Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Interview with Catherine Delors

I am delighted that the lovely Catherine Delors kindly consented to be interviewed on the occasion of the release of her fabulous new novel, For the King.

Elena: Catherine, I thoroughly enjoyed reading For the King and found it a novel which stayed with me for a long time afterwards. Not only was it a moving and well-told story, but the historical details made me feel that I was in the Paris of 1800. Would you tell us a little about your research, and how you were able to find so many incredible details about urban life in Napoleonic France?
Catherine: Thank you so much, Elena! For details of urban life, I relied mostly on late 18th century sources. First, Louis-Sébastien Mercier in his Le Tableau de Paris and Le Nouveau Paris casts a fond but critical eye on his city. Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne also provides a wealth of details in his works (over 400 novels!) I also highly recommend the works of a modern French historian, Arlette Farge. Farge relies on police reports, which give harrowing but fascinating insights into the lives of the poor of Paris.
Elena: I could see many resemblances between the character of Blanche and the famous Juliette Récamier. Was Madame Récamier involved in plots to overthrow Napoleon?
Catherine: Oh, indeed Madame Récamier was a major inspiration for the character of my fictional Blanche Coudert. Juliette, the leading beauty of Parisian society, and a close friend of Germaine de Staël, became a key figure of the opposition to Napoléon. However, I did not find any evidence that she was involved in any plot to overthrow his regime. Yet she was deemed enough of a menace to be exiled from Paris and even left France until the Restoration.
Elena: I love detective stories and the police work of Roch Miquel in For the King  I found to be particularly suspenseful. Roch became quite real for me. Is he based upon an historical person?
Catherine: No, Roch, unlike Blanche, is purely fictional. I just wanted to create a decent, conscientious policeman trying to make sense of the political situation, and sort out his own feelings, in the wake of the French Revolution.
Elena: One of the reasons I find your novels so interesting is that my first two books about the French royal family take place in roughly the same time frames. Madame Royale begins in 1809. Were any members of the royal family aware of the plot to assassinate Napoleon?
Catherine: Ah, this is a question I would love to answer with certainty! What is sure is that the assassins acted as part of a vast conspiracy. They reported to, and corresponded with Georges Cadoudal, the great royalist leader who operated from London and had crossed the Channel at the time of the attack to supervise the aftermath of the anticipated assassination of Napoléon. Cadoudal was financed by the British government and had been appointed Lieutenant General of the Royalist Armies by the Comte d’Artois, younger brother of King Louis XVIII. It was, in my opinion, likely that Artois was aware of the conspiracy.
I do not think the same can be said of Louis XVIII, who lived far from London, in what was then Russia. I must add that many within the royalist camp were appalled by the attack. It was something to assassinate Napoléon Bonaparte, and quite another matter to kill or main dozens of innocents in the process.
Elena: An “infernal machine” is the weapon used in the attempt to destroy Napoleon. While political leaders had been assassinated before, do you think that the horrific incident in which many innocent people were killed marked the beginning of a new age of terrorism?
Catherine: Certainly. This was why the public was so shocked by the attack. Contrary to popular belief, the French Revolution was far more violent in the provinces than in Paris. The assassins were all Chouans, royalists who had waged for years a determined insurgency in the Western provinces. Now they brought the struggle to the heart of Paris. This transposition of guerilla techniques to an urban setting was a watershed event. This is why I believe, in an age when terrorism has become a concern for all of us, it was indispensable to revisit these events.
Elena: For the King combines historical fact woven carefully amid the storyline. Do you see the craft of novel writing as an art form which, like a great painting, can convey truths that lie just beneath the surface of reality?
Catherine: Yes, I think any worthwhile novel has many layers, and can be read in many ways. For the King, for instance, is ostensibly a historical thriller. But I hope it is also a reflection on the shortcomings of human justice, and the power of love, friendship and redemption.
Elena: Thank you so much, Catherine, and I am sure many will find this book as compelling as I did.

My review of For the King, HERE.


Julianne Douglas said...

Insightful interview, ladies! Thank you for shedding more light on the historical background.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Julianne! It is amazing how you and I covered different topics in our interviews of Catherine without consulting each other!

Catherine Delors said...

Thanks to you, Elena and Julianne! Two great sets of questions, no overlap... Friends like you are true blessings.