The story behind Mistress of the Revolution began with a conversation with my father, a retired history professor, a few months before his death. We were talking about Vic, the little mountain town in southern France where, like my heroine Gabrielle, I spent part of my childhood. He asked me if I remembered Coffinhal Street there.
Of course, I had known of Coffinhal Street all of my life. Only I never thought of the character after whom it was named. But then my father told me that Coffinhal had been an ardent revolutionary, a Jacobin, a friend of Robespierre. He had even finished his career as Vice President of the Revolutionary Tribunal. I was intrigued and looked up the man. And I found someone almost everybody hated! There was something fascinating about that.
It just happened that two other historical characters of the Revolution were from the same region. One of them, the Chevalier des Huttes, an officer in the elite corps of the Queen’s Bodyguards, had a mansion in Vic. It still stands there, close to the Coffinhal house.
In the novel, the Chevalier is in love with Marie-Antoinette, which is consistent with local lore. As my father pointed out, though, he would have shown the same devotion to his Queen out of a sense of duty, regardless of any personal feelings he might have had for her.
Another historical character, Carrier, a revolutionary and a man of extraordinary cruelty, was from a village only a few miles away from Vic. Of course Carrier too had to appear in the novel.
It was an irresistible conjunction: three men who had played an important role in the French Revolution were tied to my little mountain town of Vic. I must confess that, before writing the book, I had little interest in that historical period.
That changed in short order. I realized during my research that most of the political issues raised at the time remain current. People then began to discuss civil rights, in particular women’s rights and the equality of all before the law.
Soon I was engrossed by my subject, and my characters acquired a tremendous hold on me. I felt that they had come to life, that they were people I really knew. Some people say that writing is a “hobby.” For me, and, I suspect, for many other authors, writing goes much deeper than that.
The whole beginning of Mistress of the Revolution is set in the mountains of Auvergne, where I had not been able to visit in twelve years. I had to draw on my childhood memories to recreate the feel of the region. In fact I did not return to Auvergne until after the novel was completed. What a joy it was then to rediscover the place at last, as beautiful as I remembered it. My love for it has even deepened, because now it is the setting of my novel as well.
Catherine Delors is the author of the historical fiction novel, Mistress of the Revolution. Leave a comment below and you could win a copy of her book! All winners will be announced at www.virtualbooktoursforauthors.blogspot.com on March 31!