Happy Monday! I have a guest post from Sally Christie, the author of SISTERS OF VERSAILLES. I’ve had an interest in reading French historical fiction for awhile (and if I were to write historical fiction, there’s a castle in France that I thought I’d enjoy researching in more depth–along with those who lived in it, of course). So I wanted to know more about why she chose the subject that she did. I really enjoyed reading her post, so I hope you do too!
I love France – who doesn’t? – but I didn’t set out to write about it. In some way, it chose me! I came across the story of the Mailly Nesle sisters one night, and though I had always had a passing interest in French history, it wasn’t a particular passion. However, these sisters’ story really stood out for me, and demanded to be told.
As I dove into the research and started getting inside the minds and hearts of the main characters, I developed a strong affinity for the period. The 18th century was a time of great change – France was at the doorstep of the Enlightenment and the shocking notion that birth might not be the only determinant of fate. In some ways, the world was beginning to look a lot like ours – new comfortable furniture, lots of different foods from around the world, coffee and chocolate, newspapers – but at the same time the mentality, at least at the beginning of the century, remained firmly rooted in the past.
For the research into the sisters’ lives, I relied mostly on memoirs and biographies about Versailles and court life, where most of the (passing) mentions of them appear – there is only one book written about them, by the Goncourt brothers in the late 19th century, and it focuses on Marie Anne. At the same time as diving deep into their lives, I also went lateral and read extensively about social mores and customs. There are a lot of obscure memoires out there with funny stories and anecdotes about life at the time, which I tried to incorporate as much as possible into the book.
The best part of the research process was definitely going to France and walking in the steps of the sisters, visiting places where they lived or that were important to their lives. There were two highlights: visiting their childhood home, which still stands in Paris (on the banks of the Seine, right opposite the Louvre). It’s still called the Hotel de Mailly Nesle, and is now used as offices by the French government. A few rooms are original to how they would have been during the sisters’ lifetime, including the “golden boudoir” of their mother. Fascinating!
Another highlight was a “behind the scenes” tour of the palace of Versailles, visiting apartments that are normally off limit to visitors (only a handful of the grand state rooms are open for tourists). I got to see the actual rooms where some of the sisters lived: standing at the same windows, looking out over the same gardens, was a wild experience.
The backstage tour also revealed the reality of life for most of the inhabitants of Versailles. Such a jumble and a rat’s nest! Rooms were divided and re-divided, both vertically and horizontally (!) as more and more courtiers vied for a coveted spot in the palace. In the book one of the running themes is how large people’s apartments were – a constant source of prestige and a good way to gauge who was in favor or not. Apparently King Louis XV was constantly shuffling courtiers around, moving people in and out of rooms – one of his favorite games! A good apartment would be on a lower floor, with several rooms, perhaps even with its own water fountain, while a bad apartment might be just one small room, under the eaves, looking out over an interior courtyard… but it was still very coveted, because, well, Versailles!
You can see some pictures from that tour on my website at www.sallychristieauthor.com.
Thank you so much to Sally Christie for taking the time to write this post. Check out my review to see what I thought of the book!
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