selenak: (Tourists by Kathyh)
In the last three days, British historian Mary Beard has been relentlessly attacked on and off twitter for pointing out that the Roman Empire wasn't populated exclusively by white people; this particular round of racism, misogyny and general vileness was started by, of all things, a five minutes BBC cartoon for children featuring some poc Romans. It would be ridiculous if it weren't so outrageous and depressingly a symptom for our present, especially considering current Trump Administration employee and long time racist nutter Alex Jones has also commented. Detailed articles on the subject here and here.

(Incidentally, if I weren't there already, such events would completely sway me to the "representation matters" side when it comes to tv and movie casting.)
selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
You know, in recent weeks there was a lot of talk, usually in the context of how ill advised the “Game of Thrones” makers idea of a show called “Confederate”, an AU in which an undefeated South with slavery intact continues to the present, was, about how sick people were of “what if the Nazis won?” or “what of the Confederacy won?” Aus. And I’m so with you; I was already sick of “what if the Nazis won?” dystopias several decades ago.

However. The combination of the recent (July 20th) anniversary of the 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler and me reading Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series made me wonder if anyone ever attempted a scenario in which one of the various attempts on Hitler’s life (from Georg Elser’s 1939 one onwards) succeeded. Historical attempts, that is, not fictional ones (looking at you, Quentin Tarantino). Probably not, because anything I can come up with would neither be a happy ending nor the awfulness that unfolded in reality, but…complicated. Not good for “good versus evil” role playing, which, let’s face it, is the main attraction for any WWII scenario, historical or AU, for the majority of people.

For starters, one common factor (which is also why I’m such a hard sell on “what if the Nazis won?” scenarios): there was so much infighting and hatred between Hitler’s flunkies that I can’t imagine the system holding up. The Third Reich wasn’t North Korea where you can replace one Dear Beloved Leader with another. Not least because while many of the upper level Nazis had great power in varying degrees, they weren’t personally popular, and more often than not were indeed disliked by the population at large. (“Wenn das der Führer wüßte”, i.e. “if only the Leader knew” was a catchphrase based on the naïve belief that all negative apparations of the NS regime were due to everyone else.) You couldn’t have just transferred the leader cult from a dead Hitler to whoever emerged victorious in the inevitable succession blood bath. The most likely candidate to unite both an already existing power base and popular appeal – indeed the only one among the top level Nazis with popular appeal – would have been Göring, who could trade both on his WWI veteran (and pilot – aviators were always popular) reputation and his chummy, genial manner. But by the late 30s and through the 40s, Göring was addicted to morphine, and the connected daze and laziness would have had him at a disadvantage re: his rivals. (One reason why Göring surprised many people in Nuremberg with his sharpness was that the Americans had weaned him off morphine and thus he was alert and all there for the first time in years. Of course, the imminent death sentence presumably also helped with his focus.)

Another common, depressing factor: there’s no way another Dolchstoßlegende (backstabbing legend) wouldn’t have developed, i.e. the myth that Germany could have won the war, if not for those traitors, etc., and this would have poisoned or at least heavily burdened whichever kind of German state would have existed next. Taking all that as a given, here are some possibilities I could come up with:

1.) The Georg Elser November 1939 assassination attempt succeeds as intended. Advantages: this would have gotten rid not only of Hitler but of many of the upper Nazi hierarchy, since they were present at the Munich Bürgerbräu where Elser had planted his bomb. Disadvantages: Elser worked alone. Which meant no one would have been ready to deal with the rest of the Nazi system. Likely result: I’m betting on a military dictatorship and/or an uneasy alliance between some top generals and some middle level Nazis. They'd have insisted on carrying out the invasion of France, ditto all of Poland, but I don’t see the generals invading Russia. They’d likely have then tried to negotiate peace with Britain and not tried to expand further. Whether or not Churchill would have gone for it in the case of a Hitler-less Germany… no idea. Would the Holocaust have proceeded further? Can’t make up my mind on that one, since it would have depended on just how many top level Nazis made it out alive, and whether or not the top military brass thought killing everyone in the already existing “work” camps would rid them of future embarrassment/retaliation, or whether they’d thought closing the camps in a non lethal manner would make it all go away.

2.) The March 1943 attempts. Advantages: this being post Stalingrad, this time parts of of the military were already involved, and thus there were some plans of what to do next. Disadvantages: these plans weren’t very thought out yet, and only Hitler would have died, which meant Goebbels, Himmler & Co. remained at large and more likely than not would have retaken control of the situation the way they did in rl in 1944. Nazi infighting wouldn’t have started until after the conspirators were dealt with. However, whichever victor emerged post Stalingrad would presumably have tried to negotiate a truce/peace with the Western Allies, because, well, Stalingrad, and the realization that you can’t win a war in Russia. Would the Holocaust have continued? Depressingly, in such a scenario my money is on a “let’s just kill everyone in the camps to ensure no survivors get nasty stories out” scenario.

3.) July 1944 attempt: aka the one with the biggest chance at actual success. Meaning that Himmler, Goebbels & Co. get arrested simultaneously with Hitler’s assassination as planned, Goerdeler becomes Chancellor and, backed by a bunch of generals as well as Canaris, starts peace negotiations. I think at this point the Allies would have insisted on unconditional surrender whether or not Hitler was still alive, and because the war situation as already very bad for Germany, Goerdeler and the generals would have agreed. There would have been a variation of the Nuremberg trials and an occupation. And no more death camps, meaning the saving of all people who died between July 44 and May 45. However, there would also, see above, a new backstabbing legend, and the July 44 conspirators would have been hated and reviled by the majority of the population which would have taken even longer to accept they’d all been part of a murder state. At best, I think Germany would have dealt with its guilt the way the Soviets did with the Stalinist purges – i.e. denial for decades save for a minority of the population, and only very late acceptance something monstrous had occurred.

Any agreements or disagreements? Alternate scenarios?
selenak: (Resistance by Aweeghost)
They died today, here in Munich: Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, Christoph "Christl" Propst. Students who had grown up within a totalitarian system, who all, as children and early adolescents, had been true believers in the ideology they were were brainwashed with by almost everything around them. And yet they saw through it. And yet they came to reject it. And yet they gave their lives for saying "No. No. This is not right. Resist."

For this, they were arrested, put on trial as "enemies of the people", called every vile name in the repertoire by the authorities, and eventually beheaded. Today. All those years ago. I just was at the university where they were leaving their handtyped, hastily printed leaflets when they were captured. I know many of the words on those leaflets by heart. They still make me cry. Now more than ever.

selenak: (Claudia and Elizabeth by Tinny)
I don't have anything deep to say about the not unexpected demise of a historical figure, but I'm grateful to the Guardian for devoting an extra article to all the failed attempts to kill Fidel Castro, which reminded me that long before the Orange Menace, reality beat satire every time. I mean: if someone invented said attempts, they'd be accused of over the top anti American caricature. Surely the CIA would not be that clumsy and ridiculous, etc.

Incidentally, the article included some new-to-me attempts; of course I knew about the cigars, but the cunning scuba-diving and exploding mollusks plan (are we sure a US descendant of Blackadder wasn't involved?) was new intel. Incidentally, what still surprises me from today's perspective isn't that the CIA proved so embarassing inept at killing Castro, but that when they outsourced the task to the Mafia, the mob proved equally as inept.

...then again, mobsters owe their reputations as much to Hollywood as the CIA does, so it makes sense again.
selenak: (Young Elizabeth by Misbegotten)
So, to summarize: after settling with 25 millions as not to be sued for fraud any longer, the Orange One next returned to his favourite past time, twitter wars, and attacks both the cast of a sold-out-into-the-next decade Broadway musical (for appealing to his designated VP to protect their rights) and Saturday Night Live for daring to make fun of him. Not to be outdone, his chief strategist Steve Bannon informs us that no, he's not a white nationalist, that's total slander. Instead: "I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors."

(I kid you not. He truly said that, to the Hollywood Reporter. I won't link to the article, since it's essentially one long smug "ha, those clueless liberals and their betrayal of the working man" elogy, but you can easily google it.)

The best thing about this: he truly seems to be unaware of the implications of what he's saying here, from casting the Horror Clown as Henry VIII. (the temper certainly fits) to his own bloody demise after a failed plea for his life in grovelling tones ("most gracious prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy!"). Also, clearly he's got his idea of Thomas Cromwell either by pop culture osmosis of Hilary Mantel's books or directly by reading them, which answers my question as to whether readers of her Cromwell saga wouldn't be by necessessity well versed enough in history to know how itall ends. (BTW: Hilary Mantel was appalled by the election of the current most prominent multimarried orange narcissist, and wrote so in that liberal elitist rag denounced by Bannon, the New Yorker.) (Thus answering my next question, as to whom Bannon is casting as Mantel's version of Thomas More, hypocrite and martyr to the old world, to his Thomas Cromwell. Clearly, it's Mantel herself, or at least the New York based papers.)

Of course, it does make one wonder whether a few centuries onwards, a novelist hologame creator will write the saga. He, Bannon, watches as his children fall from the sky, etc. Anyway, as self identifications with historical personages go, this is clearly the winner of the week. Next up: destruction of civil rights monasteries, (re)invention of thought crime.
selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
New Wonder Woman trailer, which is nifty. I must admit to not having read a single Wonder Woman comic in my life; the most I know of her is that in one continuity, though not the current one I hear, she's Lyta Hall's mother. (Lyta Hall from Sandman.) So the trailer is enough to get me curious... though it has one massively distracting aspect.

So, World War I. I know the Anglosaxon world treats WWII as the ultimate good versus evil fantasy role playing game, but WWI, if Michael Gove's complaints about Blackadder are anything to go by, still has the same "senseless bloody mass slaughter" reputation there it has in my part of the world, right? So when Diana says she wants to save the world/help people, I have to wonder "and you're accomplishing this by joining any party in the great slaughterhouse how?"

Am reminded of the bit in the tv show about David Llyod George (who took over from Asquith as British PM during WWI) that went like this:

Frances Stevenson (DLG's secretary and lover): Bad news. Revolution in Russia, there go the Romanovs, our allies and the Eastern front.
DLG: Well, look at the bright side.
FS: ?
DLG: Now I can sell this to the Americans as being about zomg freedom. Before, they had thought it was just a bunch of corrupt European dynasties duking it out.

If one of your allies is the most backward Empire on the continent, the one that used to have serfs not that long ago, it's a bit hard to claim to represent the cause of democratic progress, yes. But then, that tv series was made in the 1970s.

I mean, I noticed in the trailer there's the obligatory German villain declaring "we could rule the world", but seriously, not even idiotic Willy with his hangup about competing with his British relations had that ambition. WWI brings to mind gas attacks, a French landscape that looks as if its the moon full of craters, Wilfried Owen poetry on the one hand and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front on the other. What it does NOT bring to mind is a good versus evil conflict conducting to a super hero story set up. Unless, of course, you throw away decades of both history and pop culture history (not always the same thing) and go straight back to WWI era propaganda, which did have German soldiers eating Belgian babies. One of the most acid passages in Robert Graves' memoir Goodbye to all That is about that aspect of the era.

Then there's the technical aspect, if you like. What WWI is famous for is both sides fighting endlessly about a few feet of mud, and the new weapon, mustard gas, with so horrifying results that even the Nazis in WWII didn't break the ensuing ban on it as far as battle was concerned. There's a bit of gas and a gas mask in a few seconds in the trailer, but it only underlines that, because: how does this compute with Diana having a go with her lasso? It's hard not to imagine soldiers coughing their lungs out, with half their faces melted away taking a look at that and saying: Seriously?

I think you could do, in theory, something interesting stuff with a "superhero meets WWI" scenario. But I doubt it will involve:

Diana: I want to help.
Soldier: Take out the officers on both sides, will you?


Diana: I want to save the innocents.
Soldier: Well, a couple of my shellshocked mates are going to get shot at dawn for cowardice, so rescueing them and bringing them far, far away from the front would be really welcome.

...My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
As has been pointed out to me after I posted my recent book review, the tv series Versailles is now available, and thus I could finish marathoning it (all ten episodes) just before leaving for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair.

So, as historical series go: on a scale from cheerfully ahistorical teen soap a la Reign to show beloved by critics, historians and viewers alike a la John Adams, Versailles is... Somewhere on a level with The Tudors (though it has more authentic looking costumes). Which is to say: mixes the occasional clever historical detail/interpretation with lots more blatantly invented stuff and historical nonsense, firm emphasis on the soap opera and the sex, but no such howlers as worshipping pagans and religiously tolerant Mary Stuart in Reign. The original characters don't carry cheerfully anachronistic names, either.

Spoilery musings follow )
selenak: (DuncanAmanda - Kathyh)
One of the many reasons why I'm curious about the tv show Versailles and hope it will show up either in dvd form or on Netflix in my part of the worlds is that the audience favourite is Philippe d'Orleans, aka Monsieur, brother to Louis XIV. This surprised me, to put it mildly, until I realised that a) played by Alexander "Mordred" Vlahos, and b) openly gay male relation of powerful person striving to be with his (male) true love = audience favourite, of course.

The reason why I was at first surprised at first is that Monsieur has had a terrible press, as far as historical novels I've read are concerned, and a not much better one in non-fiction I've read. (The only positive film depiction of him I can recall is as a minor supporting character in Alan Rickman's last movie, A Little Chaos, where there's a lovely little scene between the middle aged royal brothers as played by Alan Rickman as Louis and Stanley Tucci as Philippe.) Not because he was gay, though of course one can never discount homophobia in older sources, but because he was a terrible husband, and that is the context in which I mostly encountered him. When I say "terrible", I don't mean "cheating because arranged marriage and gay", I mean "using his social power over his wives to humiliate them on a regular basis, strip wife I. of all her friends in their household, act incredibly jealous of every man (including her brothers and nephew) who comes near her while simultanously making it clear he despises her and loves only his favourite" and "unable to stand the idea of the children loving either wife I or wife II better, tries to get the kids to hate their mothers at various points".

Wife II was Liselotte von der Pfalz, aka Charlotte Elisabeth of the Palatine, whose thousands of letters to her German relations through the decades of her life at Versailles provide a tremendously entertaining glimpse at the era and the people. Wife I , the first Madame, was Henriette Anne, aka Minette, Charles II.'s favourite sister. I'd read Liselotte's letters before (where Monsieur mellows down somewhat as they grow old together, and the last three years of their marriage are downright harmonious, and also the only ones she later describes as happy), but I hadn't read Minette's, other than what gets quoted in Antonia Fraser's biographies of Charles II. and of Louis XIV. This I've now rectified:

Ruth Norrington (editor): My Dearest Minette: Charles II to the Duchess of Orleans.

Despite the subtitle, it collects all of Minette's stille existing letters as well and isn't a one sided correspondance. Technical notes on the editing: Ruth Norrington provides context not with footnotes but with explaining texts in between letters, which is sometimes very helpful even if you're familiar with the era (like yours truly, though not an expert), and sometimes feels redundant, as when she's essentially just repeating what then gets said in the next letter. She's also unabashedly partisan in her descriptions: both Charles and Minette often get described as "charming" and "delightful", the Chevalier de Lorraine (Philippe's favourite boyfriend) hardly shows up without the moniker "evil". (To be fair, I haven't yet found any one, either in memoirs or letters, who had anything good to say about the Chevalier aside from his looks, and he comes across as both obnoxious and vile, as when he's boasting of having gotten rid of Minette's governess and confessor and being powerful enough to get Philippe to divorce her as welll; not surprisingly, this was when Minette and the English ambassador did their level by lobbying with Louis XIV to get rid of the Chevalier instead.) Occassionally, you wish that Norrington when stating something as fact that's actually still hotly debated would at least indicate with a footnote that hers is not the only interpretation out there, as with the question as to whether or not Charles II. actually meant to convert to Catholicism in the Treaty of Dover. Norrington taking it as granted that Charles meant to and totally would have announced it, too, had Minette not died made me raise my eyebrows in scepticism because given what actually happened (Charles pocketing the money Louis XIV provided him with for that promised conversion but not actually converting & announcing it until he was on his death bed, which is how he technically fulfilled the terms of the Treaty but certainly not the spirit) and given Charles II.'s life long pragmatism and dislike of dogma and clear awareness that the country wouldn't stomach a Catholic monarch ("I'll not go on my travels again"), I very much doubt that had Minette lived, he'd have done anything else than what he did. (I.e always arguing that he'd love to, sure, but the political situation right now won't allow it, in the meantime, how about some more cash?)

Despite her open dislike for Philippe ("a vainglourious narcisisst and bully"), Norrington actually provides a more interesting interpretation for his jealousy re: Minette than I've seen so far, which makes it about more than ego, by pointing out that Philippe's relationship with his brother was other than the one with the Chevalier the central one in his life, and both the supposed Louis/Minette affair early on (whether or not they actually had sex or just engaged in an intense flirtation, it was serious and public enough to make both their mothers remonstrate with them) and the fact that Louis took Minette later seriously as a politician in a way he never did Philppe (who wasn't privy to the secret negotiations between Louis, Minette and Charles about the Treaty of Dover, presumably because he wasn't trusted to keep it secret) were interfering with that relationship. Hence Phiippe retaliating by using his status as Minette's husband to delay her journey to England as much as he could, then forbid her to stay longer than three days etc.

Another technical observation: as Norrington says, most of Charles' letters are written in English, not least because he wanted Minette, who'd lived in France since she was two years old, to practise the language, while all of Minette's letters but one were written in French and thus are translated in the present volume, and come across as a bit more formal due to this fact. The one exception is a letter not directed at Charles but at Sir Thomas Clifford, written just a few days before her death, and its conclusion gets across what people, not just Norrington, mean when they talk about Minette's charm:

This is the ferste letter I Have ever write in english. you will eselay see it bi the stile and tograf. prai see in the same time that i expose mi self to be thought a foulle in looking to make you know how much I am your frind.

re: the correspondance in general in terms of content, even given the more emotional language of the time, it's very affectionate on both parts, with the siblings clearly adoring each other, which doesn't mean they always agree. Minette doesn't hesitate to chide her older brother when she thinks he's in the wrong, as when he made his mistress, Barbara Palmer, Lady Castlemain, a lady of the bedchamber to his wife Catherine of Braganza over the later's understandable anger and hurt:

But to speak seriously, I beg you to tell me how the Queen has taken this. Here people say that she is in the deepest distress and to speak frankly I think she has only too good reason for her grief.

(After this, Charles made a point of mentioning spending time with his wife in his letters to Minette, though he's a bit defensive on the subject of his mistresses: If you were as well acquainted with a little fantastical gentleman called Cupide as I am, you would neither wonder, nor take ill, any sudden changes which do happen in the affaires of his conducting.) They also confide some pretty intimate details to each other; in a sadly lost letter Minette seems to have told Charles that on her wedding night she had her period and hence there was no sex until a few nights later (and then it wasn't , because he references both when telling her that Catherine, too, had had her period on their wedding night:

"(A)and though I am not as furious as Monsieur was but I am content to let those pass over before I go to bed to my wife, yet I hope I shall entertain her at least better the first night than he did you.

The letters are usually a mixture of family and friends gossip, state affairs - Charles talked politicis to Minette long before the Treaty of Dover was in anyone's min; he basically treated her as the inofficial English ambassador to France, which was a good thing because his first two official ambassadors were lousy at the job - and the occasional interesting oddity, like the meteor which fascinated Charles. He more often than not ends his letters by remarking he's off to the theatre. His irreverent sense of humor also often comes through, as in this reply to Minette's swearing that her newborn daughter resembles her uncle:

I hope it is but a compliment to me, when you say my niece is so like me, for I never thought my face as even so much as intended for a beauty.

("Oddsfish", he famously said on another occasion, "I am an ugly fellow." You wouldn't have caught Louis XIV. allowing anyone to think that.)

As for religion: "I am of those bigotts," writes Charles to Minette, "who thinke that malice is a much greater sinn than a poor frailety of nature." Minette, otoh, was a passionate Catholic, with one of her main childhood memories being when her mother, Henrietta Maria, threw out her brother Henry (who was to die young, not long after Charles was crowned) for not converting. But she doesn't talk dogma often in her letters (even the Treaty of Dover letters are mainly concerned with possible political percussions of Charles converting).

An interlude with contemporary resonances comes when early in the Dutch-English war Minette to her horror hears about French sailors getting tortured by the crew of an English frigate (France at this point was peripherally involved in the war, though with opposite alliances to those it would have later): It is also reported that your people have made some Frenchmen prisoners, and tortured them cruelly, to make them confess they were going to Holland, but I maintain that this cannot be true, or at least that it is done without your approval, and that so generous a soul as yours would never allow such treatment of your enemies, far less of Frenchmen who are your friends. Write me word, I beg, of what has happened and whether, if this is true, you have taken care it should not happen again, since nothing is more worthy of you than to use your power to make yourself at once beloved and feared, and to provent all the horrors which too often accompany war.

Sadly, Charles found the story to be true, but promised Minette the perpetrators would be punished: "I do assure you I am extreamly troubled at it, there shall be very seveare justice done."

Having read the biography of Charles' oldest illegitimate son, James, the Duke of Monmouth, recently, I was struck by how many loving (and funny) references to him there are in the letters (he visited Versailles repeatedly, which Monsieur took offense to; one of his conditions for finally letting Minette visit England was that she was not to meet Monmouth on that occasion, which Charles promptly ignored). He's invariably referenced as "James", which made me wonder what they called his uncle James, the Duke of York, when talking about him, other than "brother", which is the designation from the letters. Anyway, some typical Monmouth references: "Your kindnesse to him obliges me as much as tis possible, for I do confesse I love him very well", "I (...) only desire you to have the same goodnesse for James you had the last time, and to chide him soundly when he does not that he should do. He intendes to put on a perriwig againe, when he comes to Paris, but I beleeve you will thinke him better farr, as I do, with his short haire, and so I am intierly yours".

The letters Charles sent by way of his son are also more detailed than the ones by courtier couriers (which could presumably be intercepted). When Minette's marriage goes from bad to worse, the siblings at first alludes to it only indirectly and discreetly, but then there's one letter which discusses it in detail:

I take the occasion of this bearer to say some thinges t you which I would not send by the post, and to tell you that I am ver glad that Monsieur beings to be ashamed of his ridiculous fancyes; you ought undoutedly to oversee what is past, so that, for the future, he will leave being of those fantasticall humours, and I thinke the less eclairecissement there is upon such kind of matters, the better for his friend the Chevalier. I thinke you have taken a very good resolution not to live so with him, but that, when there offers a good occasion, you may ease your selfe of such a rival, and by the character I have of him, there is hopes he will find out the occasion himselfe, which, for Monsieur's sake, I wish may be quickly.

That turned out to be wishful thinking on both Charles' and Minette's part. Instead, it was the Chevalier who got rid of Minette's allies in the Orleans household. Because the correspondance between Charles and Minette from the last year of her life is not preserved, it's paradoxically a good thing the Chevalier caused the governess of Minette's children to be replaced, because Minette then kept up a correspondance with her old governess and confidant, Madame de Saint-Chaumont, and Ruth Norrington includes these letters near the end of her book. At this point, the English ambassador (not one of the two incompetent ones mentioned earlier, but the first good one, Montagu), had already written an alarmed letter to Charles about how bad things truly were, Charles had remonstrated with Louis, and the Chevalier finally overreached himself when Philippe asked for the income from two abbeys being given to him, which Louis refused to do, which caused the Chevalier to speak out against the King. Cue banishment to Italy, for which Philippe blamed Minette, at first refusing to let her travel to England at all, hoping to blackmail both Kings into letting the Chevalier return. Writes Minette to her governess:

The King has worked hard to bring him to reason, but all in vain, for his only object in treatin gme so ill is to force me to ask favours for the CHevalier, and I am determined not to give in to blows. This state of things does not admit of any reconciliation, and Monsieur now refuses to come near me, and hardly ever speaks to me, which, in all the quarrels we hae had, has never happened before. But the gift of some traditional revenues from the King has now osftened his anger a little, and I hope that by Easter, all may yet be well. (...)

Fat chance. For:

I have indeed wished to see the King my brother, but there has been no question of the Chevalier's return in all Monsieurs opposition to my journey. Only he still declares he cannot love me, unless his favourite is allowed to form a third in our union. Since then, I have made him understand that, however much I might desire the Chevalier's return, it would be impossible to obtain it, and he has given up the idea, but, by making a noise about my journey to England, he hopes to show that he is master, and can treat me as ill in the Chevalier's absence as in his presence. This being his policy, he began to speak openly of our quarrels, refused to enter my room, and pretended to show that he could revenge himself for having been left in ignorance of these affairs, and make me suffer for what he calls the faults of the two Kings.

Charles tried to help by offering to give the Chevalier an honored place at his court in England, but again, no such luck. (Otoh he refused to invite Philippe himself along with Minette, using the excuse of protocol - the King of France's brother couldn't visit England without the King of England's brother visiting France, and since his brother the Duke of York was absolutely needed elsewhere. Writes Minette to her friend the governess:

This refusal has renewed Monsieur's irritation. He complains that all the honour will be mine, and consents to my journey with a very bad grace. At present, his chief friends are M. de Marsan, the Marquis de Villeroy and the Chevalier de Beuvron. The Marquis d'Effiat is the only one of the troop who is perhaps a little less of a rogue, but he is not clever enough to manage Monsieur, and the three others do all they can to make me miserable until the Chevalier returns. Although Monsieur is somewhat softened, he still tells me there is only one way in which I can show my love for him. Such a remedy, you know, would be followed by certain death!

This line took on an entire new meaning when after her return from England Minette died after drinking some chicory water. She believed herself poisoned; Philippe said if that was what she suspected, they should give some of the water to the dog to test it (in one version of the story, he also offered to drink himself), and today historians largely think Minette died of natural causes, but either way, she died in horrible agony which lasted for hours. She had asked for the banished (thanks to the Chevalier) Bossuet to give her the last rights, and he was sent for, but before he arrived, the bigoted M. Feuillet even added spiritual agony to the physical one. When she cried out "My God, will not these fearful pains be over soon", he said "What, Madame, you are forgetting yourself; you have offended God twenty-six years, and your penitence has but lasted six hours; rather say with St. Augustine, cut, tear, destroy, let my heart ache, let all my limbs thrill with anguish, let dung flow in the marrow of my bones, let worms revel in my breast!"

Minette even in this state still had the gift of irony she shared with her brother Charles, and replied: "Yes, sir, I hope so; in case God were to restore me to health, and I were so wretched as not to practise them, I entreat you to remind me of them."

When the English ambassador asked her, in English, whether she had been poisoned, Feuillet interrupted and warned her not to think of recriminations but the plight of her soul. Minette told the ambassador: "If this is true you must never let the King, my brother, know of it. Spare him the grief at all events and do not let him take revenge on the King here for he is at least not guilty."

"The King here", Louis, later told the second Madame, Liselotte, that Minette had been poisoned but not by his brother, otherwise he'd never have let Philippe marry again. Otoh he also ordered an autopsy of Minette's corpse, where the doctors found no traces of poison. Charles when the news reached him had no doubt she was poisoned. He cried out "Monsieur is a villain! at the unfortunate messenger", retreated in his bedchamber and didn't leave for five days. All in all, it had taken Minette eight hours to die, and only at the end when Bossuet had arrived and replaced the odious Feuillet was she comforted. To read about it makes for a harrowing ending to what is mostly a very endearing book about a brother-sister relationship.
selenak: (DuncanAmanda - Kathyh)
Considering the current fashion of making everything into a procedural, and one with a male and female lead to boot, and with Restoration England recently in my mind, I've decided there's an obvious tv show opportunity here in the Interregnunm, those eleven years (1649 - 1660) between Charles. I. execution and Charles II. return to England, when England was a republic.

Now, the male detective would be young Charles II. Who had ample time at his hands during his exile, was eternally short of cash and on the move on continental Europe between Holland (where his sister Mary of Orange lived), France (where his mother, being a sister of the late Louis XIII, found shelter with his youngest sister, Henriette Anne aka Minette) and various principalities that would have him for a while. Charles was undoubtedly the smartest of the Stuarts and never short of a bonmot, which is good for a detective, and he really needed money. (For a while, his mother when he was dining with her in the Louvre made him pay for his part of the food.) He also was physically fit and good at escaping dire situations. (See famous escape out of England after the battle of Worcester disguised as a peasant.)

The female lead? A member of a Dutch merchant company who had provided Charles with some cash and then realised there was really not much of a chance to ever see it again, or even getting royal favours out of it. (Remember, no one at the time knew whether this Republic thing would be permanent or not, whether or not it would survive Cromwell, and thus whether or not Charles would ever be in a position to do anything for anyone.) Our heroine's original job is making sure the merchant company gets at least SOMETHING for its money, which is, solving crimes that have a negative impact on the company's trade otherwise. If he has nothing else, Charles has access to Royal circles at the continent where our bourgois heroine would not get to, so there's that.

Big twist before the mid season hiatus: we find out the Dutch merchant company isn't our heroine's only employer: she also works for OLIVER CROMWELL as his secret agent abroad, supposedly to keep an eye on Charles (at least in theory, if he ever got enough cash by, say, marriage to a rich princess, he could try an invasion). She's also half English and her parents have suffered awful fates in the reign of Charles I., which was part of the reason why she works for Cromwell.

Considering the audience knows Charles will make it to the English throne alive post Interregnum, the main suspense has to be in the fictional female lead's fate and decisions. And since there's entire decade to choose from, the show is good for 5 to 7 seasons. The episodes set in France can also be stealthy Musketeers crossovers, given the most recent version was cancelled (free actors) and this era is roughly the one (immediately after) Dumas' first Musketeers sequel, "20 Years Later".
selenak: (Black Sails by Violateraindrop)
Writing about Pitcairn made me refresh my Bligh & Bounty knowledge by browsing in the books I already knew, and check outs some I didn't, which is why you get some more ramblings on the subject.

Top Pop Culture Misunderstandings About William Bligh:

"Captain Bligh": when in command of the Bounty, he wasn't. He was Lieutenant Bligh, which isn't unimportant. After the end of seven years war, he'd switched from navy to merchant vessels as Lieutenant; there, he'd made Captain (of the ship Britannia), but when returning to the navy for the Bounty mission had to accept being a Lieutenant again, with the pay of a Lieutenant (far less than a Captain's) while being an acting Captain (and adressed as Captain on board the ship). The Bounty was rated as a Cutter, which meant it didn't rate a navy degree Captain. It also didn't rate soldiers, as, for example, Bligh's mentor James Cook had had with him. And it meant Bligh had a very limited possibility to choose his own appointments among the other officers. He had to put up with a drunken surgeon (though he managed to at least get permission to hire an assistant surgeon) whom everyone one expected to die (he was THAT obviously an incompetent drunk), which he did eventually on Tahiti, but not before doing some damage), a Master whom he couldn't stand from the get go and vice versa, John Fryer, and no purser, instead having to do the job himself (this is important because if financial incorrectness and losses were found after the journey, the purser had to pay them out of his personal fortune; the fuss Bligh made about the stealing of items and food wasn't because he needed an excuse to rant).

Bligh was within his rights to promote people during the course of the journey, which he did with Fletcher Christian, who was hired as a Master's Mate and was made an Acting Lieutenant by Bligh. If the Bounty mission had gone as planed, the navy would probably have promoted not only Bligh from Acting to genuine Captain but also Fletcher Christian to real Lieutenant, with the time spent as Acting Lieutenant on the Bounty counting as years of service. Again, in terms of pay and career, this was all important, but the most significant thing about it is that because Christian's temporary promotion was solely due to Bligh, any failure of his would reflect back on Bligh and Bligh's judgment as well.

Floggings: his pop culture image being that he basically had sea men flogged if they as much as sneezed wrong. The two "Mutiny on the Bounty" movies even have him order corpses flogged. (A movie innovation which even the anti-Bligh writings at the time did not charge.) It therefore surprises most newbies to the Bounty saga to learn that Bligh started out the journey determined not to order any floggings at all. This was one of his main goals, stated not post facto as a defense but in letters written to his patron from the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, before the launch and during the first part of the journey. He's backed up in this by letters sent back (from South Africa and via passing whalers) during said first part of the journey by other crew members, such as the assistant surgeon Ledward and the future mutineer Peter Heywood. The first time Bligh did order a flogging was when the ship's Master Mr. Fryer logged a formal complaint against future mutineer Matthew Quintal. Bligh downgraded Fryer's complaint from an accusation of mutiny to an accusation of insolence towards on officer, but the later still warranted flogging as a punishment (the former actually warranted, if taken seriously, a death sentence, or at least captivity for the rest of the journey). Until the arrival on Tahiti, there was just one other occasion when flogging was ordered. On Tahiti and after, until Mutiny, he did order floggings for various misdemeanours as part of the ultilmately vain attempt to restore discipline, but still significantly less than avarage compared with other Captains at the time (we have everyone's logs to prove it): as a historian said, he scolded where others flogged, and flogged where others handed out death sentences. (Not that being scolded by Bligh was fun. Something that pop culture doesn't get wrong is his capacity for verbal eviscaration; I'll get to this.) Whatever caused the Mutiny of the Bounty, fears of the the seamen of being flogged to death by Bligh wasn't it.

Not unrelated: Pressganged Seamen: press ganging was a vice of the time, but the crew of the Bounty actually consisted of volunteers. Not least due to its destination: the women of Tahiti were already a famous incentive. Again, we do have the written records (and yes, if men were press ganged it was written down).

Bligh and Christian couldn't stand each other from the start: this is a legacy of the 1930s "Mutiny on the Bounty" novel and the two film versions based on it. In fact, Fletcher Christian was a protegé of Bligh's who'd already sailed twice with him, on the Britannia when they had both been in merchant trade. He owed his job on the Bounty, both the original one and the promotion to Acting Lieutenant, to Bligh, was familiar with Bligh's family ("you danced my children on your knees" said an outraged Bligh on the day of the mutiny), and according to his brother had said pre: Bounty that Bligh was "passionate" but that he, Fletcher Christian, prided himself on knowing how to handle him. He also was literally in debt to Bligh in that Bligh had lend him money in Cape Town (a rarity for the tight fisted Bligh, who had a wife and four children to support on a Lieutenant's salary, see above). Quite what turned the two against each other on this third journey together is still under debate, Bligh's harsh language and Christian's falling not just in lust but in love on Tahiti being the most often named culprits. The third movie on the Bounty Mutiny, The Bounty, not, as the first two, based on the 1930s novel but on a 1970s biography called "Lieutenant Bligh and Mr. Christian", script by Robert Bolt, was the first one who went for homoerotic subtext, nowhere more obvious than its version of the mutiny scene, which is the first one to use actual memoir dialogue including Christians "I am in hell!" yelling at Bligh (which Clark Gable and Marlon Brando could not have said to Charles Laughton and Trevor Howard respectively, since they were the hero confronting the evil villain and bringing him to judgment for his misdeeds). Here it is, with Anthony Hopkins as William Bligh and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian:

Bligh, as opposed to his crew, looked down on the Tahitans, was British imperialism personified and had no interaction with the Tahitans: he certainly was the only one not getting laid on Tahiti, but far from not interacting with the people of Tahiti, there's the interesting fact that the sole account of the whole Bounty saga which absolutely focuses most of the narrative on the Tahitans, their customs, their personalities, not on the Europeans, is William Bligh's A Voyage to the South Seas, which you can read here. Until the play Pitcairn, I hadn't yet come across a fictional version that bothered to flesh out any of the Polynesians at all; they usually show up in female form to sexually liberate the poor British seamen, are pretty and willing, and that's it. The narratives grant them no personalities or agenda beyond having sex with the Brits. Now don't get me wrong: Bligh wasn't a modern man, and he certainly shows in his account no doubt in British superiority etc. But he was truly interested in the Tahitans, describing them both as people and as individuals, their customs, their hierarchy, even the games their children play (which interested Bligh, father of three young daughters and his wife pregnant when he had left England, not just on an explorer level). He gives us their names and those of their stories he learned, and tells about his conversations, such as the one with the Queen, Iddia, who asked him how British women managed childbirth and when hearing it was unimpressed and told him how it was done in Tahiti (with the woman squatted in the arms of a male attendant who massaged and rubbed her), or the fact that Iddia learned how to load and shoot a gun far better than her husband Tainu. (Iddia being, like her husband, very heavy and middle aged, you won't spot her in any of the Bounty movies as anything but a background figure, whereas Bligh has quite a lot to tell about her and Tainu, including the death and funeral of one of their children - again, of personal resonance to Bligh, some of whose children had died as infants as well, or the fact Iddia had a young lover with Tainu's approval.)

Which brings me to:

Top Unknown To Pop Culture Yet Interesting Facts about William Bligh

Curious Mind: he truly had one. He had started out his career under James Cook, and never ceased to feel as an explorer. Leave it to William Bligh to note down looks and behavior of birds and fish when being on the open see for an incredible 41 days in a small boat with 18 other men, navigating by memory and with a compass over roughly 3600 sea miles. And like I said, his account of the whole Bounty saga remains the only one that focuses not on himself and the men, and conflicts with same, but on the Tahitans (and before that on various animals and natural phenomenons on the journey).

Bligh the Reformer: serving as Captain Cook's Master had led him to adopt several key Cook innovations, such as ordering three shifts instead of two, giving the men accordingly more time to sleep, having sauerkraut on board to prevent the most dreaded of seamen's diseases, and to insist on one hour of dancing per day (this was the sole reason why the Bounty had a fiddler on board) to keep the men fit. (Unfortunately, the one hour per day obligatory dancing wasn't seen as fun or as a preventing illness measure, but as part of Bligh's being a perfectionist irritant among the men.) He also was a fiend for hygiene, insisting on the men washing themselves and keeping the decks clean. (All of which worked in the intended way - there was just one man of the Bounty crew who died during the journey on board, and he died due to the drunken surgeon's incompetence - the surgeon fumbled a blood letting which led to blood infection which led to gruesome death.)

Dedicated husband and father: To his wife Elizabeth "Betsy", and their surviving daughters. This included one who was an epileptic and also otherwise handicapped, Anne. Anne never learned to speak and could only communicate via movements. In an age where, depending on your income, you dealt with handicapped family members by storing them in country hospitals or city madhouses or the proverbial attics, Bligh raised his along with his other daughters and proudly pushed her wheel chair through the park when at land. His wife sharing an interest in natural history with him and having a shell collection, he collected shells for her (now there's an image you don't see in the movies), and if he ever cheated on her with anyone, even his direct enemies (of which he had many in the end), who told all types of stories about him, didn't bring it up. He also (as opposed to Fletcher Christian, Peter Heywood and a great many other sea men, mutineers and loyalist alike) was never diagnosed with a veneral disease. The first account of the mutiny he ever gave was in a letter to his wife once he'd made it safely on shore in Timor, starting: "My Dear, Dear Betsy, I am now, for the most part, in a part of the world I never expected, it is however a place that has afforded me relief and saved my life, and I have the happiness to assure you that I am now in perfect health....Know then my own Dear Betsy, that I have lost the Bounty ..." and closing "Give my blessings to my Dear Harriet, my Dear Mary, my Dear Betsy & to my Dear little stranger & tell them I shall soon be home...To You my Love I give all that an affectionate Husband can give – Love, Respect & all that is or ever will be in the power of your ever affectionate Friend and Husband Wm Bligh".

(The "dear little stranger" was the child Betsy had been pregnant with when he left - he didn't know yet, of course, whether it had been a boy or a girl.)

But, I hear you ask, if Bligh was such a capital fellow, how did he end up with not one but several mutinies and all those enemies? Well:

Top Facts Pop Culture History Gets Right about Bligh:

Thin Skinned Verbal Eviscarator: when he ranted he RANTED. His was the temper that if you like someone you describe as "doesn't suffer fools gladly" and if you don't you call verbal bullying. Unfortunately, this was coupled with a complete lack of insight on how this affected people. For Bligh, there was no contradiction in chewing Christian out in front of the entire crew over the disappearance of some coconuts and cursing him, and then, when he'd cooled down, inviting him for dinner (Christian declined; this was immediately before the mutiny). It's no wonder one of the books on Bligh is called "Mr. Bligh's Bad Language": the same man who was infinitely patient with his handicapped daughter flew off in a rant when feeling himself offended quite easily, and he often did. Also, tact? Never heard of it. When Heywood's family wrote to him to ask whether their boy truly had mutineered, whether this wasn't a horrible misunderstanding, Bligh wrote back that they should resign themselves to their son's fate because Peter Heywood was traitorous scum. The Heywood family was later instrumental in turning public opinion on Bligh from heroic Captain to sadistic brute. (However, since verbal humiliation isn't seen as a horrible slight on one's honor anymore, it's not surprising the 20th century didn't leave Bligh's sins at that but added good old physical sadism and non stop flogging.)

Brilliant navigator: even his enemies conceded this. The first Bounty movie, with Charles Laughton being a sadistic flogger, still concedes him his moment of heroism post mutiny, the other thing he's famous for: the seemingly impossible 3,618-nautical-mile (6,701 km; 4,164 mi) voyage in an open small boat to Timor, the nearest European settlement. Bligh succeeded in reaching Timor after a 47-day voyage, despite having no maps and food only for five days. The only man lost during the journey was one killed during the initial stop on an island (the murderous result of that stop was why they didn't try the Fijiis or another landing point but went for Timor). The third movie, with Hopkins as Bligh, which is largely sympathetic to him but has him lose it between Tahiti and the mutiny, uses this navigational and disciplinary miracle as Bligh's redemption, as in this scene:

(The second movie, with Trevor Howard as evil Bligh, doesn't bother with Bligh's fate post mutiny.)

In the play Pitcairn, which is solely about the mutineers on the title island, Bligh is only occasionally referenced, with most of the mutineers believing he surely died and only Fletcher Christian convinced he died, precisely because Christian, due to his having sailed with Bligh before, knowing what a brilliant navigator he is so that he actually had a shot at survival. Whether or not this is true or whether Christian as well as the other mutineers thought Bligh and his loyalists would all die when they exposed them is anyone's guess, of course. I'll leave you with the end of the 1983 movie, which depicts its two main characters on Pitcairn and in London at a court martial respectively:

selenak: (James Boswell)
Two biographies of people on the different ends of the social scale, a century apart.

The Fortunes of Francis Barber by Michael Bundock deals with one of the few black inhabitants of Georgian London we know something about: Francis Barber. The reason why we know about Francis is in the subtitle: "The true story of the Jamaican slave who became Samuel Johnson's heir". Francis Barber started life on a Jamaica plantation as the property of his maybe biological father, Colonel Bathurst, who took him with him when the plantation ran into financial trouble and Bathurst returned (or came, he was actually born on Jamaica) to England to die. (Which he did a few years later, Francis was officially freed in his will.) The child Francis, who in Jamaica wasn't called Francis yet but had the generic slave name Quashey, was then baptized and, at the instigation of Colonel Bathurst's son Dr. Bathurst, who was anti slavery, given to Dr. Samuel Johnson (recently widowed, in the throws of very deep depression and in need of cheering up) as a servant. And thus began an association that lasted for the rest of Johnson's life; Johnson being one of the most famous men in England, it meant that Francis Barber shows up in a lot of people's memoirs and letters as well. Becoming Johnson's main heir also meant he was involved in a very nasty inheritance struggle, since several white friends thought they'd have been far more deserving. He did get his inheritance, and a novelist would end the story here, with Francis, his wife and children moving to Johnson's hometown Lichfield to start a new life, with Francis becoming England's first black school master. But real life unfortunately allowed for no happy ending. The school wasn't a success, the money was gone, and Francis was dependent on help from old time friends like my guy Boswell when he died in poverty.

Michael Bundock has the problem familiar to biographers of servants, that very few first hand source material is available; a very few letters of Francis survive, and he also told Boswell about his life when Boswell was researching his biography of Johnson; Boswell's notes are the best we have on Francis' own view of his life, which was a bit different from how Johnson saw it, and much different from the view anti-Francis folk from Johnson's circle like John Hawkins or Hester Thrale took. (Hawkins, who published the very first Johnson biography two years before Boswell finished his, concludes it with a five page rant on how much he hates Francis Barber, and that includes some racist stuff on how Francis' white wife was a) disgusting for having married him in the first place, and b) how she surely cheats on him, since their kids are light skinned.) With these obstacles in mind, it's not surprising that the book at times is less of a classic biography and more an analysis of the story of slavery in Britain during Francis' life time, the general situation of free black people there, etc. I don't mean this as a criticism: all of it is tremendously interesting to read. (And often both chilling and infuriating, as in the opening chapters describing the situation in Jamaica during Francis' early childhood; Bundock quotes from the diary of Thomas Thistlewood, who started out as the overseer of a large sugar estate and then became the owner of a smallholding, noting down the floggings of both male and female slaves and the constant sexual abuse of female ones just as matter of factly as the details of the weather or the books he read.) Just that Francis himself, as a person, remains more a sketch than a portrait. He and Dr. Johnson developed what was very much a father-son relationship, but that doesn't mean Francis always agreed with what Johnson (who was very much anti slavery, but also very much the type To Know Best What's Good For You) had in mind for him, not to mention that if you're a teenager in a house where all the other residents are over 50 and prone to be either depressed or argumentative, you could be forgiven for wanting to leave, which is what Francis did for a while, first working for an apothecary and then joining the navy, before returning to Johnson. He also was social and independently minded enough to find his own circle of friends (there's a letter excerpt from a visitor's at Johnson's who describes Francis sitting with some "of his fellow Africans", "their sooty faces all looking up" when the man entered, for example), not just relying on Johnson's, and, as Hester Thrale, who diidn't like him, grudgingly admitted "not bad looking for a blackamoor". But all too often, there's a limit on what a biographer can speculate if there is no first hand testimony. How did Francis and his later wife Elizabeth Ball meet, for example? What was their relationship really like? Thrale and Hawkins accuse him simultanously of being jealous (Mrs. Thrale makes the obvious allusion when calling his wife "his Desdemona") and of being stupid for thinking his wife's children were his; otoh, Dr. Johnson fully accepted Elizabeth as a sort of daughter in law, gave her his dead wife's Common Prayer book (it survives, and has inscriptions by both), and the couple remained with each other through thick and thin, so you can make educated guesses, but you can't know for sure because there are no letters surviving to each other.

Similarly, we can make educated guesses what Francis thought of the big trials involving slaves seeking their freedom that took place in London while he was there, like the Somerset case, but we simply don't know (as opposed to knowing what Johnson thought). And so forth. One wishes for a novel, because a novelist, not bound to what can be proven, could fill in Francis' thoughts and feelings.

Like many a biography, this one also works a an analysis of biographies and how narrative bias works. To quote from a passage dealing with quotes.

In her "Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson" (1786), (Hester Thrale) recounted that when Johnson's cat Hodge had grown old,

Mr. Johnson always went out himself to buy Hodge's dinner, that Francis the Black's delicacy might not be hurt, as seeing himself employed for the convencience of a quadruped.

The story is intended to be comical in its use of the pseudo-Johnsonian vocabulary "The convenience of a quadruped." It is also intended to show Johnson in a good light, willing to stoop to menial tasks rather than give offence to his employee. On both these accounts, it succeeds. But is is impossible to miss the sneer at Barber in the phrase "that Francis the black's delicacy might not be hurt" - there is clearly an implication that he is getting above himself. There were other servants in the household (as (Hester Thrale) knew), so Barber was not the only one to benefit from Johnson's action, but he alone is the object of Mrs. Thrale's jibe. It is not just any servant who is giving himself airs; it is a particular black servant. Boswell's version of the same story, published in his "Life of Johnson", provides a revealing contrast:

I shall never forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having the trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.

In this account the dig at Barber does not appear, and Johnson's actions are for the benefit of all the servants, not just Barber.

(Boswell in general fares well in this book, which you wouldn't think given that Boswell, as opposed to Johnson, was pro slavery and the subject is a former slave. But Boswell truly liked Francis Barber, and Michael Bundock makes a good case that he did so in a non-patronising manner, writing to and about Barber not different than to his white friends, and was there for him when Barber fell on hard times.)

All in all, I found the book very much worth reading, and the frustrations I have are not the author's fault, but that of the source material availability.

The Last Royal Rebel by Anna Keay, subtitle, "The Life and Death of James, Duke of Monmouth", has no such source material difficulties. Her main character has had a lot of bad press in his time (unsuccessfully rebelling with the victor writing your story will do that), but not only is he prominent in a lot of people's letters, memoirs, etc., but we have his own letters as well, and plenty accounts from both friends and enemies to provide a three dimensional picture. Our hero is the oldest and favourite illegitimate son of Charles II., and while I've read a novel about him which I've reviewed here and of course came across numerous references in biographies of other people, notably his father, but this is the first non-fictional biography about Monmouth himself I've read.

First of all, I was surprised that some of what I had assumed novelist Jude Morgan to have invented in his novel was actually historical fact, such as Monmouth's closeness to his aunt (though only five years older than him), Charles II.' favourite sister Henriette Anne (Minette), and how much her husband, Philippe d'Orleans (Monsieur, famously homosexual but no less petty and authoritarian with his wife for that) resented it. Also, the central father-son relationship between Charles and Monmouth comes across as very similar in both novel and biography, with biographer Anna Keay making a good case against the depiction of Monmouth as an empty headed greedy idiot prone to be used by every opposition politician, or, alternatively, wanting the crown from the start (both of which his enemies said about him), and for the disastrous fallout between father and son being as much Charles' fault as Monmouth's. Even the unofficial reconciliation between them near the end of Charles' life, and Charles' intentions of calling his son back from exile, is actually backed up with chapter and verse, and I thought Morgan the novelist had made that one up for sure so the central relationship doesn't end on a bad note.

Otoh Keay the biographer is harsher on the younger Monmouth than Morgan the novelist while being more admiring of the older. Mind you, she's not condemning; but she does provide the numbers of how much money young James spends on clothing alone, and that's just part of the inevitable result of giving a teenager after a somewhat poor childhood unrestricted access to every worldly indulgence at a court that made all the preceding ones seem tame by comparision in licenteousness. For Keay, the key shift that turned Monmouth from young Restoration rake to responsible human being happens at age 22 when he's part of the French-Dutch war and experiences the realities of battle after knowing just the fun of dressing up as a soldier. What's remarkable then isn't that he turns out to be capable of physical bravery but that ever subsequently, he shows caring about his men (keeping pushing for them to get paid, the lack of paying of soldiers being all too common vice of the era, and lobbying with his father for hospitals for veterans being built), and also distaste for needless death (when he had the job of crushing a Scottish rebellion and found part of the army continued killing even after the battle had ended, he put an end to it and when word came from London that there shouldn't have been any prisoners, he wrote back that killing prisoners was what butchers did, not soldiers, and he wouldn't).

She also makes a good case for Monmouth not seeking the crown for himself until late in the game (i.e. after his father had died), arguing his support from and friendship with his cousins William of Orange and Mary depended on that, as they were in fact the legitimate Protestant claimants (and would turn out to claim the throne from Mary's father, James II., contender for the "most disastrous Stuart king ever" title despite such rivals as Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I., after Monmouth's death). What's truly appalling to read is the account of Monmouth's death and the aftermath. His followers were butchered in the "Bloody Assisses" (meaning they got the full hanged, drawn and quartered treatment), and while Monmouth himself was beheaded, the executioner bungled the job badly, resorting after five ineffective strokes with the axe and a still twitching Monmouth to hacking off the head with a knife, and when he finally held it up, no one cheered but many cried.

Charles II. was generally fond of his illegitimate children (and provided for them, which wasn't self evident), and Keay's speculation as to why the relationship with Monmouth was extra intense rings plausible: she points out all the others had living mothers who fought and sometimes schemed for them, but Monmouth didn't, and even when his mother HAD been alive, Charles, who'd been 18 when this first child was born, had tried to kidnap him from her, not once but three times (the last time successful), meaning Charles really was everything to this particular son, and the jealousy this inspired would contribute to dooming him in the end. It's a compelling and tragic story to read, and it's hard to disagree with the physician James Welwood, who wrote to Mary of Orange about her cousin:

"Monmouth seem'd to be born for a better Fate; for the first part of his life was all Sunshine, though the rest was clouded. He was Brave, Generous, Affable, and extremely Handsome: Constant in his Friendships, just to His Word, and an utter enemy to all sorts of Cruelty. He was easy in his Nature, and fond of popular Applause which led him insensibly into all his Misfortunes; But wherever might be the hidden Designs of some working Heads he embark'd with, his own were noble, and chiefly aim'd at the Good of his Country."
selenak: (Vanessa Ives by Sakuraberries)
Having read and written about Catherine de' Medici and her daughters in recent months, I was left with a craving for other recent fictional takes on the Valois, who easily can compete with the their contemporaries the Tudors in sheer soap opera-ness, and seeing that Netflix put up the first two seasons of Reign (meaning I could watch without paying), I finally got around to it. And, well, good lord.

On one level it's exactly as you'd expected a teen aimed CW production to be. The cocktail gowns! The hair! The pop songs in the soundtrack! The utter disconnect from anything resembling historical plausibility! Seriously, the sheer crackiness is awesome. S1, apparantly having decided that Catholics versus Protestants is boring, has this entire subplot about secret pagans, and Mary Stuart, of all the people, spouting such lines as "We're not judging you for your religion". S2 does go for the actual big religious conflict of the era, but doesn't bother with such minor things as actually explaining what the differences are, beyond "no Pope". Young Mary Stuart is still a champion of interfaith tolerance, pleading the Protestants' cause (this is hysterical; also, she'd have been incredibly insulted if anyone had told her back in the day she'd ever been depicted as such), and the only Guise relation of hers to show up, other than her mother, is of course not the leader of the hardcore Catholic party more popular than the Royals but Some Guy Easily Disposed Of. (Don't I wish, says the shade of Catherine de' Medici.) Philip II. of Spain gets married to Elisabeth de Valois in the pilot while Mary Tudor is still alive throughout most of the first season. (Philip was a bad husband to poor Mary, but bigamy he'd have drawn a line at.) The Bourbon brothers, Louis, Prince Condé, and Antoine finally make an appearance in s2, where Louis gets to be Mary's temporary love interest and a possible candidate for Elizabeth I. to marry.) (Imagining how both their historical counterparts would have reacted to that suggestion is hysterical again. Good old Condé's historical wives whom he got, all in all, eleven children are of course non existent.) Reign is one of the few historical fictions to actually use Claude, Catherine's second oldest daughter, as a character, but whereas historically she was the only one of Catherine's kids not to have scandalous rumors attached to her and being her mother's favourite, here she's a a teen version of her sister Margot's popular image as a rebellious good time girl and her mother's unfavourite. (Margot has yet to be mentioned as existing, btw; of the younger kids, we've only seen Charles though the future Henri III. was mentioned in dialogue as well.)

Then there's the part where the French court keeps residing in "the castle", which isn't in Paris but isn't one of the gorgeous Loire chateaus like Chambord, either, instead being near the sea coast and looking grey and gloomy. The English, independent of monarch, are Up To No Good throughout but strangely never use this golden opportunity. In s2 inquisitors and their thuggish helpers, directly employed by the Vatican, roam the countryside to round up the helpless, hailing directly from Hammer Horror movies, but the French court itself, other than the occasional Cardinal visiting from Rome, is strangely cleric-free And so forth and so on. When, in s1, Henry II. in a rare reflective moment mentions having been a hostage as a boy it was an utter shock to this viewer because unlike most of Reign's other events, that actually happened.

If you utterly disconnect the goings on on screen from any historical knowledge of this world and see it as pure fantasy, a la The Enchanted Forest in Once upon a Time, though, it definitely delivers in the "entertaining soap" category, and it offers not one or two but five regular female characters (Mary Stuart, Catherine de' Medici and Mary's ladies, with the sublimely historical names of Lola, Kenna and Greer), whose developments and exploits we're following. Plus recurring female guest stars. The Catherine-Mary relationship starts in classic villainess-heroine manner but turns into something surprisingly complex, and Catherine herself is a great character, giving me fond flashbacks to 80s soap operas where the female antagonists if they stuck around long enough were developing layers and also nearly always got the best lines. As for the girls, their stories are actually quite good variations of "how to survive in a system that's stacked against you" even if they do so in cocktail gowns and blithely unburdened by anything resembling period attitudes. It's not every show, crack history or not, which is a female character turn down her True Love's marriage proposal because she's found she likes being financially independent and on her own better. (As opposed to turning it down because of misunderstandings, because of a rival, because she's pressured etc.)

Also, there's a lot of black humor in the dialogue. Have an example:

Mary and Catherine are in their annual "antagonists teaming up because of shared danger" episode; Catherine draws a stiletto, Mary perks up:

Mary: Poison?
Catherine: You say that so hopefully now.

In conclusion, it's pure crack, but if you have nothing else to do and it's available, go for it. Just don't play any drinking games counting anachronisms and the like, or you're passed out before the first episode is even finished.

Meanwhile, in another fandom:

Penny Dreadful

Apples: Joan and Evelyn backstory, sensual and poetical. Headcanon accepted.
selenak: (Black Sails by Violateraindrop)
Still the result from my London expedition at the beginning of August. I didn't watch any of these plays, I just bought them in bookstores.

Pitcairn: play by Richard Bean. Flippantly described, it's an Age of Sails Lord of the Flies, featuring the most prominent mutineers of them all. More precisely: after the famous mutiny on the Bounty, some of the mutineers risked staying in Tahiti, and nine went on with Fletcher Christian, and 20 Polynesians, 14 of whom were women (and only three of these women were on board voluntarily, Christian and the other mutineers had simply kidnapped the rest) and ended up on Pitcairn. If you're read Caroline Alexander's The Bounty, for my money by far the best book both on the mutiny and its aftermath, you knew the Pitcairn story ended rather bloodily, with the question as to who killed whom and why depending on the various changing accounts the one European survivor, John Adams, gave when Pitcairn was finally found by the navy decades later. (For years after that, it never seems to have occurrred to any of the curious and Bounty-romantisizing people to interview any of the surviving Polynesian women, until one, nicknamed Jenny, who took the first chance she got to finally leave Pitcairn told her story, and it was anything but complimentary to the European mutineers.)

Now I've watched the three most famous movies on the Bounty mutiny (Laughton/Gable, Howard/Brando and Hopkins/Gibson as Bligh and Christian respectively, with the last movie the only one reflecting newer research and taking a pro Bligh approach, with the earlier two being all evil Captain versus heroic mutineers), and I've read some novels, but Bean's play is the first depiction focusing exclusively on the mutineers and Polynesians who ended up on Pitcairn, and my Lord of the Flies comparison is no hyperbole. Bean is also the first author who makes the Polynesians, both female and male, into characters, instead of presenting him as pretty, available and mostly silent and catalysts for the mutiny. He's also trying very hard to avoid the "noble savage" stereotype, not least by presenting them in their own context, where the Polynesians have their own social hierarchy (which the Europeans utterly ignore) and prejudices. Even though, they come across far more sympathetically than the Europeans, whose first idea on how to live their new Utopia is to enslave the Polynesian males, and whose falling out over the women never bothers with their choices. Bean's solution to what to make of the various contradictory accounts (Adams at various points said Christian had committed suicide, that he was killed by another Polynesian, or by another mutineer, that he became quickly hated or that he remained beloved till the end (the last story being told after Adams had gotten back into contact with people in England and had found out that the story of the mutiny was now firmly pro Christian, anti Bligh in the public consciousness; "Jenny" said all the Polynesians turned against the mutineers and that the women tried to escape Pitcairn by attempting to build a boat, which failed, something that's confirmed in the surviving writings of mutineer Edward Young who also mentions the women were punished for this) is to come up with a twist that I thought was unique to him until rereading Caroline Alexander's book, which mentioned that the very first dramatization of the discovery of Pitcairn had the very same twist. The twist in question, and more. )

The question of what exactly happened to cause the mutiny is never addressed, as it's not the point of the play. It's a story where everyone gets a fresh new start but due to the baggage they bring with them - the Europeans ideas of racial superiority, and the confusion of the fact that the women are sexually liberated with the idea that they don't care whom they have sex with, the Polynesians their own hierarchy which divides them from each other and stops them banding together until it is too late - it ends in a far worse state than the one they ran away from. One third into the play, when the Bounty is burned, both mutineers and Polynesians realise they are now in prison, locked together with each other when half of them wants to kill the other half, worse than a prison sentence in England would have been. As Utopia turns Dystopia stories go, this one is told viciously and efficiently. In a can't-turn-my-eyes-away manner; if it's ever staged where I can see it, I will.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: first of all, let me address something that annoys me in plenty of both negative and positive reviews of this play: said reviews treating JKR as the author. She's not. I repeat: she did not write this play, and never claimed she had. The credit on the cover is pretty clear: a two part stage play written by Jack Thorne based on an original new story by Thorne, J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany. Which makes Thorne the author, with input by JKR as well as John Tiffany as far as the storyline is concerned.

Maybe a comparison: The Empire Strikes Back. Script by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett. George Lucas did not write it. Of course he had imput in the storyline, and he approved of the final result. But I can't count the number of criticisms of Lucas as a scriptwriter which sooner or later bring up the fact the ESB script was written by two solid veterans as an explanation why that movie is the favourite of most fans, who point to Leigh Brackett's Bogart-Bacall-Hawks past as having influenced the Han and Leia scenes, etc. By the same measure, it might be more useful to compare HP and the Cursed Child to earlier work by Thorne for the tv series Skins or his plays than it is to compare it to JKR's novels.

All of this being said, here we go: I enjoyed reading this two part play tremendously. I haven't read much Next Generation fanfiction to compare it too, but it should surprise me if previous takes on Scorpius Malfoy resemble this one, who is an adorable geek and very much his own character, not Draco or Sirius revisited. Now the last two HP novels had made me have some pity and sympathy for Draco and the Malfoys in general (with the caveat that joining a genocidal bastard voluntarily not being a good idea should have been kind of obvious), but this play finally made me like Draco, without negating or prettifying his previous history in the slightest. The adult interaction between him, Harry, Hermione and Ginny feels both plausible and satisfying to me. Harry with the best of intentions struggling with fatherhood and this textually explicitly being tied back to his being raised by the Dursleys on the one hand and having Albus Dumbledore for a mentor on the other also makes character sense to me. And while "son of famous man struggles with expectations, developes massive issues" is anything but new as a concept, I thought Albus Potter was a good variation of the theme. I also liked the Albus-Ginny parallels; they have a scene together that brings up Ginny's Tom Riddle experience just rightly.

Being a genre fan, I'm of course familiar with the central plot device - which is spoilery ) - with Star Trek, Farscape and Buffy all having done memorable episodes using it. Cursed Child offers Spoilers. ) It also fits with the fact that all ensemble characters, past and present, dead and alive, contribute to saving the world: hooray for team work!

Complaints: not really. I mean, Spoilery New Character is more of a plot device than a character, but otoh New Character triggers both the aforementioned Ginny and Albus scene, and has one with Harry which is totally my kind of messed up: in spoilery ways. ) I'm really looking forward to seeing this scene acted out on stage in a year or so when tickets become reasonably available.
selenak: (Borgias by Andrivete)
Reveal time: this is the story I wrote for this year's [community profile] history_exchange. I swear I meant to write a short one this time, but while it's nowhere as long as my previous effort, Catherine de' Medici and her daughters still demanded a tale in three chapters.

Reine Mère (10908 words) by Selena
Chapters: 3/3
Fandom: Historical RPF, 16th Century CE RPF
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Catherine de' Medici & Elisabeth de Valois, Catherine de' Medici & Claude de France, Catherine de' Medici & Marguerite de Valois, Claude de France & Marguerite de Valois, Henri II de France/Catherine de' Medici, Catherine de' Medici & Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de' Medici & Francis I. of France, Henri II de France/Diane de Poitiers
Characters: Catherine de' Medici, Élisabeth de Valois | Elisabetta di Valois, Claude de France (1547-1575), Marguerite de Valois, Mary I of Scotland | Mary Queen of Scots, Diane de Poitiers, Francis I. of France, Felipe II de España | Philip II of Spain, Henri II de France, Gaspard de Coligny, Henri IV de France, Henri III de France, Clarice Strozzi de' Medici
Additional Tags/: Mother-Daughter Relationship, Motherhood, Power Dynamics, Character Study, Female-Centric, Parent-Child Relationship, Parenthood, Daughters

Catherine de' Medici and her daughters: what forms a woman, a mother, a queen?


In completely unrelated news, last night just before I fell asleep I saw that Jerry Doyle, Mr. Garibaldi from Babylon 5 had died, at only 60 years of age. The B5 ensemble really looks increasingly cursed. Garibaldi was never my favourite character, but he was a firm entry in what I tend to think of my "secondary faves" category, i.e characters who are never my best beloved but whom I always remain fond off, instead of going hot and cold on them. And not just because he played off beautifully to both my favourites, Londo and G'Kar. I found him interesting in his own right, his scenes with Bester were always riveting (and sometimes darkly hilarious), and his was one of the character voices that are very easy to find for fanfiction. For all that Garibaldi was an immensely talkative character, I find that quiet moments are the ones that touched me most, and that was very much due to Jerry Doyle's acting - Garibaldi's face when hearing that Sinclair had been on B5 and left again without seeing him in "War without End", both the big reveal scene in "Face of the Enemy" in s4 - where you see the horror in his eyes - and the confrontation with Bester in s5 when Bester casually says "how stupid do you think I am anyway?" - and his final scene with Londo in the s2 episode where both Garibaldi and the audience know that Londo crossed a moral threshhold and their relationship has irrevocably changed, but Garibaldi has one last drink with his no-more-friend. I did not know Jerry Doyle as a person. But as an actor, he contributed to creating something that means so much to me.

Here is what JMS wrote about him.

2016: get better, please. You've taken so much already, year.
selenak: (Borgias by Andrivete)
The History Exchange 2016 has gone live!

I received an intense, vivid poem on Artemsia Gentileschi, portrayed, as is only fit, through her paintings. I think it's accessible even if you're not familiar with Artemsia's work and history: In the days of Jael

This is a small exchange - 15 works all in all, so I hastily started to devour it. Here are two stories I found outstanding so far:

What dreams may come: Akhenaten, the Heretic Pharao, grows into himself. Poetic and terse at the same time, drawing a great portrait in short space.

i have cut a ribbon of skin from another man's body: Olympias encounters Zeus four times throughout her life. Olympias in historical fiction tends to be invariably described through her son's or her son's companions' eyes, and with the son in question being Alexander the Great, that's not so surprising. But it makes it all the more welcome to see a take on her from her own pov, in the centre of her own story, and one that uses the myth of Zeus as Alexander's father in a really creative way.

As for my own story, I think, as always, it's a bit obvious, but have a guess anyway!
selenak: (Black Widow by Endlessdeep)
One more day to sign up for the History Exchange! Come on, fellow history loving readers, you know you want to. 500 words is really low pressure and can be easily done.

Babylon 5:

Every now and then you need a story that's a break from the angst and is just hilarious. Like this one.

Perception: in which it turns out that Refa had an, err, somewhat mistaken impression about what the Londo and Morden relationship was all about. This has lasting consequences. :)


If running's a plan: Natasha-centric story that takes her, and the team, from the end of Avengers to the end of Age of Ultron, showing the growth and change of the Natasha/Bruce relationship and the team coming together. As opposed to majority of the fandom, I actually liked Natasha/Bruce in AoU, but still, fleshing out how they got there really good to read about, as was the Avengers going from almost strangers (except for Natasha and Clint, of course) allied by necessity to a team working together. While Natasha/Bruce is the main relationship of the story, I really appreciate it also gives storytime to Natasha's other relationships (Clint, Nick Fury, Tony, Steve) - so often fanfiction focuses only on one and lets the characters live in isolation.
selenak: (Borgias by Andrivete)
Dear Writer of many talents,

you've volunteered to write some characters that intrigue me fo rme, and I'm happy and grateful! Here are some thoughts:

Behind the cut )
selenak: (Henry and Eleanor by Poisoninjest)
So, last year, I signed up on this small endearing historical fiction exchange ficathon, which would have allowed me to post a text just consisting of 500 hundred words, and managed to end up writing an entire novella about Eleanor of Aquitaine because using the "Five things which never happened" concept for her just seemed irresistable. This year, the History Exchange ficathon is open for nominations again, and this time, I am resolved. Only a brief text. That's going to be it.

Meanwhile, if someone should volunteer to write me that "Juana the Probably Not Mad marries Henry Tudor" AU I've been speculating about now and then, feel free to make it as lengthy as you want. :)

Star Wars:

All interested parties probably have already watched this by now, but just in case: Formerly known as is a fabulous vid about the women of Star Wars.

Orphan Black:

ditto: the one where Beth is an actual ghost. Sharp and wonderful.
selenak: (BambergerReiter by Ningloreth)
You know, this time span is really, really crowded with fascinating people, at the tail ends especially. When mentally composing the post, I went “but what about *insert v.v. interesting person* all the time. Ruthlessly cutting off anyone who lived a life long enough to have a few decades in the 15th and a few in the 16th century helped only a little. (That’s why Jakob Fugger and Albrecht Dürer didn’t make it, though. Oh, and of course no Luther or any of the humanist who had their glory days firmly in the 16th century and in my mind are Renaissance, not medieval people anyway.) Here’s one remaining selection:

De iu maere bringet daz bin ich )

The other days


selenak: (Default)

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