Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Queen's Dollmaker

The Queen's Dollmaker by fellow Marylander Christine Trent is an engaging novel about a young French craftswoman in the days before and during the French Revolution. Following several tragic incidents, Claudette Laurent, the daughter of a famous Parisian dollmaker, finds herself a penniless orphan in London. Through determination, creativity, and with the help of a colorful set of friends, Claudette struggles to establish herself as an artisan and recreate the masterworks of her father. The craft of dollmaking is at the enchanting center of Trent's novel; at times I felt I was inside of the ballet La Boutique Fantasque. The descriptions of silk, wax, and wood, of the various types of dolls, of the entire doll making process, are intriguing and demonstrate the whimsical side of the eighteenth century.

As Claudette reaches the height of her career, her dolls come to the attention of Marie-Antoinette, who begins to send her commissions. Ever since a brief childhood meeting with the Queen, Claudette has always been devoted to her and refuses to believe the growing rumors of misbehavior. Occasionally the narrative of the novel gives glimpses of Marie-Antoinette’s life. I was personally reminded of the Coppola film, since Marie-Antoinette is shown drinking champagne (in actuality she was a teetotaler) and running off to Petit Trianon to be alone with Count Fersen (of which there is no solid proof.) Louis XVI is depicted as a mindless lump of a man. People who enjoyed the Coppola film will not find such descriptions of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to be problematical.

Although I am no fan of the Coppola film and similar portrayals of the Queen, I was still able to enjoy The Queen's Dollmaker. Claudette is a heroine of honor and integrity, caught between her admiration for an English gentleman and the memory of a lost love. The novel explores the difference between courtship based on restrained but genuine love, and the lust which destroys even as it seeks to quench desire. There is one explicit scene of an attempted rape which seems to capture the hateful passions that are unleashed by the Revolution. The obsessive, manipulative behavior of the would-be rapist as compared to the devotion of Claudette’s future husband is an excellent reminder for women of all ages of the authentic nature of love.

(*Note: This review is based upon an advance copy of The Queen's Dollmaker sent to me by the author.) Share

Party of Four

Book reviews of bios of classic film stars by David Thomson. I don't know if I agree with everything he says about Bette but it sounds like an intriguing series.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Hastings Hours

A magnificent breviary. Share

Fifty Foods

Great foods that every pregnant woman (and probably everyone else) should be eating.
Considering their condition, it is integral to the health and safety of mother and child that pregnancy diets come specially and painstakingly constructed to maximize the intake of necessary nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin C, and others. Some of these useful foods, however, come with some rather specific guidelines for consumption, and women ought to meet with a healthcare professional prior to incorporating them into their meals. Every pregnancy is different, and every woman’s needs are different. Think of these foods as merely suggestions and options to discuss with a doctor or nurse rather than canonical advice.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Western Confucian's Map of the World

The brilliant Matteo Ricci was also a cartographer. (Via Joshua Snyder) To quote:

Created by a visiting Italian-born Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci, and apparently commissioned by the court of Emperor Wanli in 1602 — the year after Ricci became the first Westerner admitted to Peking and then the Forbidden City— this map is indeed partly a tribute to the land in which Ricci had lived since 1582, and in which he would die in 1610.

One of his commentaries on the map (placed just south of the Tropic of Capricorn), declares that he is “filled with admiration for the great Chinese Empire,” where he has been treated “with friendly hospitality far above my deserts.” Over the landmass of China, he comments: “The Middle Kingdom is renowned for the greatness of its civilization.”

That greatness can be sensed in the delicate cartographic detail that had to be meticulously carved onto six wood blocks before being printed on rice paper. Ricci’s explanatory Chinese commentary is so extensive in some regions that it seems to cover the terrain. The map was meant to stand on six folding screens and can be imagined engulfing its observer.

Ricci created two earlier versions, beginning in 1584, drawing on atlases and materials he took with him on his journey from Italy. But this third version is the earliest to survive and the first to have combined information from both eastern and western cartography. It is also the oldest surviving map to have given the Chinese a larger vision of the earth.

Even the sturdiest of wall maps tend to have limited life spans, but this large, segmented map is so rare that for centuries it was uncertain if this copy even existed, which is why it has been nicknamed the “impossible black tulip” of maps. It is one of six known copies.


Old Parks in Baltimore

Someone sent me a site with antique postcards and photos of parks in Baltimore, Maryland. I spent a lot of time in Baltimore in my younger days but had no idea that such places had ever existed. Share

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Last Empress of Ethiopia

I do not know much about the Ethiopian Imperial family although my aunt, who was in the Canadian diplomatic corps, once had dinner at the palace of Haile Selassie, right before the 1974 coup. She described the palace as being quite magnificent. Here is a short bio of Emperor Haile Selassie's wife the last Empress. More HERE. Share


A young mother writes of how she is glad her own mother chose life over death. Share

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Pyle

An article about the great American illustrator. (Via Hermes) To quote:
If we look at art over the course of time, we see an intricate web of the influences of one artist on another; influences that, in their crossings and re-crossings, eventually weave the tapestry of styles that we call art history.

Howard Pyle, who is often rightly called “The Father of American Illustration”, is one of those remarkable points within that tapestry where the threads converge, the design is pulled together, reworked and renewed and influence radiates out in fresh patterns.

Pyle revolutionized illustration, both through his own work, which introduced a new level of drama, action and visual excitement to what was largely a staid and restrained art form at the time, and through his influence on his students, who included some of the finest illustrators ever to put lines or colors on a flat surface. Collectively, Pyle and his students helped usher in the “Golden Age of American Illustration”.

Pyle’s impact on the art form known as illustration is hard to overstate. His Durer-influenced pen and ink illustrations are among the finest ever done. He was one of the first illustrators to embrace and understand the new four-color printing process, and his paintings are remarkable for their ground-breaking color, dramatic compositions and emotional impact.


Do We Care About Boys?

Some insights from Maggie Gallagher.

The Economist recently put Rosie the Riveter on its cover to celebrate a major milestone: In the U.S., women are now the majority of the workforce. Why? Massively greater numbers of men than women are losing their jobs in this recession.

Is this really good news?

And yet every sign that boys or men are hurting gets determinedly turned around into a happy news story of female success. The disconnect between the happy headlines and the reality underneath will only be solved by women. The irony of men is that they cannot defend themselves or organize around their own systemic, gendered problems. Putting their own gender in the position of "the weaker sex" unmans them -- and also makes them deeply unattractive to women. It's not going to happen.

So the only way we are going to identify the new problem that has no name, own it, and do something about it, is if women with power make it a cause of our own. We have sons as well as daughters, nephews as well as nieces. We want husbands and fathers for ourselves or for our children who are confident, successful males and good family men willing and able to work hard to support those families. The problem is not that women are doing well, it's that boys are doing badly. The two genders cannot be pitted against one another without all of us losing.

A new report by the Pew Research Center finds that more younger women are marrying down: 28 percent of wives aged 30- to 44-years-old have more education than their husbands, compared to 19 percent of husbands who are better-educated than their wives. One in four wives now substantially outearns her husband.

It turns out women are not necessarily happy about male failure. Betsy Stevenson and Justin Wolfers' 2007 study, "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," notes that "By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men."


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jean Simmons

One of my favorite English film actresses has died. Few now rival Jean Simmons in either beauty or talent. The Washington Post tells of her rise and fall. Here are some Tea at Trianon reviews of three Jean Simmons films: Black Narcissus, Young Bess, and Elmer Gantry. Share

E-Books and Old Children's Books

Will e-books replace ink-and-paper books? Personally, I have enough gadgets. I hate having to change batteries. Furthermore, I like the tactile experience of holding a book and reading it, of being able to toss it into a bag, take it to the beach or to the park, without having to worry about it breaking or having to recharge the batteries. Having to deal with a cell phone is enough of a hassle. However, e-books are allowing authors more leverage in bargaining with publishers, which is good. Furthermore, Amazon is encouraging authors to self-publish with them and keep 70% of the royalties.

I must say that I have found publishing The Night's Dark Shade through to be one of the best decisions I ever made. The quality and service is excellent and the author has complete control of the creative process. Lulu authors keep 80% of the royalties of direct sales, and the profits made through retail sales (through sites like Amazon) are also better than with a traditional publisher. I will never go to a traditional publisher again, unless it were a major publisher who could make it worth my while. No more small Catholic publishers. Every author has to promote their own work anyway; why let the publisher keep the bulk of the royalties? The good thing about using a large traditional publisher is that they get your book into bookstores everywhere. But then, more and more people are buying online. It will be interesting to see where it all goes....

Meanwhile, there is a market for old copies of traditional children's books. (Via Hermes.) Share

Un soupçon de politesse belge

R.J. Stove compares old world politeness to crass modernity. To quote:
They really do order these things better in Belgium. When you write to Madame la Directrice at a Brussels library, you are meant to address her in correspondence — and even in preliminary conversation, should you achieve the latter — as Madame la Directrice rather than as ‘Suze’. Monsieur and Madame are terms heard every day in the most casual greetings. Bonjour, monsieur, you are expected to say to the white-haired, uniformed hotel porter. Bonjour, madame, to the cleaning-lady. It solves the perpetual ambiguity created by Anglo-Australian slumming.... And it actually speeds up the wheels of communication. No mean feat in a country torn by linguistic disputes.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Here are the winners of the recent giveaways of The Night's Dark Shade. The winner of the January 10 giveaway is Katheryn G. The winner of the January 18 giveaway is Enbrethiliel. Ladies, please email me your shipping addresses ( and I will mail the books to you! Congratulations and enjoy! Share

The Third Man (1949)

Martins: Have you ever seen any of your victims?

Harry Lime
: You know, I never feel comfortable on these sort of things. Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays.
~The Third Man (1949)
Thus the disregard of sociopath Harry Lime (Orson Welles) for human life is amply expressed. If he cannot see those whom he kills, if they are depersonalized for him by the fact that he does not witness their agony, then he is not in the least concerned by how many die through his crimes. His attitude, which has become the common attitude of modernity, is shocking to writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten). It is still shocking to us (or at least it should be) especially the lighthearted way in which Harry dismisses the demise of so many "dots," all to the sound of a zither. In the words of Filmsite:
The Third Man (1949) is a visually-stylish thriller - a paranoid story of social, economic, and moral corruption in a depressed, rotting and crumbling, 20th century Vienna following World War II. The striking film-noirish, shadowy thriller was filmed expressionistically within the decadent, shattered and poisoned city that has been sector-divided along geo-political lines.

The black and white, pessimistic film is one of the greatest British thrillers of the post-war era, in the best Alfred Hitchcock tradition, and beautifully produced and directed by Britisher Carol Reed. It was voted the #1 British Film of the 20th Century by the esteemed British Film Institute (BFI). It was co-produced by Hungarian-born Alexander Korda and American movie mogul David O. Selznick. Because Korda gave American distribution rights to Selznick (who cut eleven minutes from the original British version), the credits of the US version include Selznick references.

This was Reed's second collaboration with British screenwriter Graham Greene (after The Fallen Idol (1948)) - a clever and original mystery tale simply evoked by one sentence written by Greene: "I saw a man walking down the Strand, whose funeral I had only recently attended." It told of a love triangle with nightmarish suspense, treachery, betrayal, guilt and disillusionment. Its two most famous sequences include the Ferris-wheel showdown high atop a deserted fairground with the famous cuckoo clock speech (written by Orson Welles), and the climactic chase through the underground network of sewers beneath the cobblestone streets.

In defiance of US producer Selznick, Reed boldly refused to cast Noel Coward in the Harry Lime role (played ultimately by Orson Welles), insisted on a downbeat ending and demanded that it be shot on-location in expressionistic, documentary-style. [Cary Grant and James Stewart were also considered for the role of naive novelist Holly Martins (named Rollo Martin originally), ultimately played by Welles' Mercury Theatre actor and Citizen Kane (1941) co-star Joseph Cotten.]

The director knew that the film's musical score could not be reflective of the traditional Old Vienna - waltz music by Strauss. Instead, it would be provided by a solo instrument -- a zither. The jaunty but haunting musical score by Viennese composer/performer Anton Karas lingers long after the film's viewing with its twangy, mermerizing, lamenting, disconcerting (and sometimes irritating) hurdy-gurdy tones. In fact, Karas' musical instrument was a leading film character and advertised as such: "He'll have you in a dither with his zither (a laptop string instrument)." The insistent, chilling music sets a mood of polarized dislocations in the world (e.g., war and play, men and children) and in the corrupted city's 'no-man's-land' environment (with its bombed out, war-torn ruins, dark and slick streets, cemeteries and sewers criss-crossing beneath the sectored zones).

Graham Greene's screenplay of The Third Man, which preceded the novella by the same name, came about in the following manner, as described by Film Forum:

Over dinner one evening, Greene shared [his] idea with producer Alexander Korda, who was hoping to persuade the writer to collaborate on another project with himself and director Carol Reed, following the trio's success with The Fallen Idol. After learning of the unique Four-Power occupation of Vienna, Korda was eager to produce a film set in the war-torn European city. Since Britain, the United States, Russia and France shared authority, the city was divided into five zones: one for each country and a central zone policed in groups of four (one representative from each power).

Intrigued by Korda's suggestion, Greene (who frequently traveled to settings of political unrest when in search of inspiration) spent two weeks there in February 1948, staying at Sacher's, a hotel reserved for military personal, which would become the residence of Holly Martins in the fictional world of The Third Man. In fact, several other of the film's settings were discovered during Greene's sojourn: the Great Wheel of the dilapidated amusement park, the Josefstadt Theatre, the Mozart Café, the Oriental nightclub and the massive Central Cemetery where Lime is twice interred. While Greene's visit provided him dramatic potential, it failed to inspire a suitable plot.

Fate intervened on Greene's second-to-last day in Vienna, when he met Charles Beauclerk, a British Intelligence officer he had met through Korda's connections with the S.I.S. He told Greene of the network of sewers snaking beneath the streets, policed by its own specialized army, not subject to the multinational zones that governed street-level Vienna. These tunnels were thus the perfect means by which a clever criminal could travel freely throughout a city choked with checkpoints. The sewers were also ripe with cinematic potential, composed of enormous vaulted tunnels and stone chambers with waterfalls, rivers and hidden passageways.

From Beauclerk, Greene also learned of the illegal market for penicillin (often diluted and rendered poisonous), which would also figure prominently in the narrative. Greene wrote in his 1980 autobiography Ways of Escape, "The research I had made into the functioning of the Four-Power occupation, my visit to an old servant of my mother's in the Russian zone, the long evenings of solitary drinking in the Oriental, none of them were wasted. I had my film."

Having post-war Vienna in a state of reconstruction as the unique set for the film came from producer Alexander Korda's own experiences. According to The Vienna Project:
The original idea came from the film's producer, Alexander Korda. Hungarian in origin, he had begun his career in Budapest as head of Corvin films immediately after World War I, after the great collapse of the Hapsburg empire, producing films first under the liberal Karolyi government and then under the communist Béla Kún regime. Arrested by the police of the incoming anti-semitic, anti-communist Horthy government, he was taken to be held and tortured in the picturesque Hotel Gellert, a fate he was rescued from by Brigadier Maurice, a British army officer who, according to Korda's nephew Michael, could be "variously described as the representative of MI-5 in Budapest, the British government's secret link to Admiral Horthy and as an adventurer, profiteer and speculator." Maurice intervened personally with Horthy and Korda left for Vienna to pursue his career as a producer, travelling first class in a wagon-lit under British protection, accompanied by his film-star wife Maria Corda. How Korda must have smiled on encountering the figure of Harry Lime, the classic cinematic adventurer, profiteer and speculator and also, in the context of post-war Vienna, very likely a spy - a legendary figure who had been conjured up for him at his own instigation.
Amid the political thriller about the ruined city is the heartbreaking love triangle. Martins loves the Russian actress Anna, who is in her turn is desperately in love with Harry, whom she thinks is dead. Why Anna loves Harry so much, or how any woman could be so doggedly devoted to such a criminal, is one of the mysteries of the film. I suppose she refuses to believe that he is what he is, which is not an unusual mindset for a woman enthralled by a charming psychopath. She is ready to sacrifice herself for Harry in complete disregard for Martins' genuine love. Martins, although he ultimately escapes death, is nevertheless yet another casualty left in Harry Lime's destructive wake. Share

Born of Hope

The new film about the early life of Aragorn in now online. Share

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Memoirs of a Poet

Poets' Quarterly features an interview with poet and author Jane Satterfield. Jane and I went to high school together at Prospect Hall in Frederick, MD. I remember especially our French III class which consisted of five girls, including Jane and myself. Our teacher was lovely Mrs. Kincaid. We were pretty much allowed to discuss anything we wanted as long as we conversed in French. It was one of the most enjoyable classes I ever had. About once a month we would have what we called a "Gourmand Day" in which we would have French cheese, bread and sparkling grape juice. Some of us later went to France together; I remember crying my first few hours in France when real French people did not seem to understand what I was trying to say, until I found out that such experiences were par for the course.

I thought what Jane has to say in the interview about poetry and writing might be of interest to some of the aspiring writers who stumble upon Tea at Trianon. It certainly was helpful to this aspiring writer, especially since Jane's newest book is a memoir based upon family heritage. To quote:
Place is crucial--there's the visible reality a writer seeks to honor and the less visible histories that inform and shape both place and inhabitants. Place is the source of our remembering, the site of our witness. As a person with "transatlantic" roots, I've often felt pulled between multiple places and definitions of home. It's easy to think that this is simply a "new world" condition, but it isn't. At the end of the book's title essay, I reflect on a colleague's well-meaning statement: if you've lived in America your whole life, isn't the "exile" metaphor contrived, little more than a "romanticized longing" that should be put aside? Marina Tsvetaeva wrote that "One's homeland is not a geographical convention, but an insistence of memory and blood." In some ways, the book's a meditation on that observation.

1950s Princess

Another Old Movie Blog discusses The Swan. Share

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tea Towels

My friend Karen has simple instructions on how to make the lovely tea towels, placemats and napkins. Share

Theology and Theologians

There are some important distinctions, as Fr. Blake points out.
St Thomas says that theology is faith seeking understanding.

An earlier definition of a theologian runs, "A theologian is one who prays, one who prays is a theologian".

In the late 20th century we tended to make theology an academic discipline, separating theology from faith and contemplation.

The problem with any academic exercise is that it pushes boundaries; it offers plaudits only for those who shake things up. When theologians are appointed by an academic institution they tend to search for those who pull more exciting rabbits out of hats. The problem for Catholic academic theologians is that they are limited by Revelation; they can only go so far, there are many theologians now who would describe themselves as "post-Catholic" or "post-Christian".

The nature of Catholic theology is that it is not an academic discipline but an ecclesial one. Its purpose is not to further research or push boundaries but to deepen faith and enhance mission, it cannot be separated from the Church, or from prayerful contemplation. Properly, theology belongs to the Church's bishops who are, or should be, faithful bearers of The Tradition".

For us theology doesn't make sense except with in The Tradition. Pope Benedict exemplifies the role of a Catholic theologian, what he contemplates he tries to explain. The ultimate forum for theology isn’t the university lecture hall but the pulpit. Von Balthazar saw in the Transfiguration the role of the theologian, he sees glory and mystery and tries to reveal it. St Thomas’ reported words, “All I have written is straw compared with what I have seen”.

The Humanity of Civility

Carol Bory reports on how a little civility goes a long way, even in the Haitian crisis. Share

Friday, January 22, 2010

New Film about Tolstoy

Joe Morgenstern reviews the new film about the last year of Tolstoy's life and his tempestuous relationship with his wife Countess Sonya. I have read mixed reactions to the movie but as far as I am concerned anything with Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren as Leo and Sonya is not to be missed. After I read Anne Edwards' biography of Countess Tolstoy I came to have great respect for all that she went through with the Count. For one thing, if it had not been for Sonya rewriting and editing War and Peace and Anna Karenina those novels would not have taken shape and been published. As for Toltoy's final Manichean obsession, it would have been enough to push any wife over the edge. At any rate, the following is an excerpt of what Morgenstern says of the The Last Station:
The movie's title, with its religious overtones, is a literal reference to the railway station where Leo Tolstoy died a few days after leaving his wife and home, presumably to become a wandering ascetic (though he brought his personal physician with him). The little station, in the middle of a vast Russian nowhere, quickly became the site of a protomedia frenzy when telegraph wires flashed news of Tolstoy's illness, and Sofya came to see her beloved husband for the last time. The story's climax turns out to be anticlimactic, a predictable contrivance that pits the countess, for the last time, against Chertkov, who wants to manage Tolstoy's death as he managed his life. But the ending seems contrived only in contrast to what has gone before—a lovely quicksilver version of literary history, with the accent on young love that emerges unbidden, and old love that endures.

More HERE, from The Thinking Housewife. Share

Freelance Writing

An unfortunate new model. To quote the Los Angeles Times:
What's sailing away, a decade into the 21st century, is the common conception that writing is a profession -- or at least a skilled craft that should come not only with psychic rewards but with something resembling a living wage.

Freelance writing fees -- beginning with the Internet but extending to newspapers and magazines -- have been spiraling downward for a couple of years and reached what appears to be bottom in 2009.

The trend has gotten scant attention outside the trade. Maybe that's because we live in a culture that holds journalists in low esteem. Or it could be because so much focus has been put on the massive cutbacks in full-time journalism jobs. An estimated 31,000 writers, editors and others have been jettisoned by newspapers in just the last two years.

Today's reality is that much of freelancing has become all too free. Seasoned professionals have seen their income drop by 50% or more as publishers fill the Web's seemingly limitless news hole, drawing on the ever-expanding rank of under-employed writers.

Low compensation

The crumbling pay scales have not only hollowed out household budgets but accompanied a pervasive shift in journalism toward shorter stories, frothier subjects and an increasing emphasis on fast, rather than thorough.

"There are a lot of stories that are being missed, not just at legacy newspapers and TV stations but in the freelance world," said Nick Martin, 27, laid off a year ago by the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., and now a freelancer. "A lot of publications used to be able to pay freelancers to do really solid investigations. There's just not much of that going on anymore."

Another writer, based in Los Angeles, said she has been troubled by the lighter fare that many websites prefer to drive up traffic. A new take on any youth obsessions ("Put 'Twilight' in the headline, get paid") has much more chance of winning editorial approval than more complex or substantive material.

The rank of stories unwritten -- like most errors of omission -- is hard to conceive. Even those inside journalism can only guess at what stories they might have paid for, if they had more money.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chambers, Koestler and Rand

David Chambers, the grandson of Whittaker Chambers, reviews a new biography about Arthur Koestler. To quote:
While overall, Mr. Scammell's book does justice to Koestler, there are a few occasions in which Mr. Scammell is less than precise. For instance, he attributes part of Koestler's inspiration for writing Darkness at Noon to "the puzzling success of Stalin's show trials of the 1930s."

Perhaps the Moscow show trials appear merely "puzzling" to Mr. Scammell, but they shook many believers at that time to the core. No book has ever explained the inner agony of devoted party members and admirers as Darkness at Noon did. Reviewing the book for TIME magazine in 1941, Whittaker Chambers (my grandfather), wrote,
It moves with the speed, directness, precision and some of the impact of a bullet. More plausibly than any other book yet written, fiction or nonfiction, it gives the answer to one of history's great riddles: Why do Russians confess?

And here is a commentary by Whittaker Chambers himself on Ayn Rand, as well as some additional remarks by William F. Buckley. To quote Mr. Buckley:
I had met Miss Rand three years before that review was published. Her very first words to me (I do not exaggerate) were: “You ahrr too intelligent to believe in Gott.” The critic Wilfrid Sheed once remarked, when I told him the story, “Well, that certainly is an icebreaker.” It was; and we conversed, and did so for two or three years. I used to send her postcards in liturgical Latin: but levity with Miss Rand was not an effective weapon. And when I published Whittaker Chambers’ review, her resentment was so comprehensive that she regularly inquired of all hosts or toastmasters whether she was being invited to a function at which I was also scheduled to appear, because if that was the case, either she would not come; or, if so, only after I had left; or before I arrived. I fear that I put the lady through a great deal of choreographical pain.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Last Dauphine

The Ornamentalist shares part of her family collection of rare miniatures, the above being a portrait of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. There are some miniatures of Marie-Antoinette as well. To quote:
This miniature was part of a collection assembled by my great-grandmother, who was something of a francophile.

The portrait subject was unknown to me until recently when I opened the frame and discovered her name written on the back: La Dauphine Duchesse D'Angoulême. The painting is signed in the lower right front Chatain. After a bit of research I found that the noted miniaturist Hippolyte-Louis Garnier (best known to San Franciscans for his portrait of Lola Montez) had done a portrait of S.A.R. le Mme. La Dauphine, Duchesse D'Angoulême, around 1825, and made this lithograph after that painting. Chatain almost certainly copied after the same work by Garnier.

Marie-Thérèse Charlotte de France (1778-1851) was the Crown Princess and Duchess of Angoulême. She was the daughter of King Louis XVI and Marie Antionette, sole survivor of her immediate family, and the wife of Louis Antoine of Artois, the Duke of Angoulême. During the time this portrait was created she was in line to become the Queen of France, a title she subsequently held for a mere 20 minutes. She spent most of her adult life in exile in England and Scotland.

You can read more about the life of Marie-Thérèse in the historical novel Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal, and on Elena's blog, Tea at Trianon.

Digital Barbarism

A review by R.J. Stove. To quote:
Digital Barbarism's subtitle is A Writer's Manifesto, with the emphasis being on the writer part rather than the manifesto part. Mark Helprin, a much-published novelist who seems never to have produced any full-length non-fiction before, has served in the Israeli armed forces and in the British Merchant Navy. So diverse a background has, at any rate, given him a certain detachment from those American academic commissars and their computer-nerd camp-followers who have supplied the loudest voices and most destructive weapons in the great anti-copyright campaign.

A Review and an Interview

Catholic Exchange has a review of The Night's Dark Shade and I am interviewed as well. Share

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Notorious (1946)

Walter Beardsley: Oh, I don't think any of us have any illusions about her character. Have we, Devlin?
Devlin: Not at all, not in the slightest. Miss Huberman is first, last, and always not a lady. She may be risking her life, but when it comes to being a lady, she doesn't hold a candle to your wife, sitting in Washington, playing bridge with three other ladies of great honor and virtue.
~from Notorious (1946)

It is said to be among Alfred Hitchcock's finest films. Among movies about fallen women seeking redemption and true love, Notorious is second to none. Ingrid Bergman plays what in 1946 was called "a party girl." Ashamed of discovering that her father is a Nazi, Alicia Huberman gives herself over to drinking and men with such abandon that she becomes "notorious." It always strikes me in the opening scenes that how she carries on would not be a matter of notoriety today, just typical youthful behavior. The love story, however, is of an intensity rarely seen on the modern screen, made more poignant because of Alicia's desire not only for atonement but to make herself worthy of being loved by Devlin.

According to Culturazzi:
Looking at Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography, which spans fifty years and just as many films, Notorious arguably stands as its centerpiece. Filmed in 1946, the movie is filled with what would become known as Hitchcockian themes and trademarks, but does it so subtly that it’s debatable whether he was nervously experimenting with them or injecting them right into the spine of the film in a way they’d remain almost undetected.

Set in 1946, the film opens in Miami where a doctor Huberman is convicted of being a Nazi spy. His daughter Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) leaves the courtroom where she is hounded by the press who inquire about her notorious past involving men, partying and alcohol. At a party, where she tries to drown and drink her sorrows, she is approached by T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant), an American agent, who offers her a job as a spy in Rio de Janeiro.

Perhaps trying to atone for her father’s sins, rectify her former persona or to overcome her guilt she takes on the job and goes to Rio where she ends up falling in love with Devlin while waiting to know the details of her mission.

When these finally come, they put a halt to the blooming romance as Alicia is asked to seduce Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), an old friend of her father who is up to some secret mission in Brazil. Torn apart between love and duty, she ends up choosing the latter giving path to a seductive tale of espionage, imprisoned desire and one of the most entertaining thrillers ever made.

While the screenplay and story, written by Ben Hecht and adapted from short story “The Song of the Dragon” by John Taintor Foote, are fairly straightforward, the wonders of Notorious lie in its symbolism and elegant approach. Every element in the film was obviously thought out for a specific reason, and if they weren’t something has to be made about Hitchcock’s ability to stir up a psychoanalytical storm. In Notorious even inanimate objects seem to be conspiring and be part of a bigger picture.

As the heroine finds herself sinking deeper into a chasm from which she might not escape, the relationships become more complicated. Claude Rains portrays a man whom it is truly hard to hate; even though he is a Nazi, his love for Alicia renders him vulnerable and sympathetic. This is where the master storytelling of Hitchcock's camera conveys every nuance of passion and anguish. As one critic expresses it:

Notorious returned Hitchcock to the world of spies and counterspies. But the film primarily is a study of relationships rather than a straight thriller—which is not to say that there still isn’t a great deal of Hitchcockian suspense. The Bergman character is trying to forget, Grant is cynical, and Rains has a genuine, devoted love for our leading lady. Even when he discovers her treachery, it is his mother (Leopoldine Konstantin) who makes the decision to, shall we say, do away with her.

Francois Truffaut said to Hitchcock in his interview book on the director that “It seems to me that of all your pictures this is the one in which one feels the most perfect correlation between what you are aiming at and what appears on the screen . . . Of all its qualities, the outstanding achievement is perhaps that in Notorious you have at once a maximum of stylization and a maximum of simplicity.”

The stylization is fascinating to watch. Some of Hitchcock’s most famous scenes are in this film: the justly acclaimed crane shot, taking the audience from a wide establishing view of the elaborate formal party into a tight closeup of the crucial key to the wine cellar in Ingrid Bergman’s hand; the brilliantly staged party scene itself, which alternates between thoughtfully conceived point of view shots and graceful, insinuating camera moves; and, of course, the wine cellar sequence, during which Cary and Ingrid discover the incriminating bottle containing not vintage nectar but....

The backdrop of the thriller/romance is elegant and exotic Rio and the lavish mansion of the Sebastian family. Every scene is a work of art and yet the beauty does not detract from the sense of dread at knowing that in the midst of it all are evil people who will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. On the other hand, the "good guys" are willing to sacrifice Alicia and any other seemingly disposable person in order to fulfill the mission at hand. In Notorious, the human cost of cold war is assessed; no one is unscathed.

(Photo) Share

Being Green

It should mean being pro-life. (Via The Western Confucian) To quote Our Holy Father: "If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn? It is in man’s respect for himself that his sense of responsibility for creation is shown." Share

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Website and Giveaway

My husband built me a new website for Christmas. Please do visit. I would like to celebrate by offering a signed copy of The Night's Dark Shade. In order to win it, please link to either this post or to the new website ( on your blog or Twitter or Facebook. Leave a comment below with the link or links you have made or email them to me. The winner will be announced on January 25. (This contest is international, for those who live in Canada or elsewhere who have been wanting a book.)

Lucy of Enchanted by Josephine enjoyed The Night's Dark Shade and here is an excerpt of her review:
We meet many intricate characters in The Night’s Dark Shade; each contributing to the riveting events that ensue in this well written book. I enjoyed learning about the religious differences and strongholds that this heretic religion had on those almost barbaric times. Surprisingly, I often felt that there were many similarities to some of the pejorative notions still held today by certain groups, in terms of marriage, children and morality, for the most part. The...over-indulgence at the expense of others resonated strongly in my mind as controversial topics that still make waves today, as they try to pass themselves for the norm.

It was indeed quite thought provoking to read this book- which is about not only an absorbing love story-but also about the tribulations in the name of religion, the horror in the beliefs of the times and the suffering for cause.

Will Raphaëlle’s soul find peace through love and her true calling? Friendship, loyalty, deception and betrayal along with a strong religious vein are all found in this book that truly stands out on its own.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the time of the Albigensian Crusade and the heretics- specifically the Cathars in Southern France. But best of all, you’ll also find a beautiful love story with a surprising twist. A must for those who love to read about religion in history with a touch of pure romance.

The Madness of Crowds

Pack mentality on the internet. To quote:

In the 1990s, Jaron Lanier was one of the digital pioneers hailing the wonderful possibilities that would be realized once the Internet allowed musicians, artists, scientists and engineers around the world to instantly share their work. Now, like a lot of us, he is having second thoughts.

Mr. Lanier, a musician and avant-garde computer scientist — he popularized the term “virtual reality” — wonders if the Web’s structure and ideology are fostering nasty group dynamics and mediocre collaborations. His new book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” is a manifesto against “hive thinking” and “digital Maoism,” by which he means the glorification of open-source software, free information and collective work at the expense of individual creativity.

He blames the Web’s tradition of “drive-by anonymity” for fostering vicious pack behavior on blogs, forums and social networks. He acknowledges the examples of generous collaboration, like Wikipedia, but argues that the mantras of “open culture” and “information wants to be free” have produced a destructive new social contract.

“The basic idea of this contract,” he writes, “is that authors, journalists, musicians and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Help for Haiti

There has been a grassroots effort from assorted techies throughout the country to combine their efforts in coordinating aid for Haiti. I am glad to say that my husband is participating. Once again the American people are rising to the occasion. According to CNN:

On Saturday, groups of programmers, Web developers and other assorted technophiles will meet in Washington and other cities to brainstorm ways computer technology can help in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

CrisisCamp Haiti will bring together professionals from tech companies, universities and government agencies for a free-form session of firing out ideas, then turning those ideas into action.

The result, they hope, will be tools that will help rescue workers find victims and help family members find loved ones, along with other kinds of computer-based assistance.

"It's a way to provide technological tools and expertise to help those who are on the ground in Haiti with their humanitarian relief efforts," said Gabriela Schneider, whose group, the Sunlight Foundation, will be hosting the Washington meeting. "It's kind of like the way Doctors Without Borders might go and help, or people from afar might get together to send goods."

The eight-hour event is being coordinated by Crisis Commons, a group which, according to its wiki page, "is meant to capture knowledge, information, best practices, and tools that support crisis preparedness, prevention, response, and rebuilding."

A similar get-together was scheduled Saturday for Silicon Valley, California, and organizers were trying to plan others in New York, Los Angeles, California, London, England, and Denver, Colorado.

As of Friday afternoon, nearly 100 volunteers had publicly registered to attend the Washington event. Their employers ranged from Internet startups to universities to government agencies, including the State Department and U.S. Geological Survey.

"It's a growing community that should not be underestimated," Schneider said. "They're tech-savvy and they know how to use networks well."

For Jonathan Nelson, a programmer and product manager who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, but telecommutes for a company in Washington, CrisisCamp Haiti is a chance to take some small action in a situation that otherwise felt overwhelming.

"You watch the news and it's like post-9/11 trauma again," he said. "Haiti is so far away -- you've got obligations here, but you want to contribute. I just thought, 'I've got to get up there.' "

Among the possible projects that participants plan to tackle:

• Building an open-source base layer map of Haiti that can be used by nongovernmental groups and others working in the country

• Creating an online locator system for families seeking lost loved ones

• Setting up an online communications tool similar to Twitter that would allow relief workers and others to talk with each other in real time

Other ideas could emerge. The group uses what's called the BarCamp model, which allows conversations and projects to develop organically and without hard and fast agendas.

"This is getting out of the red tape -- getting out of the corporate inefficiency -- and just having one common purpose and being very agile," Nelson said. "It'll all be a continual process."

More information on Mike's blog.



There is a new book out about St. Joan. It sounds interesting, although it is a mistake to try to make a medieval person into a contemporary one, especially one such as La Pucelle. (Via Joshua Snyder) To quote:
Taylor also ends up, despite due attention to Joan’s “voices,” oddly downplaying the Saint’s religious motivations. She draws attention to Joan’s expressions of confidence and determination, and then comments (repeatedly) that Joan “believed in herself.” But Joan didn’t believe in herself. She believed in God, and in her own role as God’s agent. Taylor points out, quite accurately, that Joan did not engage in the elaborate fasting and self-mortification typical of many female medieval religious figures—again something that makes her seem less strange in our eyes. But Joan nonetheless shared those women’s goal of immolating their individual selves so as to become pure instruments of the divine will, which is about as far from our Romantically-inflected notions of “believing in oneself” as can be imagined.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Andrea's Bookshelf

My sister Andrea has a special display of all four of my books at her house, including a little book I made in second grade. It was at Gaithersburg Elementary; all the second graders were supposed to dictate a story and then illustrate it.

The story was called We Like Apples. It was about the apple tree in our backyard at 1 Montgomery Avenue in Gaithersburg, Maryland. There was a rope swing on the tree and nearby was an old shack that my parents had turned into a play house. It was an old rented house in a neighborhood full of tall trees and Catholic families with lots of children. There was always something going on and we ran from house to house, never lacking playmates. It was a different time and a happy one.

The sun in the drawing above reminds me of the miracle at Fatima although I had not heard of Fatima at the time. I have no idea why I drew a swirling sun with a cross in it.
It is amazing that my sister has kept my little book for so many years ago. I thought it was gone forever. But Andrea is good at hanging on to family memorabilia. Share

Gnosticism 101

The Thinking Housewife has a post which shows that the Cathars have never really gone away.


Friday, January 15, 2010


Leslie Carroll, the author of several popular historical books, describes the spectacular country retreat of Josephine and Napoleon. To quote:
No one knows how Malmaison (“bad house”) got its name. The château’s life began as a fief of the Abby of Saint-Denis, and from 1360 to 1763 it remained in the same family. On April 21 1799 the property was purchased by Josephine Bonaparte, the wife of the rising Corsican-born general, Napoleon....

After Josephine was crowned empress of France on December 2, 1804, she rededicated herself to making Malmaison even more her own idyll. A conservatory and garden were added, because Josephine was passionate about flowers, especially roses. And she indulged her passion for collecting art and antiquities.

Although he claimed to have been doing it for France, a purportedly brokenhearted Napoleon divorced Josephine on January 10, 1810 because she had failed to give him an heir. When the ceremony was over and all the documents had been duly executed, Napoleon kissed Josephine and accompanied her to her apartments. Later that day, she visited his rooms, her hair “disordered and her face contorted,” according to Napoleon’s valet Louis Constant. The imperial couple began to weep. “Be brave,” the emperor counseled his now ex-wife, “I will always be your friend.”

The Faithful, Wounded Heart

Author Heidi Hess Saxton shares her reaction to The Night's Dark Shade in a poignant review, a meditation in itself. To quote:
It’s an unfortunate fact that each generation must uncover for itself: Love is a battlefield. Except for those who marry their first love, and early in life, most of us carry on our hearts the scars of broken, often ill-advised, romantic entanglements. Each friendship leaves its mark; those characterized by authentic Christian charity and fidelity touch our souls lightly and for the better. Those that are not, do not. Either way, when the friendship ends, some pain is inevitable.

Frankly, by the time I met my husband at the age of 34, my heart had so many battle scars, it was a wonder that I had anything left to offer him. Each of us had memories and habits to overcome. And by the grace of God, through the sacrament of matrimony, we built a life together, choosing each day to trust in the fidelity we had promised to one another. A decade has passed, and we are still learning what it means to give of ourselves completely in authentic, life-long love. Some days I wonder if I will ever catch up to my husband, who exhibits heroic virtue in the areas I am weakest, such as patience and compassion and gentleness and self-control. It really can be trying … then again, I’m sure I’m no picnic.

Because of our respective pasts, some scars run so deep that there is really no getting rid of them entirely, though marriage has in a very real way been a sacrament of healing as well as vocation. Every once in a while a twinge resurfaces. Which raises an important question: When such memories resurface, what is a faithful soul to do? What does fidelity demand?

Have you ever wondered this? If so, pick up a copy of Elena Maria Vidal’s The Night’s Dark Shade. (Read entire review.)
The Night's Dark Shade is available HERE. Share

Van Gogh

What exactly was his malady? A new exhibit re-examines Van Gogh's demons.

It will invite the question that hangs over his whole achievement, both as a painter and — almost as extraordinary — as an artist in words. What was the matter with Vincent van Gogh? And whatever it was, did it help or hinder him? In other words, were his mental problems integral to his gift, or just one of the many difficulties under which he laboured? His mental state certainly was serious. Under the circumstances, it was indeed unlikely that in 1889 the military authorities, even the French Foreign Legion, which he seemed to have in mind (Van Gogh had long hankered after the brilliant North African sun), would have taken him on.

He did not want this fresh ambition, Van Gogh added anxiously, to be taken as “a new act of madness” or an attempt at self-sacrifice. But, he pointed out sadly, his mental state “not only is but always has been distracted”. What he needed, he felt, was to live in circumstances “where I must follow a rule” — as in hospital or the army — only then could he feel “more tranquil”.

Less than a week later, on May 8, he was admitted by his own wish to the mental hospital of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole at St Rémy. He remained there for just over a year, before leaving to live under the care of Dr Paul Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise, north Paris. There he shot himself through the chest on July 27, 1890 and died two days later, aged 37.

The poignant tragedy of his life has produced two contradictory images of the man. In the public mind, not surprisingly, he features as the archetypal “mad artist”, working in a frenzy of inspiration, drinking heavily, behaving wildly. On the other hand, art historians generally prefer to emphasise a different Van Gogh: an intellectual, thoughtful man whose work was the result of careful planning and whose letters, recently published and retranslated in a magisterial new edition (Thames & Hudson/Van Gogh Museum) reveal an eloquent and brilliant mind.

There is truth in both of these pictures. Van Gogh did, indeed, act strangely — according to evidence submitted by his neighbours in Arles, he carried out mild assaults on the local women, lifting one unexpectedly right off her feet. Fellow artists, such as the Scotsman Archibald Hartrick, who knew him in Paris, considered Vincent harmlessly “cracked”.

Van Gogh did drink too much. He says as much himself, on more than one occasion. During the scorching summer of 1888 — the period when he painted the ripe wheatfields on the plain outside Arles and later the sunflowers — he keyed himself up to that “high yellow note”, he later admitted, with a mixture of coffee and alcohol.

It is true that he worked at an astonishing rate. Some painters — Lucian Freud, Ingres — work slowly, while others, David Hockney, for instance, are much faster. Van Gogh produced pictures at recordbreaking speed. He boasted that the first version of L’Arlésienne — a portrait of Madame Ginoux, wife of the owner of the local café — was “knocked off in one hour” (later amended to 45 minutes) in early November, 1888.

When at work, he complained, his mind was stretched by the “dry calculation” of “balancing” the colours, “like an actor on the stage in a difficult role — where you have to think of a thousand things at the same time in a single half hour”. Afterwards, the only thing that “comforts and distracts — in my case as in others — is to stun oneself by taking a stiff drink or smoking very heavily”.

On December 22, 1888, the night before the final, ear-slicing explosion in the little house they were sharing, Paul Gauguin confided in a letter to a friend that he considered Van Gogh to be a similar case to the American writer Edgar Allen Poe, a “nervous temperament” become “alcoholic” because of his sorrows. All of this sounds like familiar bohemian behaviour. On the other hand, as the letters and sketches that will be on display at the Royal Academy make clear, Van Gogh’s work was thought out, often in advance, with supreme clarity. Madame Ginoux had been his landlady for months, and doubtless served him many drinks, so he had had ample time to consider how to paint her before he actually did so in that burst of furious energy.

Furthermore, Van Gogh was a reader and a deep thinker. He was an avid reader of novels — Zola, Balzac, Dickens and the Goncourt brothers. He devoured newspapers, journals and articles on Tolstoy, Petrarch, Boccaccio and Wagner. All in all, art historians have tended to consider Van Gogh’s mental problems an irrelevancy and concentrated on analysing his work and words. It is difficult, they point out, to make a firm diagnosis in a man who has been dead for 120 years.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pass and Pay

Madame Delors describes a magnificent work of art which shows how people crossed the muddy streets on rainy days. Share

Before You Gossip

Ask yourself this....
"Gossip is high stakes in the Internet age," says Sam Chapman, the CEO of Empower, the public-relations agency that banned gossip. "It's emotionally lethal. It's leading to suicides." He tells other corporate executives: "A fish rots from the head down. If you stop gossip in your own life and bring it to the attention of your community, then people will follow your leadership."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Napoleon and Josephine

Among all the women in his life, it was Josephine whose name he would murmur with his dying breath. Lucy gives a summary of their ill-fated romance. Share

Conspiracy Theories

Some have turned out to be true. (Via Serge) Share

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Becoming Jane Austen

Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence is the biography upon which the 2007 film was based. I must admit that while I disliked the film at first, I have since come to appreciate it after viewing it on cable television innumerable times. The movie Becoming Jane captures the poignancy of the great author's first and only love which would haunt her life and novels until her death at the age of forty-one. The book, however, fleshes out the depth of the influence which the clever, charming Irishman Tom Lefroy had upon Jane's psyche. Taken from upon an exhaustive study of the letters and writings of Jane Austen and her family and friends, much of what the author concludes about Jane's emotions and her relationship with Tom is speculation, but intelligent speculation.

I am impressed by how the constant theme of money arises throughout the book. How vital it was for a young lady to have some kind of a fortune or dowry in order to marry well, unless a wealthy man chose to marry her for love alone. Without a fortune and an offer of marriage, a young woman would have to earn her own living, either as a governess or a teacher or by learning a trade. Jane chose to earn an income by her writings. While earlier portrayals of Jane present her as a lady of leisure writing for pleasure and the good of humanity, Jon Spence meticulously shows that Jane took on writing not just for love of her craft but as a business venture. While she never enjoyed the full pecuniary reward of her labors during her lifetime, the legacy Jane left to the body of English literature is surely beyond price. Share

Chivalric Romances

They are the "school of noble feeling." Share

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Psychology of Madame Royale

While researching the life of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France for the novel Madame Royale, I explored the possibility that the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette may have suffered from what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD includes the following persistent symptoms:
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
The Duchesse d'Angoulême certainly manifested most of the above symptoms, as is described in Joseph Turquan's biography and in the various memoirs of the era, particularly that of Madame de Gontaut. At the Tuileries, after the Restoration of 1814-15, the princess often suffered from insomnia, and could be heard pacing in her rooms at night. She was indeed irritable and temperamental, in spite of her basic kindness of heart. I am not certain if she had difficulty concentrating, although in Vienna in the late 1790's she was known to suddenly dart from the room. The Duchesse was always on her guard, keeping a bag of diamonds looped over the back of her chair "in case of an emergency." She carried a green satchel around with her containing several newspapers; she anxiously poured over the headlines everyday, watching for potential disaster. She jumped whenever she heard the bolt drawn or a key turn in a lock.

Traumatic events experienced as a child or adolescent can, according to scientific data, cause changes in the brain. Such events include extreme violence, rape or even of attempted rape, captivity, and losing family members in a disaster. The teenage Madame Royale witnessed the violence of a mob against her family on at least four occasions; although her family survived the attacks, others were killed and she saw heads carried on pikes. Hearing the obscenities and threats from the attackers would have been disturbing enough for a lifetime.

It is not known for certain whether or not Madame Royale was physically molested while alone in the Temple prison, but as Madame de Gontaut records in her Memoirs, the Duchesse confided that her Aunt Elisabeth ordered the teenager never to let the guards find her undressed or in bed, and so the girl would spend entire nights sitting in a chair, since she never knew when her captors would come bursting into the room. She emerged in 1795 as the "Orphan of the Temple" the only survivor of her immediate family.

Persistent avoidance and anxiety attacks are often part of the reactions of those with PTSD. As an adult Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte had great difficulty being in a crowd, which induced fainting and anxious behaviors. She would pointedly avoid the site where the guillotine had been and ask that her coach be driven around it.

Persons experiencing PTSD also frequently have trouble with memories, blocking out events which are then suddenly triggered by minor incidents, so that sometimes the account of their traumatic experience is subject to change. As a mature woman Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte wanted to change her account of the events she had recorded as a seventeen year old, still imprisoned in the Temple, and tried to buy up all the copies of the original memoir.

Much of the public moroseness that many contemporaries complained about was undoubtedly the princess' iron attempt to hold herself together, as well as depression, which she also most likely experienced. Her disposition became more affable when she left France in 1830 for a life of perpetual exile, focusing on raising her nephew and niece. Although the Duchesse loved France, she was probably better off away from the site of so many horrors. However, it was her resignation, constant charity, and kindness, combined with her strong faith, which got her through in the long run. Marie-Antoinette said to her daughter before being taken away: "You have faith. It will sustain you." Truly, it was faith that enabled Madame Royale to be an active and vibrant member of her extended family as well as a catalyst for rebuilding the Church and society in France, devastated by war and revolution. Share

The Dignity of Christian Marriage

Men should not be wimps, neither should they be tyrants. Wives are not chattel, neither are they prostitutes to be used for mere gratification. According to Fr. Angelo:
Ancient cultures, and some of them Christian, though not thoroughly Christianized, have regarded women as virtually the property of their husbands to be disposed of in an arbitrary way. However, the famous passage of St. Paul, invoked by traditionalists to put women in their place does not affirm the wife-as-chattel mentality. In Ephesians 5, St. Paul does indeed mandate the obedience of a wife to her husband, but he also states that husbands and wives are to be subject one to another, in the fear of Christ (22). St. Paul goes on to explain this mutual subjection in terms of a wife’s obedience to her husband and the husband’s sacrificial love for his wife. The next chapter (6) goes on in parallel manner to reaffirm the obligation of children to obey their parents, while at the same time, commanding fathers not to provoke their children to anger (1-4). This makes it pretty clear that an arbitrary or abusive execution of authority within the family finds no mandate in sacred scripture. No man may presume that his wife and children must swallow the consequences of his capricious will without question.

In fact, Ephesians 5 compares marriage to the love of Christ and His Bride, the Church, and the paradigm for husbandly love is Christ on the Cross. The abuse of authority within the family is not going to be solved by feminism. Emasculated men are a plague upon society and the family. But neither is the problem of feminism and effeminacy going to be solved by ignoring abuses of authority or by absolutizing the rights of husbands.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and John Paul II placed a great emphasis on the dignity of the human person and the obligations of those in authority to respect that dignity and to command according to the demands of the common good. The Church regards as particularly pernicious the abuse of authority, because human authority is never absolute but entrusted to individuals specifically for the care of the persons, created in the image and likeness of God. For this reason John Paul II placed a particular emphasis on the obligation of men toward women, while not at all dispensing from the obligation of obedience of wives to their husbands. One would think that the need to address the problem of the abuse of authority, as well as the unwillingness to exercise it with legitimate forcefulness for the common good, would be obvious in the light of various modern forms of totalitarianism, fascism and fanaticism.


Sunday, January 10, 2010


Virginie Barbeau is having a giveaway of my novel The Night's Dark Shade. Please visit her blog Virginie Says... for details. Madame Virginie wrote a lovely review as well. To quote:

I was hooked on The Night’s Dark Shade from the very first page. Raphaelle, though sometimes scared, is strong in mind, heart and beliefs. Elena has a wonderful knack of describing places so that you feel you are there, seeing them in your mind’s eye. I was instantly intrigued in the Cathars and their very strange beliefs. I had no idea there were people in history who had such a distorted look at Christianity.

I found the novel to be well researched, fast moving and completely enjoyable. It’s a story full of substance, complex characters, just the right mix of history and fiction and wonderfully lacking in fluff. A novel of love and hate, good and evil, I enjoyed each word and was sorry to see it end.

Virginie kindly asked me to write a little about how I came to write the book, and about some of the historical background. Here is an excerpt of my article:

...As for the characters in the novel, Queen Blanche, the mother of Louis IX, was an actual person, as was the royal seneschal and cousin of the king, Imbert de Beaujeu. The Cathar bishop and his deacon whom Raphaëlle meets in Lady Esclarmonde’s tower were based upon real people as well. The historical events alluded to throughout the novel are all genuine. As for the places, “Bécède” was a Cathar castle in real life and it was indeed besieged by the Lord Imbert. “Mirambel” is the name of the stronghold at Lourdes. I once visited an English hostel at the base of the castle mount. A door in an upper story of the hostel opened up into a sort of cave under the castle; it became clear to me that subterranean passages were a distinct possibility.

The Night's Dark Shade is available for purchase HERE.


The New York Blizzard of 1899

What a difference a century can make. Share

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Looking Ahead: A Spring Suit

And some thoughts from "50s Gal" on contemporary women's roles. To quote:
Again, now we have the CHOICE, but when the choice arises, do we really have the choice of the old workable roles? I am not sure, as I have heard from SO many woman over this past year that would love to be SAHM or SAHW and yet feel they do not have the choice. Be it money or what have you. Again, I feel if we could ,as a society, look at what is important to us we might find that most of the THINGS we are working for our plastic/media/easy use items that are replacing our own free time and enjoyment. Are we working harder so the new flat screen TV with 150 dollars worth of cable a month can stay home all day while we toil away at jobs we hate? Are those premade frozen foods happy and content in the freezer while we are out working so they have a nice cool home to live in? I don’t know. I think if many of us ask that question and really evaluate our lives we may be surprised at the answer.

If I may go back to the aspect of fashion, as an example, as we move closer to the 1960’s the feminine form is becoming slighter and more masculine. Soon, pants will be the norm. Now, I am not saying, again, that we should not have the CHOICE of what to wear or that we should be DICTATED to what the female form is, but the early 1950s silhouette is much more feminine in that is has a fuller look which is actually how women look. Certainly High fashion exaggerated this, but the daily outfit of a middleclass homemaker was a comfortable dress that allowed movement and yet still made one feel pretty and feminine. Do our current fashions dictate the role of woman as a free woman or as a sham version of a man who, in fact, also has to have the babies, cook the food and clean the house? It would be an interesting study, don’t you think.