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New-to-me Dumas!

Doing some desultory internet research on a minor personage I was unfamiliar with (Henri IV's bastard son the Comte de Moret, who may have died during Montmorency's rebellion in 1631, or possibly as a monk in 1691) -- I have stumbled onto a novel by Alexandre Dumas I had never heard of before: Le Comte de Moret. It's apparently a late work. It's also free from the Guttenberg Project, so I now have it on my Kindle. Yay for free ebooks!

That said, I don't know if I'm going to read it. Dumas is not an author of consistent quality -- I love a lot of his books, but some (like La Guerre des Femmes, which I read last year) are just plain bad -- the 19c version of extruded book product, no there there. La Guerre des Femmes manages to make the Fronde boring! So -- has anyone here heard of this book before? Any idea if it's worth reading?


Earlier this year I discovered a French novelist, Jean d'Aillon, who writes historical mysteries of very high quality. He's got a number of series going - the one that I've been reading is set in France (centered in Paris, with excursions elsewhere) in the 1640s: the Investigations of Louis Fronsac.

Back in July I ordered a bunch of them from Amazon.fr, and waited. And waited. There was no tracking available, but the expected delivery date came and went. After about a month I contacted Amazon.fr, they agreed it looked like the package had been lost in transit, & they sent a replacement. Good Amazon.fr! This package also took its time traveling, with no tracking, but it finally arrived earlier this week. Yay! Happy ending.

The original package showed up yesterday.

I offered to send the duplicate books back, but Amazon.fr replied that the cost was probably prohibitive so I should just keep the books & dispose of them however I please.

So -- I have a box of new French paperbacks to give away to someone in the US. Excellent historical novels by Jean d'Aillon. The titles are:
La conjuration des Importants
La Conjecture de Fermat
L'Homme aux rubans noirs (a collection of stories)
L'énigme du clos Mazarin
Les ferrets de la reine
L'enlèvement de Louis XIV : Précéde de Le Disparu des chartreux

Anybody interested?

Someone shares my squee!

Flying without a net

Amazon.fr is as dangerous for me lately as any other Amazon. Maybe more so. (No free shipping from France!). I'm powerless...

My most recent acquisition there: a recent TV movie called Le roi, l'écureuil et la couleuvre, about Fouquet and Colbert. Gorgeous production, great period details, and they cast actors who actually look sort of like the characters too.

Unfortunately, though I hunted around all over the web before I bought it to make sure it would come with subtitles of some sort, in fact it doesn't. Not even closed captioning. So it's a challenge. Yikes! So far I've got about 1/4 through and I'm following about 1/3 of the dialog, which seems to be enough to get by. (It helps that I'm very familiar with the general outlines of the story, though not of course their version of it). I may have to watch it several times. The torture I put myself through!

Coincidentally, acting on the same acquisitive impulse, I've been reading Before Versailles by Karleen Koen, which is taking on some of the same material. I know I read something by Koen many years ago with a Restoration setting (or poss. early 18c?) that I enjoyed a great deal at the time, but I must have been reading very uncritically, or else she's gotten much worse as a writer, because this current volume is just crap. Bad fanfic-level crap. The prose clunks and stumbles at every point, the info dumps are intrusive & often irrelevant, the characterization is caricaturish, and her nomenclature is just bizarre. (This bothers me on many levels. Why would you conceivably refer to "la Grande Mademoiselle" repeatedly as "La Grande," as if that were actually her name? Why would you rename the Comte de Guiche "Guy", and call him that rather than use his well-documented real name (Armand)? Why would you refer frequently to a major character as "Viscount Nicholas" (or just "the viscount") and give barely any indication that the man in question is actually Nicolas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finance - who did admittedly own the viscounty of Vaux, but that's significant as property, not identity). She's got some weird man-in-the-iron-mask subplot going on too. And criminally underutilizes the young Abbe de Choisy as a sidekick for Louise de la Valliere. I mean, really! Choisy is far, far, far more interesting and colorful, why bother bringing him in at all if you're not going to do stuff with him?

Bottom line: Dumas told the same story much better in Vicomte de Bragelonne, and I'm getting much more pleasure out of a partially-comprehensible French movie.


You can't make this shit up

 From the memoirs of James II:

A French army under Turenne was besieging a town, and the main Spanish army in the vicinity meant to stop them. Key to their plan was to intercept a large (500-wagon) supply convoy and prevent it reaching Turenne -- without the food & equipment in the convoy, he would have no choice but to raise the siege, but with it he could carry on, and probably take the town in a short time. The route of the convoy was known, so the Spanish army positioned itself at a suitable spot for an ambush.

However... the Spanish had taken their time getting underway that morning, so when they reached their ambush place the commanders in chief (Don Juan & Caracena) declared it was time for their daily siesta, retired to their carriages, and went to sleep. The convoy made its appearance as expected, and the lieutenant generals, James & the Prince of Ligne, observed its approach. The Prince of Ligne was in charge, but he refused to order the attack -- the commanders had not left any orders to do so, and if he acted without orders it would be his head on the block (literally), esp. if anything went wrong. He also refused to wake them -- that, too, was a punishable offense. James was frantic to carry on & offered to take all the responsibility if things turned out badly, but no, said the Prince of Ligne, that's not how it was done.

So they just watched the convoy go past, with only a little undisciplined skirmishing to interfere. Turenne took the town. And nobody got punished.

When James recounted this debacle later to the Prince of Condé, Condé only remarked that, if you served with the Spanish as long as he had, you learned to expect this kind of mistake and worse.

(A year or so later the same Prince of Ligne wrecked a long-planned assault on Calais by getting the tide-table wrong, so his men were in position half an hour too late to cross the beach-- they not only lost all possibility of surprise, but also alerted the defenders to the existence of the weakness the attack had been designed to exploit so no second attempt was possible. Again, no one was punished.)

Next on my reading list: the Memoires of Bussy Rabutin, and of the Mareschal de Gramont.

And I have just discovered in Amazon two relatively recent books about Prince Rupert - wow! Last time I went looking for that, there was nothing. Now they shall be mine! And the little dog too...

Bastion and Battery

Possibly not unrelated to my finally fitting up the extra room as a library and putting my books back on shelves where I can access them again - a long-shelved fiction project suddenly awoke out of dormancy a couple of months ago, kicked me in the head, and informed me sternly that just because I'm never going to get to spend years months in the Condé archives noting details of who was where when doing what to whom, or looking up the state of the weather and tides at Mardyck on a given date, is no excuse for not writing the story -- if I only file off the serial numbers, I can make shit up and get on with the cool stuff.

Yay! Story! 

(And lots of cool stuff. Brussels was apparently the place to be in the 1650s if you weren't where you belonged. Everybody who was Anybody passed through there, many of them on intersecting paths. Seriously cool story stuff flying out of that vortex.)

Making shit up isn't a free pass from research, of course. Where would the fun be if it were? So I'm currently hip-deep in the theory and practice of 17th century siege warfare. Man, there's a lot of vocabulary to swallow! I now know the difference between a circumvallation and a contravallation, a hornwork and a demilune, why you have a covered way and what a counterscarp is for, various ways to win a siege and even more ways to lose one, and what the point of the exercise was in the first place. Not the math, though. You needed an awful lot of math to actually attack or defend a place effectively, but I can fortunately wave my authorial hand and leave that bit to the professionals.

(Speaking of whom, I can recommend as a very readable source the Memoirs of James II, who as a young man saw a number of eventful campaigns at the side of Turenne & a couple on the other side too, and wrote about them later in copious but lucid detail -- he not only describes just what was going on, but also (perhaps because he was writing for Turenne's nephew, who was a Cardinal not a soldier) from time to time stops to explain the reason why things were done and why various scenarios turned out as they did. Not all memoirists bother with that.)

Only part of my story is on the battlefield, though -- a good deal of it (inc. probably the whole storyline of my female lead) is at court and in town. So I also need to gin up on my salon culture. Does this mean I actually have to read selections from Clelie or The Grand Cyrus? I'm afraid it might. Oh woe! At least I don't feel obliged to read the whole thing. What is it about best-sellers, that they so often become unreadable as soon as their moment has passed?

I'll just say, Google Books are my friend.

I'm also experimenting with not outlining, just letting the story develop itself for a while. I have a feeling I may have killed several previous projects by using up all the creative juice in the planning, so I never bothered to actually write them through. Not this time! 

Quake-free zone

When I was in college an earthquake happened - a small one, but perceptible earthquakes of any size are uncommon in New Hampshire, and this one was noteworthy for having its epicenter in Daniel Webster's hometown, on Daniel Webster's 200th birthday. (Daniel Webster being a Great Hero of my college.)

I was in my dorm room at the time of the quake, working on some paper. I learned that the earthquake had occurred when all my dorm neighbors rushed out of their rooms into the hall to talk about it. Because, I would have sworn (and still would) that no earthquake happened in my room. Nothing shook, no ripples stirred the tea in my mug... just, suddenly, everyone in the hall was loudly excited, so apparently Something Had Happened.

Today's earthquake in VA was apparently felt by people as far away as Rhode Island. For all I know, it was felt by my neighbors. But I was at home, working at my desk. And I will swear, no earthquake happened here.


I saw a mouse in my house last night. I saw it twice, in fact, & later heard the pitter patter of tiny feet under my kitchen sink.

Guess I'd better go buy mousetraps.

Guess I'd better figure out how to use them!


Biscoff spread

Spreadable cookies.

Amazing. Awesome. Evil.


Tomato tragedy

My house has nice outdoor space for sitting in, but not a lot of sun where I can plant. So I grow my tomatoes in pots. Last year I put one on the front walk and one on the back deck, as an experiment to see if either would grow, and both did ok (though not spectacularly well) so this year I again acquired 2 tomato seedlings from White Flower Farm - different varieties this year, by mail rather than at Tomatomania. The one I put in front seems to be struggling. The one I put in back, otoh, grew very nicely from the get-go, and by yesterday was nearly large enough to stake.

Alas, 'twas not to be. A vigorous thunderstorm struck yesterday afternoon (black sky! high winds! pounding rain!). When it was all over, I looked out the back window and saw my poor tomato plant bent over. Snapped off!

Oh woe!!! My poor plant, cut down in its youthful vigor... :-(

There are still a few leaves on the unbroken remnant, so I can still hope for it. But given the late date, I doubt it can regrow fast enough to set and ripen much or any fruit. Sigh. I shall be dependent on the bounty of the farmer's market once again.


In other news, I'm working on a new project that has me commuting to midtown Manhattan on the train several days a week. Fun to be there, but exhausting to have to do it too many days in a row. It's going to be a short project, but it's in a business (Facebook advertising!) I've had no exposure to before, so I'm learning a lot, which is always the cool part of my job.