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Picturing a World

Is she …?

One more on the streets, this time walking alone. She is well dressed and carries the sort of bouquet that last Thursday’s shopper might have bought at the florist. But is she a respectable Parisiénne or a kept woman? A source of social unease in Paris in the latter 19th C was the difficulty in distinguishing the two on sight, for they dressed very much alike. The gaze of the man in the cab might be the male painter Gervex’s signal that this woman is no better than she should be. For the modern eye, it also illustrates the annoying reality that a single woman in public risked impertinent notice from strangers—though not the working woman crossing the street in the other direction. What stories do you think each of these women would tell?

Dog lovers’ note: another of those confident canines on the loose. Read More 
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Showboat

When Edward tells Cornelia Renick about taking Jeanette and Effie to the Cirque Fernando, they are reminded of a childhood escapade when they watched horses perform aboard a showboat on the Ohio River. In a slightly longer draft of this passage, I specified that they kept watch over the building of Spaulding and Rogers' spectacular Floating Circus Palace, which seated 3,400 and was launched in Cincinnati in 1851 when they would have been about ten or eleven years old. As far as I'm concerned, the escapade happened.  Read More 
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Grand Central Station

A recent post in the fascinating blog Daytonian in Manhattan describes the building of Grand Central Station in New York City, where Jeanette and Cousin Effie arrive from Poughkeepsie in Chapter Two of Where the Light Falls. Isn’t it interesting how both the brick station and the glass-walled Great Exhibition Hall at the Paris World's Fair used domes over the central entrance and at the end of wings? In fact, you can relate them both to the symmetrical architecture of the Tuileries Palace and Vassar College if you want to pursue echoes in the novel! Read More 
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Fiacre

Look at what I just came across! I had not seen this image when I wrote Where the Light Falls, but I can’t resist posting it. It belongs with Jeanette and Effie’s first arrival in Paris, when Effie pays the driver of their fiacre a tip or pourboire, but let’s assume that Edward and Eddie rode to the zoo in a fiacre. Read More 
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Omnibus

In their first week in Paris, Jeanette and Effie explore the city on foot and by omnibus. When I first began sinking myself into the Paris they would see, I spent a lot of time with Atget’s photographs even though they were taken a generation later. It was revelatory to be guided by Atget's eye. As for the omnibus, comparison of this photo to an 1877 etching in a set by A-P. Martial shows that the design had changed little if at all in forty years. The entire set will take you on a tour of the city that Jeanette and Effie saw. Read More 
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Entering Paris

Jeanette and Cousin Effie enter Paris from the west, passing through this tunnel to reach the Gare Saint-Lazare, painted famously by Claude Monet but also by other artists, including Norbert Goeuneutte. The station was in a new section of Paris, energetic and smart rather than romantic and quaint. Photographs even more than paintings conveyed to me the rawness and newness, and the weird sensation of entering the city below street level. Read More 
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Out a train window

I came across Springtime while tracing the route between Dieppe and Paris. It showed me what Jeanette might see from her train window. The speed of train travel made the countryside seem to unroll continuously outside the frame of a window. Moreover, railway beds serve only to carry trains, and scrub brush along their banks can screen the view for miles. Monet’s sketchy, broken brush strokes allowed me to catch a glimpse of a half-seen house with an orange roof and imagine Jeanette’s seeing it for an instant. In words, all that remains of that moment is the phrase “red-twigged coppices on riverbanks” on p. 66, but, believe me, she saw the house! Read More 
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All aboard in a New Year!

Because I love building fictional worlds, early in my research I spent time investigating exactly how Jeanette would get to Paris. To my delight, shipboard scenes on passenger liners were a popular painting genre in the mid 19th C. Tissot here catches the glamour attached to sea travel—not that Jeanette and Effie were wearing such clothes on board ship! Still, the fashion details are reminders of how important hats and fans were in the 19th C, and what sexual signals attire that covers every inch of the female figure can send.
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