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The General's Mistress

One of the things that people have been most surprised about when they read The General's Mistress is that it's based on a true story. Elza -- Ida St. Elme -- is a real person whose memoirs have provided the story that I am retelling. Adventuress, courtesan, soldier, spy, and eventually bestselling author, I could not make up a story better than hers!

In fact, we don't even know for certain what her real name is. Ida St. Elme is an alias she adopted, and over the years various accounts of her original identity have surfaced. The most recent theory is that she was a Dutch woman named Elzelina Johanna Versfelt. But perhaps she was Elzelina Joghne-Van Aylde. Or Elzelina Tolstoy. Or Elzelina Ringeling. Perhaps she was born in Italy as the daughter of adventurers. Perhaps she was born in Haute Savoie as the daughter of a Protestant minister. Perhaps she was born in Utrecht, or Amsterdam, or Lille. Perhaps her mother was Dutch and her father Hungarian. Or French. Or Russian. Or Polish. Or Dutch. She told so many stories, and so many stories were told of her, that it's impossible to know for certain which ones are true.

What we do know is this -- in 1795 a young woman named Ida St. Elme appeared in Paris as the mistress of the powerful and ambitious General Victor Moreau. She was somewhere between eighteen and twenty, tall, blond, and athletic. She was one of the merveilleuses, the daring young women in their transparent dresses and classical sandals who scandalized the world in the later days of the French Revolution. She hobnobbed with Therese Tallien and Josephine Bonaparte and was a scantily clad fixture at decadent parties for several years until she and Moreau broke up.

And then she disappears from all accounts save her own for several years when she reappears as the mistress of Marshal Michel Ney, with whom she traveled Europe in men's clothes, fighting in several battles and skirmishes. She was the friend of many in the second tier of Napoleonic officers and ultimately fought in the battle of Waterloo. She was also sent to Elba as a spy in the Bonapartist conspiracy that assisted Napoleon's escape and a friend to Maria Walewska. She was also a key figure in the murder of General Quesnel, a real unsolved murder fictionalized in Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo.

Later in life she became a bestselling author, publishing twelve books ranging from novels to travelogues about Egypt, in which she publicized and popularized discoveries in the new field of archaeology. Her memoirs were a scandal writer's dream and went through many editions in several languages. For a while they were banned in France, and after her arrest for political subversion under the Restoration she lived abroad for a number of years, returning to France after the Revolution of 1830. She died in 1846, around age seventy, an utterly unrepentant adventuress forever proud of her exploits and sexual peccadillos with both some of the best generals of the era and with women as well.

I think she would like the way I have retold her story. And I hope you will too!


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 4th, 2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
She sounds like a lady I would have loved to meet. I'm looking forward to General's Mistress! And also wishing I could read a word of French.
Apr. 4th, 2012 06:26 pm (UTC)
She's fascinating! The General's Mistress is just the tip of the iceberg, as it only gets her up to 1800 and age 24. I'm hoping the sequels sell -- currently I have completed The Emperor's Companion which covers 1802-1805, and The Marshal's Lover which covers 1807-1809.
Apr. 4th, 2012 06:27 pm (UTC)
I'd buy all these books in a heartbeat!
Apr. 4th, 2012 06:34 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad they sound good to you! I think there will ultimately be six books. The first three are completed and the second three are begun. The fourth has a substantial part done, about half, and is tentatively called The Courtesan's War.
Apr. 4th, 2012 06:35 pm (UTC)
I look forward to seeing what happens!
Apr. 4th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
I think I have a new historical girlfriend.
Apr. 4th, 2012 06:26 pm (UTC)
Oh she would so be your historical girlfriend! :)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )