Scenes from inside Versailles Palace

Spoiler Alert: Mentions several scenes in the plot.

The interior of the palace is fabulously ornate – a statement of power and prestige that could hardly be missed by visitors. The Hall of Mirrors is unforgettable today – how much more amazing it must have been in Louis XVI’s day, when mirrors were an expensive novelty. (Source: Jessica Kantak Bailey @Unsplash.com)

Yet for all its grandeur, 18th century accounts often mention the smell, the hordes of gawkers and the inconveniences. The smell came from a pungent mix of animals, rubbish, the marshy ground, unwashed bodies (bathing was rare as water was said to spread disease), disease, carelessly emptied chamber pots, and people relieving themselves in the corridors if they couldn’t find a convenient pot. Charming! Many aspects of royal life, even dining and childbirth, were carried out with an audience of enthralled on-lookers. The dining experience wasn’t helped by the fact that the food would often be cold, due to the long walk from the kitchens.

It’s well worth doing a tour if you get the chance to visit. Behind the grand public halls are the more intimate and even more beautiful private rooms of the king and queen (although ‘private’ is a relative term, given the number of advisers, courtiers, guards and servants who had access to even the most of intimate rooms, such as the queen’s bedroom). Two of my favourite rooms are the clock room and king’s library, featured in the book.

Queen's Bedroom (source: https://chateauversailles.fr)

As a statement of the richness of the décor at Versailles, it’s hard to go past the Queen’s bedroom. The hidden door, through which Marie Antoinette escaped when Versailles was invaded, is near the corner of the room. (Source: the official website of Versailles, https://chateauversailles.fr)

The story features the gorgeous works of Jean-Henri Riesener, favoured cabinetmaker to the royal household. This photo of Marie Antoinette’s private ‘Gilded Room’ shows a magnificent commode and desk by Riesener.

The commode is described in the Collections list as: “By the quality of its amaranth and satin veneer, framing a precious marquetry with diamond patterns and sunflower flowers, by the finesse and delicacy of its bronzes where dominate the floral motifs so dear to Marie-Antoinette, this piece of furniture is a magnificent testimony to the perfection and refinement of French royal furniture at the end of the Ancien Régime.”

The desk is described as: “veneered with amaranth wood and stained sycamore, rests on four tapered legs with octagonal section whose corners are underlined by twisted rods in gilded bronze; a ring with grooves and oves ensures the connection with the body of the table. It is decorated on its four sides with bas-reliefs of gilded bronze representing musical love games among clouds; symmetrical compartments show on a background of sycamore tinted in green an alternation of grooves and florets.”  (Source of image and descriptions: the official website of Versailles, https://www.chateauversailles.fr)

If you get a chance to visit Versailles, allow loads of time to explore and check out the fascinating official website before you go.

I also had hours of fun looking through photo books about the palace. A couple of recommendations:

Kisluk-Grosheide, Danielle and Bertrand Rondot (editors) (2018) Visitors to Versailles from Louis XIV to the French Revolution. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Yale University Press.

Delalex, Hélène, Alexandre Maral, Nicholas Milovanovic (2016) Marie Antoinette. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Scenes from the Versailles gardens

Spoiler Alert: Mentions several scenes in the plot.

The third book in my French Legacy Trilogy (The Last Child at Versailles) includes several scenes set in and around the Palace of Versailles, just outside of Paris, during the final few months of the reign of Louis XVI.

If you haven’t visited, here’s a taster of the some of the places mentioned.

The gardens of the Petit Trianon and especially the Queen’s Hamlet were (in real life and in the story) a peaceful retreat from the gruelling routines of court life for Marie Antoinette and her children. Here’s the tower the children climb and also the pretty but useless mill. (Source: Jeremy Bezanger @Unsplash.com and Roman Babakin @Shutterstock.com)

A far cry from the formal gardens that surround the Palace of Versailles. (Source: Clark Van Der Beken @Unsplash.com)

On the fifth of October, 1789, thousands of working women from Paris marched for hours in the rain to Versailles to protest the scarcity of food. Armed with everything from fish-knives to cannons, they must have been a terrifying sight, demanding bread and threatening violence. The imposing gates, guarding the front courtyard at the Palace of Versailles, could only hold the angry mob off for a few hours. (Source: Alexandre Brondino for the stormy image and Josh Arras for the gate @Unsplash.com)

Inspirational books for writing “The Last Child At Versailles”

The third book in my French Legacy Trilogy (The Last Child at Versailles) is set during the lead-up to the 1789 French Revolution and the dramatic years that followed.

There is a vast body of reference works on the revolution from both a broad historical view and from the perspective of key players. Fortunately, my interest was much narrower. I became fascinated with an insignificant young girl, whose real-life story is little known, but absolutely extraordinary. She was born into a family who served at Versailles, but circumstances gave her a grandstand seat on a world that was spiralling out of control.

Here, I’m sharing some of the books I used for my research, all highly recommended to give an intimate and captivating view of life at the court of Versailles and the brutal events of the French Revolution.

My primary source was the wonderful biography by Susan Nagel of Marie-Thérèse, the eldest child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. While her mother is one of the most famous (or infamous) women in history, Marie-Thérèse deserves to be much better known. Still a young girl when the revolution overturned her pampered life as a Child of France, she faced the invasion of her home at Versailles, a long and harrowing imprisonment, the deaths of her entire family, exile from her homeland, sensational rumours and blackmail, before becoming a leader and queen-in-waiting, with a final exile when she was on the cusp of becoming the queen of France (technically she was queen for twenty minutes).
Susan Nagel’s biography is highly readable and utterly fascinating. Find out more about her other books here
Antonia Fraser’s detailed biography of Marie Antoinette is another fascinating read. Daughter of the Empress of Austria, she was married to the heir to the French throne at the tender age of fourteen and became Queen of France four years later. She is infamous in popular culture for her lavish spending and disregard for the dire condition of the ordinary folk, but her real story is much more nuanced. Yes, she loved balls, fabulous clothes and expensive jewellery (she was the queen, after all), but she was also charitable and a devoted mother. Contrary to myth, she didn’t say “Let them eat cake” when told the people had no bread. And if you think modern social media can viciously slander celebrities, well, it wasn’t so much different back then, albeit via paper and word-of-mouth rather than world-wide digital exposure.
Another extraordinary woman of the era was Lucie de la Tour du Pin, who had an astounding aptitude for being present at major historical events, all recorded in her diaries. Caroline Moorehead brings us her remarkable story in Dancing to the Precipice, a reference to the grand balls which continued to amuse the court, even as Paris rioted. Honestly, if it was a fictional tale, you wouldn’t believe half of it!
Madame Tussaud, of waxworks fame, was another woman uncomfortably close to the revolution, observing it from both sides with her artist’s eye. Michelle Moran’s fictionalised story of her life is full of delicious details about clothes, people and lifestyles, as well as the terrifying events of the revolution. In this pre-camera era, the famed waxworks provided people from all walks of life with an intimate peek at famous folk. She often had to work at a feverish pace to capture the likenesses of the key players of the time, adding new tableaux as the royal and revolutionary figures cycled in and out of favour.
And finally, a gorgeous book of true tales and images from Versailles, with sumptuous pics of the palace, its furniture and treasures, the people and clothes, gardens and glories, produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An absolute dream for a writer looking for authentic details!

Full references:

Nagel, Susan (2008) Marie-Thérèse: the fate of Marie Antoinette’s daughter. Bloomsbury, London.

Fraser, Antonia (2001) Marie Antoinette: the Journey.  Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.

Moorehead, Caroline (2009) Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution. Chatto & Windus, London

Moran, Michelle (2011) Madame Tussaud: a novel of the French Revolution. Quercus, London.

Kisluk-Grosheide, Danielle and Bertrand Rondot (editors) (2018) Visitors to Versailles from Louis XIV to the French Revolution. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Yale University Press.

Any questions?

Rose icon (Shutterstock)

I’ve updated my Goodreads author profile, so readers can now ask me questions at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20512809.Rose_Pascoe

Or you are welcome to contact me via this website: send an email via the contact page, or follow my blog, or receive updates about new releases by signing up at the bottom of the home page.

Here’s a sample of answers to Goodreads questions:

Q. Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

A. My ancestors arrived from Britain on sailing ships in the early days of the settlement of New Zealand by Europeans. Family legend has it that one branch of the family originated in France. It got me wondering – what drives a person to leave their home country for the ends of the earth? When I read more about French history, I stumbled on the little-known real-life character who became the heroine of The Last Child At Versailles. What an incredible life she must have had, growing up at Versailles at the time of the French Revolution! As soon as I read about her, I had to write the book.

Q. What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?

A. I spent my childhood weekends on the many and varied boats my father built. On one trip, we came across an island with hole in the middle. The mysterious thing was that we were never able to find it again, despite years of island-cruising, map-checking and asking other boaties. It became a family obsession! Reminds me of The Beach by Alex Garland, on a much smaller and way less exotic scale.

Q. What books are on your summer reading list this year?

A. Definitely Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See was one of my all-time favourite books.

Q. How do you deal with writer’s block?

A. I find a tiny, tangential hook into whatever I’m writing and force myself to write a couple of lines about it. I got blocked halfway through writing Last Child At Versailles, when I had a long gap while moving house. I found a picture of a beautiful period gown and started describing it … before I knew it, I had written a whole scene at a ball (never used – maybe another time!)

Book Giveaway

Last Child at Versailles cover

** Giveaway now closed. Thanks to all who entered and congratulations to winners. Hope you enjoy the story. **

US readers are in with a chance to win my latest novel, The Last Child At Versailles, via Goodreads Giveaways.

Entries are open until 19 November 2021 via this link: Book giveaway for The Last Child At Versailles (French Legacy, #3) by Rose Pascoe Oct 23-Nov 19, 2021 (goodreads.com)

To make sure fans from other countries don’t miss out, I’m also giving away 20 additional copies of the e-book (.epub version). Click on the “Contact” tab of this website by 19 November and send me an email with “Giveaway” in the message field.

Winners will be randomly selected from all entries. I promise not to use your email for any further purpose after sending out the e-book to the winners.

Good luck! And happy reading.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Anais Nin

New novel / book festival

First up, apologies for disappearing for so long. I like writing about perilous adventures, but I didn’t expect to be living through one. Well, not exactly perilous, but certainly involving a lot of unexpected effort, ending up in a new home in a different town.

The good news is that the third book in the French Legacy series is finally nearing completion – about time! More on this when I have a definite publication date.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to indulging in all things literary at the upcoming WORD festival in Christchurch, New Zealand (25-29 August, https://wordchristchurch.co.nz/). As always, I am thankful to be living in New Zealand, where we are still free to come together in large numbers to celebrate our passions.

Fellow kiwis, hope to see you there!

Here are a few photos of Christchurch to whet the appetite. [Disclosure: these were taken earlier in the year – today it is raining, with the promise of snow.]

Historic Chateau Tongariro – sleeping on a volcano

On our recent trip to Tongariro National Park, we treated ourselves to a night at an historic New Zealand hotel, as a celebration of a successful final year at school and making it through 2020.

The Chateau Tongariro is New Zealand’s only 4-star hotel located in a World Heritage area, tucked at the base of one active volcano and within ash-spitting distance of two others. The following history of the hotel is mainly based on a booklet available at the hotel: Legends & Stories of Bayview Chateau Tongariro (www.chateau.co.nz). All historic images were sourced from the endlessly-fascinating collections at our National Library (https://natlib.govt.nz).

Tongariro National Park is the fourth oldest national park in the world, established in 1894. The Chateau dates back to the 1920s, which shows in some of the décor elements, though the overall Georgian-style channels ‘European alpine resort’ more than art-deco. It must have been a challenge to build, sitting in the middle of the wilderness on a high plateau with winter snow and poor roads.

Credits: (1) New Zealand Railways. Publicity Branch. New Zealand Railways. Publicity Branch: Chateau Tongariro National Park; best reached by rail. Issued by the Publicity Branch, N.Z. Railways. N.Z. Railways Studios. [Printed by] C.S.W. Ltd, N.Z. [ca 1932]. Ref: Eph-E-TOURISM-ca-1932-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23083829. (2) Chateau Tongariro, and Mount Ruapehu erupting behind. Davis, Bruce Valentine, 1913-2003 :Photographs and negatives. Ref: 35mm-00702-a-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22757948

The first skiing on the mountain was recorded in 1913. Presumably most of the early guests travelled on the main trunk railway, which passes near the park. After two decades of hard grind and engineering feats, the ‘last spike’, of polished silver, was driven nearby by the Prime Minister in 1908. The rail journey can still be done today, in much greater comfort, and is well worth the time. We took the train to National Park in winter a few years ago; a relaxing way to get to the ski-field. www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz

The war years were an interesting period in the Chateau’s history. With travel for pleasure no longer possible, the hotel was requisitioned for the patients of the psychiatric hospital at Porirua, which had been damaged in the 1942 earthquake. The fresh air and splendid surroundings must have done wonders for the mental health of the patients. Unfortunately, the 1945 eruption of Mt Ruapehu put an end to what must surely have been the most luxurious hospital in New Zealand.

The hotel is fixed in my own memory as a place of fairy-tale splendour, after staying there as a child. All my other childhood holidays involved sharing an ancient canvas tent with family at various beach and lakeside campgrounds, so the elegant décor, grand lounges, chandeliers and high ceilings of the Chateau really made an impression. I don’t think I’d ever eaten in a restaurant before, let alone stayed in an hotel.

Going back after so long risked disappointment, but it was just as magnificent as I remembered. The room even had a ‘pillow menu’, so one could select the optimum comfort for a good night’s rest after an active day.

With overseas tourists shut out of New Zealand, the rooms were reasonably priced and the number of visitors sparse enough that we scored the prime dining table by the ‘Ngauruhoe Window”, a huge 3m by 3m picture window framing the volcano of ‘Mt Doom’ (Lord of the Rings movie) fame. What a view it would be during one of Ngauruhoe’s occasional eruptions!

Credit: People in a lounge at Chateau Tongariro with Mount Ngauruhoe visible through the window – Photograph taken by Leslie Hinge. New Zealand Railways: Photographs. Ref: 1/1-003889-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23154729

All-in-all a special trip and a great way to end the year.

Whatever you are up to this holiday season, I wish you all the best for the New Year. My thoughts go out particularly to those who cannot be with loved ones or enjoy the delights of travel. Fingers crossed for a successful vaccine rollout. And finally, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this blog in 2020.

Happy reading, Rose

Tongariro National Park – walking on a volcano

Tongariro National Park is a mecca for geologists, tourists, hikers, skiers and Lord of the Rings movie enthusiasts. A picturesque cluster of three large volcanoes and a scattering of smaller cones, geothermal vents, bright green lakes, stunted mountain beech forest and miles of golden and red tussock on a plateau of volcanic debris. About halfway between Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand’s North Island, near the tourist hot-spot of Lake Taupo.

The largest of the volcanoes, Ruapehu, is home to two ski-fields and many wonderful walking tracks. We stayed in Whakapapa Village and did three two-hour walks: Silica Rapids, Taranaki Falls and Skyline. The first two of these are easy walks through a mix of mountain beech forest and open landscapes, including alpine bogs (with board-walks) and fields of volcanic debris and lava intrusions.

The first walk loops past Silica Rapids, a white slick formed by mineral deposits brought up from underground fissures by super-heated water.

The second loops past a waterfall and features an artistic loo-with-a-view.

The Skyline walk takes you near the top of the mountain, with stunning views north to Lake Taupo and west as far as Mt Taranaki, on a good day. The good news is that you can ride up the mountain in a gondola, the Sky Waka (www.mtruapehu.com). The bad news is that it’s still an uphill slog through ash and rock to get to the ridge, about two hours return. Wear boots, take water, and be prepared for changeable alpine conditions.

Try not to dwell on the fact that it is also an active volcano, erupting every twenty years or so (the latest in 2007), with minor volcanic activity between-times. Currently sitting at Level 1 (minor unrest) according to NZ’s natural hazard website www.geonet.org.nz, which also shows the many earthquake events that add spice to our lives here on the Pacific Plate boundary. {Update: a couple of days later, the volcanic activity alert was upgraded to Level 2, due to a rising temperature in the crater lake and tremors!}

For experienced hikers, the Tongariro Crossing is one of the best day-walks in New Zealand, traversing Mt Tongariro and passing close to the perfect cone of ash that is Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movie). One of my favourite multi-day hikes is the circuit around the mountains. The details are on the NZ Department of Conservation website www.doc.govt.nz.

Tongariro was the first national park established in New Zealand, thanks to the foresight and generosity of the local iwi, who wished to protect their sacred mountains. It is also one of only a few places in the world with Dual World Heritage status for its combination of natural and cultural values.

Definitely one for the bucket list!

Women’s Right to Vote

With saturation coverage of elections at the moment, take a moment to reflect on how far women have come over the last few generations.

I was in Christchurch (New Zealand) recently, where the Canterbury Museum is displaying taonga/treasures collected over the past 150 years. The biggest drawcard was the dress worn by women’s suffrage campaigner, Kate Sheppard, on the NZ$10 note.

The city also has a memorial celebrating NZ women gaining the right to vote. As any local will proudly tell you, New Zealand was the first self-governing country to achieve universal voting for women, way back in 1893. [Note the careful wording – other parts of the world gave votes to women earlier, like the state of Wyoming, or gave women with property the vote, as on the Isle of Man. Kudos to all of them.]

The NZ Electoral Act of 1893 substituted the word ‘person’ for ‘male’ and even included a handy definition noting that ‘person’ included women. Radical! We take the right to vote for granted these days, but back in the mid-1800s women had no legal identity apart from their husband, who controlled his wife’s property and their children. Given the rampant abuse of alcohol and high level of violence against women, it’s no wonder the campaign for women’s rights sprang out of the temperance movement.

The victory came after a very long campaign, featuring the epic 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition – a 270m long list of the signatures of 24,000 women of all walks of life – as shown in the photo, being wheeled in a barrow. Several thousand more women signed other rolls of the petition, which no longer survive. Almost a quarter of New Zealand women signed, an extraordinary achievement, testament to the door-knocking, speech-giving dedication of a band of determined campaigners.

The petition was presented to parliament by rolling it out along the central aisle of the debating chamber. What a sight that must have been! The petition is displayed at the National Library in Wellington (https://natlib.govt.nz/he-tohu/about/womens-suffrage-petition).

The National Library has published a wonderful compilation of potted biographies of women who signed the petition: The Women’s Suffrage Petition: Te Petihana Whakamana Poti Wahine 1893 (2017, Dept of Internal Affairs and Bridget Williams Books). Well worth a read to give a sense of the range of women who signed and an insight into their lives. You can see a docudrama about the campaign at: https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/votes-for-women-what-really-happened-2012

At least one of my ancestors signed the petition, despite living in a shepherd’s cottage miles from town. She came to New Zealand from a Scottish ship-building town in 1884, endured a long voyage, then learned new skills in order to survive off the land. Hard times: no heat that didn’t involve chopping wood, no vegetable not grown in their own garden, and no doubt a monotonous diet of mutton. Unfortunately, she died young, soon after the birth of her seventh child.

So, ladies, enjoy your right to vote and think of those who went before us, whose hard work and determination have got us to where we are today – celebrating an outstanding woman being elected to the US vice-presidency and a newly-elected NZ government that is the most diverse ever (lead by our third female Prime Minister).

And spare a thought (or an action) for the millions of women in the world today who still do not have basic rights and even more whose rights are trampled by misogynists in power.

NZ Crime and Mystery Writing

A big night tonight for New Zealand crime and mystery writing – the annual Ngaio Marsh Awards will be presented at the Word Christchurch festival. Congratulations to all the authors short-listed. (https://wordchristchurch.co.nz/programme/the-ngaio-marsh-awards/)

New Zealand is brimming with terrific writers, many of whom don’t get the recognition they deserve. I suppose, like most things, it comes down to the huge hype and marketing dollars channelled into overseas blockbusters.

So why not make a resolution to read more local stories? If you need inspiration, there is no better place to turn than to “Crime Watch”, Craig Sisterson’s fabulous website, which reviews kiwi crime fiction (https://kiwicrime.blogspot.com/).

Personally, I have a fairly low tolerance for explicit violence and gore, which rules out a lot of crime writing, but there are still plenty of cleverly plotted novels with engaging characters to dive into. I’d recommend Vanda Symon’s “Overkill” for a true kiwi crime experience. The lead, Sam Shephard, is a young female police officer, who is not afraid to kick a few ute tyres and face down the trials and tribulations of her small rural town in Southland.

If you like historical mysteries, you might like to read the “Sergeant Frank Hardy” series by Wendy Wilson. The first book “Not The Faintest Trace” is a free ebook, set in the rugged backcountry of 1870s New Zealand, with characters as diverse and gnarly as the scenery.

Or try a dive into a classic ‘Golden Age’ mystery by our very own Ngaio Marsh, New Zealand’s grand dame of the genre. She wrote 32 crime novels between 1934 and 1982 and ranks alongside the greats of this era, like Agatha Christie.

Happy reading!

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