liberty is dear to me. Know then, that you are a hero in my eyes for preserving that which is as necessary as breath to me.

Ida




7 Vendemiaire, Year VIII

Dear Ida,

I should rather live, for life is hope, and that which is lost may always be regained. If we fail in our charges, what can we do except strive for better, and by our atonement remedy our flaws?

I cannot imagine that you have ever been sleeping.

I have taken some trifling wound to the leg weeks ago, before the armistice. It was a close skirmish, and while there was not much they could do, and indeed some had begun to surrender, this bastard got me with the bayonet along the back of the knee just above the top of my boot. I was on horseback, and he on foot, so perhaps it was all he could reach. But it is nothing but a Nuisance. I limp about a bit and shall until the muscle heals.

I am on my way back to Paris, the peace having been signed. Perhaps you will be there?

Your servant,
Michel

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
selki
Oct. 30th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
And *when* is this being published?

I don't know that I've properly appreciated the liberties that came with the French Revolution -- most of what I know about it has to do with how it all went wrong. Thank you; I'm looking forward to reading about it through Ida's POV.
jo_graham
Oct. 30th, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC)
This is to be published next fall, though I don't yet know if there will be advance copies as there were for Hand of Isis.

I don't know that I've properly appreciated the liberties that came with the French Revolution -- most of what I know about it has to do with how it all went wrong. Thank you; I'm looking forward to reading about it through Ida's POV.

I think that's one thing we miss a lot in the US because most of the books we read on the subject are British, since the English language ones are most accessible. And certainly the Revolution went to the Terror, which was bad. But a lot of the ideas of the Revolution, and certainly the ones that Elza and Michel are fighting for in 1800, are things that we've embraced: women being able to own property and have their own bank accounts, women being able to sign contracts on their own, couples being able to get a civil divorce and women being able to sue for civil divorce, free public education including free public school for girls, women being able to marry without the consent of a male guardian, and lots of other things. There are a lot of reasons why Elza is willing to fight for this!
queen_bellatrix
Oct. 30th, 2011 10:55 pm (UTC)
There are so many things I love about this excerpt, particularly the deepening of their relationship.

However, there is one line that spoke to me especially: I should rather live, for life is hope, and that which is lost may always be regained.

With all the upheavals in American politics, and the dismal prospects for Barack Obama's reelection, and the rather terrifying, imho, prospects for who might be elected in his place, it struck me very powerfully, made me remember that it's always worth fighting, and that the battle isn't over until you win. And I'm sorry, that strayed more in to politics than is usual for me *grin*
jo_graham
Oct. 31st, 2011 11:32 am (UTC)
I should rather live, for life is hope, and that which is lost may always be regained.

And that's Michel in a nutshell, in any incarnation. That's the thing he learned as Neas and has never forgotten -- you can always start over, and the new thing may be just as beautiful and wonderful as the thing you lost. And no, it's never the same. Latium is not the same as Wilusa, and Lavinia is not Creusa, and so on, but it's good and it's real and it's worth living for. It's worth not giving your life for, but spending your life on.

With all the upheavals in American politics, and the dismal prospects for Barack Obama's reelection, and the rather terrifying, imho, prospects for who might be elected in his place, it struck me very powerfully, made me remember that it's always worth fighting, and that the battle isn't over until you win. And I'm sorry, that strayed more in to politics than is usual for me *grin*

Yes. The battle isn't over until you win! That's one of the main themes of this series of books. We may think we know how this will end. After all -- spoiler -- Waterloo! We think that we know that Elza can't win. But you see she did. The ideas she fought for are the ones that are the basis of western society today. We have civil divorce and public education, the right of women to own property, freedom of religion and the idea of human rights. She won. The world we live in has for the most part rejected the agenda of the "victors" and we have the things she fought for and take them completely for granted. In 1815 it must have looked to her like the most utter defeat, but it wasn't. She lost the battle and won the war.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )