July 26, 2011

Giveaway! Madame Bovary's Daughter by Linda Urbach

Have you heard of the scandalous Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert? His first published novel in 1850, and it was a pioneering one at that. And the scandal! The criticism of social classes, the affairs..Flaubert himself was hit with an immorality charge when Madame Bovary was serialized in a literary magazine.

I asked the author of the upcoming Madame Bovary's Daughter (just released!) to elaborate on a few key topics for her potential readers. Please welcome author Linda Urbach with her introduction to her newest novel, and a book giveaway, too!

Why I wrote Madame Bovary’s Daughter.
When I encountered the novel Madame Bovary for the first time in my early twenties I thought: how sad, how tragic. Poor, poor Emma Bovary. Her husband was a bore, she was desperately in love with another man (make that two men), and she craved another life; one that she could never afford (I perhaps saw a parallel to my own life here). Finally, tragically, she committed suicide. It took her almost a week of agony to die from the arsenic she’d ingested.

But twenty- five years later and as the mother of a very cherished daughter, I reread Madame Bovary. And now I had a different take altogether: What was this woman thinking? What kind of wife would repeatedly cheat on her hardworking husband and spend all her family’s money on a lavish wardrobe for herself and gifts for her man of the moment; most important of all, what kind of mother was she?

It was almost as if she (Berthe Bovary) came to me in the middle of the night and said, “please tell my story.” Having adopted my beautiful daughter at age 2/12 days I had a big soft spot in my heart for the orphan Berthe Bovary. I totally sympathized with her lack of mother love. Also, I remembered how much I loved Paris when I lived there. I had a strong desire to return-- which I was able to do in my head as I wrote the novel.

The research and writing process of Madame Bovary’s Daughter.

This is the first historical fiction I’ve ever written, so research played a big part. My first two novels were all about me but my life had gotten very boring which is why I turned to historical fiction. I used the Internet almost extensively. I found sites where I could walk through Parisian mansions of the times. Sites that not only showed what women wore but also gave instructions on how to create the gowns that were popular. I bought this great book, Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management which gives you details of absolutely everything you need to know about the running of a house in the 1850’s. You want to serve a 12-course dinner, she’ll tell you how. She’ll also tell you how many servants you need and how many pounds of paté you need to order.

The thing about research is you have to be careful not to let research get in the way of the writing. I tended to get so interested and involved in reading about the Victorian times and France in the 1850’s I would find the whole day had gone by and I hadn’t written a word. So the important thing for me is making sure I’ve got the story going forward. That’s the work part. The fun part is then filling in the historic details. It’s like I have to finish my dinner before I’ve earned my dessert. The other thing about research is that I learned to keep room open for a character I hadn’t thought about before. For example, I suddenly came across the famous couturier Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman who went to Paris and revolutionized the fashion business. He jumped off the page at me and insisted on being part of my novel. So my advice to writers is always keep a place at the table of your book for an unexpected guest.

Summary of Madame Bovary’s Daughter

What you may remember about Madame Bovary is that she was disappointed in her marriage, shopped a great deal, drove her family into bankruptcy, was abandoned by two lovers, and finally took her own life. With all that drama, who even remembers she had a daughter?

And what ever happened to the only, lonely daughter of the scandalous Madame Bovary? Poor Berthe Bovary. She was neglected, unloved, orphaned and sold into servitude before the age of 13. It seems even Flaubert didn’t have much time for her. She was the most insignificant and ignored character in that great classic novel.

But in Madame Bovary’s Daughter we see how Berthe used the lessons she learned from her faithless, feckless, materialistic mother to overcome extreme adversity and yes, triumph in the end. As a young girl, Berthe becomes a model for famed artist Jean Francois Millet, later a friend to a young German named Levi Strauss and finally a business associate of Charles Frederick Worth, the world’s first courtier.

This is a Sex and the Cité tale of a beautiful woman who goes from rags to riches, from sackcloth to satin, from bed to business. Busy as she is, she still has time to wreak revenge on the one man who broke her mother’s heart. And, of course to have her own heart broken as well.

From her grandmother’s farm, to the cotton mills to the rich society of Paris, it is a constant struggle to not repeat her mother’s mistakes. She is determined not to end up “like mother, like daughter”. And yet she is in a lifelong search for the “mother love” she never had.

Berthe Bovary is a Victorian forerunner of the modern self-made woman.

Thanks so much to Linda Urbach for introducing us to her new novel! If this novel intrigues you as much as it does me, then sign up for the giveaway! The author is offering one lucky follower their own copy of Madame Bovary's Daughter, open to the USA. Please leave your email address in the comments as well. Ends August 6th.

(This post was reprinted with permission via Burton Book Review)

July 13, 2011

Most Influential Monarchs in British History (up to 1603)

Please welcome Robin, of Lady Gwyn's Kingdom, who submits the following guest post:

Most Influential Monarchs in British History (up to 1603)

While awaiting the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April, many have wondered what kind of King and Queen these two will become and how their reign will impact Britain. I have thought the same thing but I have also thought back on the many monarchs who have already left their mark on the kingdom. Thus the idea for this post was born and below are the monarchs (up to 1603) who I feel made the biggest impact on England - for good or bad.

1. William the Conqueror

Obviously we need to start at the beginning (or close to it anyway!) and that means the Norman Conquest of 1066. One of the most well known of William's contributions is the Tower of London. He originally built it to show the native English that he was now in charge and he was there to stay. Another of William's contributions to history, and one that may be more important historically, is the Doomsday Book, which was a very complete survey of England at the time (names of towns, who lived there, what they owned, etc, etc). Many customs, especially in the royal court, were formed during William's reign. The Anglo-Saxon ways were slowly erased. The coming of the Normans changed much in England and many of those changes remained through the years.

2. John

This youngest son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II is usually seen as one of the worst kings in English history but there is one legacy from his reign that made a huge impact on the country and its future - Magna Carta. Because of the lack of trust between John and his barons, Magna Carta was eventually forced on John as a way of controlling some of the monarch's powers. While bits and pieces of this were whittled away over the years, some of the laws set down in the 13th century remain to this day. Some view Magna Carta as a "great constitutional document," the beginnings of the freedoms so many enjoy today.

3. Edward I

This warrior king changed the boundaries of England as no king before him had done. He accomplished what no king before him had managed - the conquest of Wales and Scotland. Granted, England's control of Scotland turned out to be temporary, but Edward did manage to expand England's boundaries and much of that remains in "English" hands to this day. In order to hang on to England's new territory and fill the local populaces with awe, Edward went on a building spree of massive proportions, building many castles along the Welsh border, most of which can be visited today (Caernarfon Castle for example).

4. Henry V

Another of England's warrior kings set quite a bit in motion for England's future, though at the time most of it could not have been imagined. His victory in France gave Englishmen a strong sense of pride, not to mention the desire continue the country's military successes for several generations. After his victory over France and claiming of the French crown (which many English monarchs tried to actually wear), he married the French King's daughter, who in turn gave birth to the future Henry VI, whose reign would be the main battle ground of the Wars of the Roses.

5. Henry VII

While I am not overly fond of the man, I add Henry VII to this list mainly for the fact that had he not been victorious on Bosworth Field, the next two powerful monarchs on my list would not have existed. It is hard to image British history without the presence of this king's son and granddaughter, not to mention the huge changes that occurred during their reigns.

6. Henry VIII

When talking about changes in England we can't overlook Henry's break from the Catholic Church in his quest for a divorce. One could say that, aside from the Norman Conquest in 1066, the break with the Church during Henry's reign is the most significant change in England's history. It certainly was momentous and fueled tension in the country for many years to come. Henry VIII also began the building up of England's Navy, seeing it as a way to help build and secure the empire he so desperately wanted to create.

7. Elizabeth I

Henry VIII's daughter had an equally important impact on England and its future - politically and culturally. The big triumph of Elizabeth's reign is the triumph of the English over the Spanish Armada. There is no way of knowing what England would be like today if Elizabeth and her small navy had not over come the much more powerful Spanish forces. However, Elizabeth's reign is particularly known for the achievements of artists, poets, and playwrights (does the name William Shakespeare ring any bells?); so many achievements and advancements were made during her reign that this literary time period is called the Elizabethan era.

I am well aware that these are not the only monarchs who have made an impact on England throughout its long history. I am also aware that these are just short little bits of information and many of these monarchs did much more than I have mentioned above. I simply wanted to highlight some of the kings (and queen) whose influence can still be seen through the country to this day.

What are your thoughts on these monarchs? Who do you think is one of the most influential monarchs, and who's contributions do you most value?

July 05, 2011

What's on my iPod?- Henry VIII

The following is a bit of humor submitted by Robin of Lady Gwyn's Kingdom. What would you add for iPods of your favorite historical figure?

What's on My iPod? - Henry VIII

If some of our favorite historical figures could show us their Ipods, what would be on them?

First up is Henry VIII! What would this infamous English King have on his Ipod?
1. Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Diana Ross (could fit any wife he's after)
2. It's My Life - Jon Bon Jovi
3. I Got You Babe - Sonny and Cher (again...all wives fit)
4. I'll Make Love to You - Boys II Men (and again, except Anne of Cleves lol!)
5. Anymore - Travis Tritt (yet again, all of them)
6. Don't Take the Girl - Tim McGraw (fits with Jane Seymour)
7. You Can't Always Get What You Want - Rolling Stones
8. I'm Too Sexy - Right Said Fred (too obvious I think, hehe)
9. Heartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley
10. The Bad Touch - Bloodhound Gang
11. You Give Love a Bad Name - Jon Bon Jovi
12. Greensleeves
13. You're the One that I Want - John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
14. Bad - Michael Jackson
15. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Rolling Stones (understatement...)
16. Another One Bites the Dust - Queen
17. Henry the Eight - Herman's Hermits

Something along the same lines hit the internet/blogwaves recently and I found it so clever I wanted to share. A Mixed Tape from a Bookseller. Jarek Steele laments over poor sales, the fact that his favorite customer hasn't come in the store recently.. and he has put together an interesting piece on what would be on his iPod, yet.. he's old fashioned so we'll still call it the mixed tape, just for his sanity. Read his article here.

July 01, 2011

Colin Falconer Guest Review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Please welcome back author Colin Falconer to Historical Fiction Connection.  He is the author of the upcoming novel Silk Road.



It’s rare these days to find an historical novelist who hasn’t written about the Tudors. The story of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I is rich with intrigue, heaving bosoms, treachery, huge codpieces, starched ruffs, and pale, ambitious, doomed women. Desperate Housewives meets the Rack. You would think that with the number of words - and furlongs of celluloid - dedicated to their story, even just over the last two decades, that the harvest was in, the cellar empty, the bottle dry.

So it was with no little reserve that I approached Hilary Mantels’ WOLF HALL. What else was there to say about the Tudors? Well, quite a lot, apparently.

The novel’s back drop is a defining moment in British history, when Henry wrested power away from the Catholic Church and allowed Britain to worship - and think – for itself. But Bluff King Hal was not motivated by great religious purpose; he was simply in love with a younger woman and wanted a son and heir. He was, as Mantel paints him, a man terrified for his immortal soul but not so concerned that he was going to let anyone – even God - stand in his way.

WOLF HALL follows the contest between Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon; between the Pope and the King; between Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. But this isn’t the story; this is just the plot. The world to which we are allowed entry is not that of Henry VIII, or the Boleyns, but the much maligned Thomas Cromwell.

We follow his rise from a Putney blacksmith’s son to the second most powerful man in England and if that was all the narrative, it would have made an adequate Jeffrey Archer novel. In Mantel’s hands it becomes something else.

I was prepared for a long and tedious beginning. After all, didn’t this win the Man Booker Prize in 2009? The cast list of the characters at the beginning reads like the telephone listing of a small town. When I picked it up, my heart sank.

I expected the opening paragraph to be a long description of a vase. Instead, on the first page, we meet Thomas Cromwell as a teenager, being kicked unconscious on the cobblestones by his father. Hard not to cheer for him; stay down, son, stay down. If you try and get up again, the next boot will kill you.

His married sister dresses his injuries and he escapes on a boat to France. The next time we encounter him he is chief counsel to the king’s chief counsellor, Cardinal Wolsey. It's a long way from the mud and blood of the Putney yard, but Cromwell isn’t done yet. He is the ultimate fixer, the man who gets things done. “He can draft a contract, train a falcon, draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury." He also knows the New Testament by heart. While Wolsey and More crumble under the press of the king’s tantrums and whimsies, Cromwell endures and prevails. When Cromwell falls gets sick the king pays a personal visit to his home to see him well again. Even his bitterest enemies come to rely on him.

Much of Cromwell's history is told in quicksilver flashbacks. They beg more questions than they answer and add to his allure, allowing the reader to recreate the man in their own mind. We expect a monster with a heart like an abacus; instead Mantel shows us an enforcer who champions tolerance, a free-thinker who still ensures that the king has his way. His affection for his family, his ward - even his enemies - disarms. In finding charity in one of history’s villains, she has found the unseen aspect of Henry’s story and rendered it utterly fresh.

In fact she relegates the king and all those wives as well as the religious future of England to an afterword; it’s Cromwell’s fate that captivates. We never do go to Wolf Hall though we sense that is where his fortunes will finally turn.

This is a beautiful and surprisingly tender book. The assumption is that there will be a sequel but I hope she will leave this work to stand alone. We all know that Cromwell came to a nasty end and this lends poignancy to the book’s enigmatic ending.

This is not so much a novel as a portrait, the artist capturing a great man in his moment of pre-eminent glory just before tragedy overtakes him. “Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon, says Thomas More, and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.” It is the sense of doom unforeseen that lends brilliance to the artist’s precise brushwork.

If you are looking for a bodice ripper or a Ken Follett saga, this is not for you. Mantel’s overuse of the personal pronoun may also drive you to distraction. Who said what? But this time the Booker judges got it exactly right. Cromwell may well charm you in the same way he seduced Henry’s court. When the book ends it is like saying goodbye to an old friend.

Colin Falconer's When We Were Gods - the story of Cleopatra, has just been re-released on Kindle for $5.99. His new novel Silk Road, will be published by Corvus Atlantic on October 1. To find out more, see http://www.colinfalconer.net  and his blog: http://www.colinfalconer.net/the-man-with-the-past.html