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Minor Characters Return!

Someone asked a while back if any of the minor characters from the Numinous World books would appear in The General's Mistress or the other Elza books. Yes, some of them reappear, though not always in large roles, though sometimes they have a bigger bit. There are several in The General's Mistress, including Adam Trcka from The Ravens of Falkenau and Bai from Black Ships, and of course it's not important that the reader of The General's Mistress have read the other books or know that. But for me, writing it, it's important to know when someone appears who has a history. I thought I'd share the first appearance of Bai, now a young naval officer who Elza has met on leave in Paris, and who's taken her to dinner.




René escorted me down the hall to a lovely little Louis XIV parlor where a table was drawn up near the fire, two gilt chairs beside it, the cushions worked with golden roses on a celadon background. He held my chair for me with a flourish.

“Very nice,” I said. “Surely this isn’t yours?”

He sat down opposite me. “I told you I had a rich and doting uncle. Admiral Gantheaume. I thought you would recognize the name. But he’s at sea right now, and fortunately told me to make free with his house while I’m in town.”

“I don’t know the naval commanders,” I said. “Mostly the army.”

“Ah ha!” René exclaimed. “I knew you’d gone with some army fellow or other. Probably someone who ranks a measly lieutenant.”

“I was with General Moreau for nearly two years,” I said.

He whistled. “Ranks a measly lieutenant indeed. I thought for a moment you were going to say Bonaparte.”

“Why should you think that? I’ve never met him,” I said. “I don’t really have an opinion of him.” Moreau, of course, had a great deal to say about him, but I wasn’t quoting Moreau any more.

“He’s a genius,” Rene said. “I met him in Alexandria last year, when we were supplying the Expeditionary Force. Best general the Republic has, in the opinion of this measly lieutenant. He talks to you like you’re really there.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, helping myself to the smoked trout.

René took a moment to gather his thoughts. “Most senior officers don’t notice lieutenants any more than you notice a waiter or a footman. When you’re a lieutenant you’re part of the furnishings. Part of the military trappings. Bonaparte sees you. He actually talks to you. He remembers people’s names and what they do. I think half his staff is in love with him.”

I laughed. “That’s the kind of thing the army says about the navy and the navy about the army! We all know about sailors, don’t we?”

He took it in good humor. “I’ll show you all about sailors after a bit! If you’ve never had one before you should come over to our side. You’ll never go back to great brutes smelling of horse.” He shrugged, and his face stilled. There was a good mind behind those laughing eyes, I thought, a young man with more to him than bravado and charm. “Not like that, I mean. He looks at you and it’s like he’s not just seeing you. He’s seeing what’s inside you. Something more. You reminded me a little bit of him, just a shadow. He’s more than real, maybe. Like the realest thing in the world.”

I shivered involuntarily. “A general who reminds you of a woman who does séances? I’m not sure that’s a recommendation.”

“A general who reminds me of a companion? I’m not sure that is either.” René grinned. “Not really. Not what I meant by love. I shouldn’t have expected you to understand.”

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
linneasr
Apr. 13th, 2012 11:44 am (UTC)
Very nice. René has the feel of Bai, for sure.

Many of the excerpts you provide have Elza engaging with men. Her other incarnations, though, especially Charmian, had her involved with women very intimately. Are there any women in Elza's world who have important roles, like Cleopatra or Iras?
jo_graham
Apr. 15th, 2012 10:07 am (UTC)
That's an interesting question. Elza certainly has female friends, but none of them are as central to her life as Iras and Cleopatra were. She has a female lover, but she isn't as central either, for reasons that will be seen. I think one of the big things in the first book, The General's Mistress, is that this is a milieu that encourages competition between women rather than friendship. It's very high school mean girls competitive, where your "best friend" is the one stabbing you in the back tomorrow. Elza is very young at the beginning of the book, still a teenager, and she's not very good at judging which women to be friends with. In fact, there's a disaster because she chooses unwisely, as many of us do in our teenage friendships with mean girls! And because of that she doesn't become close with a much more worthwhile woman who needless to say doesn't choose to trust her and confide in her because of the mean girls she's running with. She loses that opportunity because of who her friends are. After all, would you choose to try to be good friends with someone whose best friend was always putting you down and ragging on your clothes and your hair and everything about you? In the second book Elza belatedly realizes what she missed and the connection she should have made, something that would have been good and important to both of them. And in the third book she consciously decides to be the friend she wishes she'd had to someone else, a decision that turns out to be very important.

I think one of the currents under the surface here, that Elza can't quite name, is that one of the limitations on women's power here is the culture of women who have power. Like their male counterparts in the Directory, the women who have power are ruthless and cutthroat, and the reason to befriend other women is to use them. Ultimately it serves none of them well and along the way a lot of people get hurt.
linneasr
Apr. 15th, 2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
It sounds sadly familiar (the early 19th C isn't so far away). Very different, though, from Gull's world, I think. Would you say that women held power in a different manner, then? That the culture of women who have power was different? You gave us Gull, within whom the Lady of Death occasionally comes to dwell, and there are a few priestesses with significant social power. Then there's the Pharoah's sister (whose name I forget, sorry!), who holds temporal power. But there's not a sense of a "culture of women who have power" so much as personal relationships among, for example, the priestesses.
jo_graham
Apr. 15th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
Definitely sadly familiar! That's certainly something I saw in my years working in politics. Very often the primary limitation on young women coming up were the older women who perceived them as a threat or competition. And of course the issue of mean girls is universal, it seems, in any group of women. I don't know why it is, but any group seems to eventually sprout a clique that exerts power by putting down other women.

In this case, I think it's the cultural milieu itself. This is a Dangerous Liaisons world, and the Marquise and Valmont are equally culpable. That's the way society is working at a certain level, in certain circles, that at the moment at the beginning of the book are the ones that have the power. However, in Laclos' book, the characters are at least constrained by having to pay lip service to propriety and are limited by some laws. Seduction is fair game, but outright rape will get you arrested. And if you screw enough people over, you will at least face society's censure.

The Revolution has thrown all those rules out the window, and really none have taken their place. If there is no reason, legal or moral, not to do whatever you want, there are people who will behave extremely badly! As Victor says to Elza at one point, the only reason he doesn't rape is because he's not into it. Not because he thinks it's wrong, not because he can't get by with it, but because it's not so much his idea of fun. That's a pretty shocking world to be in.

I think many of the women have responded by being as utterly ruthless as the men, or more so. Men are things you manipulate for money or power, and women are other players on the board. So I don't think it's so much about women holding power in a different manner than power being held in a different manner across the board.

One of myy editor's favorite scenes in the book is when Elza is talking to Victor, who is her protector and her lover and who is offering to give her money to do support whatever charity she likes "if it will make her feel better" says, "but aren't there things more important than my feelings?" No. There aren't. And Victor, baffled, says, "There are mine." He truly does not understand what she's yearning for, for someone who believes in an ideal rather than simply serving his own self interest. And yes, he's kind to her. Yes, he's nice to his friends. And that ought to be enough. What is there more to life than having nice things for oneself?

But even at twenty Elza is starved for that. What is there that's worth caring about, worth fighting for? Surely there is something bigger and better than having unlimited money for pedicures? Surely the point of life isn't to be fashionable and popular?

Over the course of the first book she begins to find something. She begins the journey on her own, guided by nothing but the currents of her own soul, but the thing that truly changes her, that changes the course of her life, is a brief encounter with young General Bonaparte. "How should I know what you'll become?" he asks her, and she can make no sense of the impulse that crowds in, to grasp a fevered hand in a bath house garden and promise to serve beyond death. "Why would I be worth your attention?" she asks, "I'm a courtesan." "They used to be the same word you know," he replies, "Hetaira and hetairos, courtesan and Companion."
linneasr
Apr. 16th, 2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
The picture you draw, of society without limits, is interesting, and, again, sadly familiar. And yes, of course, if men are without ideals or standards of behaviour, women will match (and occasionally outdo) them. We are all human, after all, and neither sex is "morally incapable" of anything.

I have this thread running in my thoughts right now about how gender diminishes in normative value, at a certain level of political or social influence. Some women (Queen Elizabeth, for example, one of the wealthiest women in the world) choose to maintain a certain kind of femininity. In others, like Hilary Clinton, I have the sense the same attitude & approach is so much dross.

Also interesting is the image you're providing of Napoleon. As a good member of the Commonwealth, in Canadian history he's always the Devil's Own Enemy of the early British Empire. However, there must have been something to him, and I am fascinated with the notion of his being the continuity of Alexander and Julius. Both of them were fascinating, riveting characters, and it was easy to understand how they found themselves so pivotal to their times.

Side question: Was the Julius / Cleopatra connection only a one-off, then? If Hephaistios was Agrippa, and is now Michel Ney, is Cleopatra in The General's Mistress? Or would that answer give too much away?
jo_graham
Apr. 16th, 2012 02:57 pm (UTC)
We are all human, after all, and neither sex is "morally incapable" of anything.

Exactly! There are good and bad people of both sexes, and good and bad choices made by everyone. No one is inherently morally superior -- which does derive logically from the soul having no gender, doesn't it? Lydias is neither better nor worse than Charmian by virtue of having a male body.

Oh, I think you'll find my Napoleon something you're not used to! In the US we tend to read British historians, and it's worth reminding people that actually we were Napoleon's ally, not his enemy! :)

Yes, there will be Cleopatra! But not in The General's Mistress. She doesn't show up until the third book, The Marshal's Lover. She hasn't come into this story quite yet, but when she does she'll be important.

I don't suppose it's giving away too much to say that the connection Elza misses because of the mean girl games is Bagoas, now female. And that's a mistake and ultimately a very costly one!
linneasr
Apr. 16th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
Ach! Boo! What a shame! Lydias must have been squirming, inside Elza.

Yes, of course the US would have been Napoleon's ally. Hah! I hadn't known that, but of course. Interesting - I wonder if the War of 1812 was an offshoot of the European conflict.

No, the soul has no gender. One of the things I'm so enjoying about the Numinous World is how you are portraying the qualities which, in my unconsidered opinion, the soul does have, such as capacities to love, to be loyal, to have vision, or to be able to manifest, for example.

All of which are verbs, not nouns, interestingly. Or adjectives. Statements with nouns, such as "the soul is loyal" seem inappropriate. One could say "Gull / Lydias / Charmian's soul is loyal", but the qualities become adjectival. More accurate to say "Charmian's soul shows a great capacity for loyalty." And, if this is the case - what is making each soul have whatever capacity, or 'leaning' it displays? Sorry about meandering - I'm always interested in how language reflects, or fails to reflect, what I perceive as energetically happening in reality.
jo_graham
Apr. 16th, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC)
The missed connection is a really big problem later on, and in the second book Elza realizes that. *squirm*

Oh yes! One of the causes of the War of 1812 was British warships impressing American sailors off American ships at sea, and sometimes seizing American ships trading with France. Ultimately that's why we declared war on Britain. Which was not a good move, as militarily we got our butts busted and they burned Washington DC. I used to work near the sight of the last hot cavalry engagement, the last rearguard action before the British reached the White House and Capital!

Yes, verbs. That's an interesting way of thinking about it.... I think each soul is deeply individual. And yes, some things are about the life time, about the experiences of the mask of persona, but some are deeper. Loyalty, for example. This person is always loyal, no matter what body they wear. Even Georg, who's been burned badly, is looking for something or someone to be loyal to. He finds that in Falkenau and Izabela, and it changes and fulfills him. Elza, like Georg, has grown up in a world that doesn't value that, without beliefs that encourage those qualities. But she's still searching for them, just as Georg was, and she believes on some level that she can find them because he did! And when she finds the thing she believes in, she will be as unshakable as Charmian. More so, actually, because she has been Georg and no storm can move her.
linneasr
Apr. 16th, 2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
Whenever you mention Georg, I am inspired to go back and read the Ravens again - but the book is in another city and must wait.

Thanks for a good conversation!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )