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Sources for The General's Mistress

The other day someone was asking about my sources for The General's Mistress, which is primarily based on the memoirs of Ida St. Elme. But of course I have used many other sources too. These are a few of my favorites, the ones I've leaned on heavily, though of course there are others that I don't own and aren't sitting right here on my bookshelf, and others on my bookshelf I've used somewhat or mainly used for the later books. For example, there are several books about the naval blockade and the naval campaign of 1805, but that doesn't happen until The Emperor's Companion. So here's a few favorites.

L'Armee Francaise, by Edouard Detaille Detaille was an artist in the Victorian period who did the most amazing paintings and illustrations of military subjects. This big full color book is the ultimate costume reference for the men!

Empress Josephine by Ernest Knapton A fine and thorough biography, though somewhat dry and a good deal less sensational than some.

Le Marechal Ney by Eric Perrin In my opinion this is the best and most complete biography of Michel Ney. Published in the 90s, it's the only one with access to the family papers, including letters from Elza to Aglae.

Napoleonic Friendship by Brian Martin This one is newer, not one I've consulted for years, but he says such fascinating things about military comradeship and male friendship and the culture of the army that it's just tops.

Marshal Ney by Raymond Horricks The standard English language biography, he's done all his homework and it's tremendously useful.

The Forbidden Bestsellers of Prerevolutionary France by Robert Darnton This wonderful book digs deep into the books Elza would have read, into the political books and the popular books and yes, the porn, of the era.

The Rose of Martinique by Andrea Stuart A more recent biography of Josephine.

Visionaries and Seers by Charles Gattey An incredibly useful book with a lengthy chapter on Mlle Lenormand, one of the best known oracles and Doves of the period of the French Revolution and Empire.

Military Studies by Marshal Michel Ney This is Michel's own book on tactics, and utterly invaluable to trying to figure out the battles of the period. Wondering what he's doing? Look! He explains it all, with step by step diagrams!

The Memoirs of Madame de Remusat An utterly invaluable account of court life by one of Josephine's ladies in waiting.

The Family Romance of the French Revolution by Lynn Hunt A fascinating look at the pamphlets and "low" literature of the period, and what it says about the attitudes and beliefs of ordinary people, including the sexual writing and erotica of the era.

Une Amazone Sous le Premier Empire by Charles Thevenin This rare paperbound book from the turn of the century is the only full length biography of Elza.

Pilgrims of the Night by Lars Lindholm This history of ritual magic was invaluable for sorting out the right period in terms of practice.

Of course this is only the beginning! There are dozens more books I could cite, not to mention articles. Also, some of the most important sources are the popular books that the characters would have read. Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos was first published in 1782 and was a runaway bestseller, utterly ubiquitous as the book everyone has read and talked about. (You may also be familiar with the movie starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich.) It's referred to a number of times in The General's Mistress, and Elza has very much "learned" about society from it! Another important one is Justine, by the Marquis de Sade. Yes, this is porn. Yes, this is BDSM porn. One of the early readers of The General's Mistress was surprised that "these historical guys could get up to that" and I said, "This is the culture that invented it!"

Actually, I think that sums up what's different and startling about The General's Mistress -- one is used to looking at this period through the lens of books by Jane Austen and her modern imitators. This isn't that world. This is the world of Choderlos de Laclos and the Marquis de Sade. The drawing rooms are not scenes for genteel teas but ruinous seductions, a barbed and dangerous world where flirtations can mean life and death, and the whiff of powdersmoke is never far away.