Justine: Mixing History and Fiction

373px-Paul_Delaroche_-_Napoleon_Crossing_the_Alps_-_Google_Art_Project_2

“Napoleon Crossing the Alps” by Paul Delaroche, 1850

As a historical romance writer, I’m very fortunate in that when I work on a book, I get to research interesting facts about the time period, and then try to incorporate them into my stories. (Okay, some people might find that tedious, but I love it!)

My six-book series, The Beggars Club, begins the first week of March in 1815, just as Napoleon is escaping from Elba and making his way to Paris in advance of what is now called his Hundred Days.

Napoleon was cunning in planning his escape. He, along with his mother and his sister, Pauline, one of his most ardent supporters, threw a party on the eve of February 26th, 1815. During the fête, which was quite a distraction, Napoleon sneaked out of his compound and to the harbor, where he met up with seven ships, 1,026 men, forty horses, two cannon, and a coach. Bypassing the Royal Navy, who were supposed to be on the water keeping watch, he landed at Golfe Juan, near Cannes, and had a singular goal: get out of the area of Provence (which was generally hostile towards him) and cross the mountains to Dauphiné, where a more sympathetic population awaited.

Also important to Napoleon was money, and unfortunately for him, while winding his way up a steep and icy track after Grasse, he lost two mules carrying 1/10th of his treasure down a precipice.

I have been able to take this little-known fact and weave it into my first book, His Lady to Protect, which comes out in spring 2019. My heroine’s uncle, a Napoleonic sympathizer, learns of this loss and decides to use his niece’s dowry as a contribution to Bonaparte’s fortune.

What I would love to know, but haven’t been able to determine, is whether anyone ever recovered that missing fortune.

Another event that happened the first week of March in 1815 were riots against the Corn Laws. No, they were not about corn. At that time, all grain was referred to as “corn.” What wealthy landowners (some of whom were also members of Parliament) were attempting to do was to restrict the importation of grain in order to keep domestic prices high, which would naturally favor them. In advance of the vote, which happened on Friday, March 10th, riots occurred in the city, and several members of the House of Lords had their houses broken into and vandalized by angry mobs who opposed the measure. As you can image, the repercussions of such actions were swift and harsh.

In an interesting twist, news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his march towards Paris reached the London papers on the same morning as the vote, and the threat of another long and bloody war with L’Empereur cast aside much of the protests about the Corn Laws, which passed Parliament with little fanfare.

Of course, the passage of those laws would come back to bite England the following year, when the effects of Mt. Tambora’s eruption in 1815 caused one of the coldest summers on record in 1816, leading to massive crop failures and rampant famine.

The riots in advance of the Parliamentary vote also play into my book, creating a diversion and conflict one evening when my H&H are attending a party.

So, do you like it when authors are able to combine the real world (or real history) with their fictional one? What’s your favorite example?

7 thoughts on “Justine: Mixing History and Fiction

  1. I love the historical aspects of a story, and I always hope that what the author has written is essentially true. Although I don’t worry if it isn’t, I guess because I don’t want too much history clogging up the fiction. (I mean, when I want to read history, I read history.) In fiction, anyway, the slightest fact or smallest event is enough for me to launch the story, and after that, I’m fine with whatever enhancements the writer might have taken to get the story done, Like Gone with the Wind, for example! It’s about the American Civil War, which really happened. 🙂

    • If I ever have to “make up” history (or fudge dates), I’ll own it. I’m doing that a bit in this first book…the dates aren’t quite right, just because I’m trying to fit about a week and a half’s worth of stuff into one “story week.” I plan to have a little addendum to my book explaining what really happened and acknowledging that I bent the facts a bit. I always like it when authors own that.

  2. I integrated several events of the war of 1812 into my adventure novel with a moderate blend of documented detail. I feel it adds so much to the world building for the reader without getting too heavy.

    • I agree completely. There have been plenty of times I’ve read books with interesting tidbits that have led me down a Google rat hole later, looking for more information on [insert historical event here]. But those sorts of things draw the reader in and, I think, make them feel as if your story really COULD have happened during the War of 1812. I love it when history comes alive!

      • Exactly. I hope the reader wants to know even more about the war after reading my book. There’s so much more I wasn’t able to fit in, like the burning of the White House. History has great stories already, with little need for additions or embellishment.

  3. For some reason, my current NaNo is heavily influenced by turn-of-the-century Russia. But since it’s set in space in the far future, I can fudge a lot (as long as what I want to do is consistent in my universe). Still, I’m already running down blind alleys where knowing Russian would open the door and answer some of my questions.

    The thing is, I *can* fudge, but sometimes it doesn’t feel quite right. I don’t know why. I’m trying to be better at “good enough”, but sometimes something isn’t just not-good-enough, it’s just plain wrong.

    LOL, the Girls in the Basement are really mysterious in their demands. Why don’t they just go for a Japanese setting? I could find some answers THERE, at least! But no . . . they want Russia. Sigh.

    • If my girls wanted something easy, they’d go for revolutionary or civil war America…the eastern US, at least, which is where I grew up. But mine want England. Regency. Dratted girls!

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