The Slightest Provocation is quite extensively researched when it comes to the government provocateur plot, the ins and outs of divorce laws – and littler things too (I even make a point of characterizing the well-known John Donne poem “The Good-Morrow” as “obscure,” because it would have been obscure to Mary Penley. Donne was very little read in the nineteenth century.
But I totally goofed when I made Kit’s brother Wat a local magistrate.
Because as the Marquess of Rowen, and therefore a peer and a member of the House of Lords, Wat’s governmental responsibilities would have been to Parliament. His duties would have been to national rather than local government. Peers were exempted from magistrate duty – magistrates were from the lower gentry, country squires and such, rather than from the aristocracy.
I should have known this. Somehow I didn’t. Until (inevitably) a month or two after it was too late to make any changes. I wept and wailed, but the book was already typeset.
However, I’ve also heard since then that this peer/magistrate confusion has popped up in other Regencies – and by better-known authors. Which authors? Oh, I’d never tell. But keep your eyes open.
And I’ll sure know better next time.What else did I get wrong in The Slightest Provocation? Please let me know and I’ll be happy (well, happy and chagrined) to post it.
If I’d written it that way, Joseph could still have fainted. But then how would I have gotten him tucked into Marie-Laure’s bed?
What else did I get wrong in The Bookseller's Daughter? Please let me know and I’ll be happy (well, happy and chagrined) to post it.
» Check out the outtake from The Bookseller's Daughter.
What else did I get wrong in Almost a Gentleman? Please let me know and I’ll be happy (well, happy and chagrined) to post it.
Marie-Laure looked forward to visits from the Marquise or Mademoiselle Beauvoisin, and most particularly to anything they might tell her about Joseph.
“I was eighteen when I first met him,” the Marquise began one afternoon when a fierce rainstorm had kept her out of the garden.
“My parents had died suddenly,” she continued, “and I was summoned from the convent that had been my home since I’d been eight years old, to live in this enormous, echoing house under my uncle’s guardianship.
“I wept bitterly about having to leave the Convent of Sainte Geneviève. I’d been happy studying Latin and Greek with Sister Victoire and helping her prune the pear trees in the cloister garden. I considered petitioning to take my vows, to be permitted to stay forever. But the pagan literature I’d absorbed so happily had made it clear to me that I didn’t have a vocation; in truth I was hardly a believer at all. And at seventeen one wants to be honest about matters of faith.
“And so I was plunged headlong into the social life of the Paris aristocracy: the marriage market, the presentations at court. A life for which, as you can imagine, I had even less vocation than the religious one. Well, I certainly didn’t look the part of a young lady of the King’s court, and in those days I was painfully shy.
“My uncle took a set of apartments at Versailles. He hired a squadron of maids to transform me into a fine young lady, to powder and bejewel me, starve me and squeeze me into formal gowns. But I hated the spiteful maids and fussy clothes, the supercilious court manners, and most particularly the preening, obnoxious hairdresser who came by every afternoon -- a poisonous, buzzing insect, spreading gossip like pollen as he made his rounds.
“It was the hairdresser who was all too pleased to inform me that I’d become the joke of the season, and that everyone -- from chambermaids to the King’s brother -- was amusing themselves at my expense. One of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting had scored a hit with her imitation of me walking in court dress. A formal gown weighs a ton, you see; you have to glide with it as though your feet are polishing the floor. Ariane makes it look easy, but I could never get the hang of it. The best I managed was a sort of tipsy waddle.
“Hurtful as it was, the joke was a mercy in its way, because it put a crimp in my uncle’s plans to marry me off. Families who’d been after my dowry and ancient title were frightened away by my being such a wretched outsider. After all, what good would my money or title do a husband if he couldn’t parlay it into influence at court?
“Meanwhile, I was dragged to horrid dinners and balls and receptions and made to pay my respects to vicious ladies and simpering gentlemen, all of them rouged and powdered up to the eyeballs. The only thing worse was my uncle’s abusive commentary on how awkwardly I conducted myself during these encounters.
“It was a miserable existence, redeemed only by my books and dogs. I was generally ignored at formal dinners, except for nasty jokes about how I must eat like a baby elephant.
“‘Good evening, Mademoiselle,’ a dashing blond gentleman greeted me one evening as we prepared to sit down at some sumptuous table, ‘may I pull out a chair for you?’
He paused for a moment, drawing attention to himself with a florid bow. And when he’d gathered enough people’s expectant attention, he repeated, ‘may I pull out a chair or two for you, Mademoiselle?’
“Covered with blushes and trying not to weep, I slid into my place at table, accompanied by a chorus of titters and giggles. The cruel young man meanwhile remained standing, nodding and smiling at the crowd to acknowledge their acclaim.
“But -- and I’m still not sure exactly how it happened -- when my tormentor did finally lift his sword and coattails to seat himself, he didn’t notice that his own chair had been set ever so slightly off balance. Maybe he was pushed or nudged a little as well; it was very deft, you couldn’t really see. However it happened, something or somebody caused him to tip, not backwards onto the floor, but -- much, much worse -- forward onto the table.
“He reached forward to steady himself with his arms and slid into the hors d’oeuvres plate, upsetting his cup of red wine on the way. A few drops spattered onto me, but most of it wound up soaking his lace cravat and lime green waistcoat, while his ruffled cuffs and brocaded sleeve became gaily festooned with truffles and caviar.
“Whispers and murmurs rose.
“‘Oh, he’s so naughty.’ I heard a lady giggling. And somehow I knew she wasn’t referring to the blond gentleman.
“‘Yes,’ another replied, ‘but he’s so handsome, so delicious really -- have you had him yet, my dear? oh but you must. Having taken him to bed, one forgives him everything. At least this season.’
“The murmurs had become loud, appreciative guffaws and giggles. It was an outrage to send someone pitching into the hors d’oeuvres, but why not have a laugh at it, people decided, especially when the culprit -- whoever he was -- was so adorable.
“I laughed too. As the music and conversation resumed and the blond gentleman fled the room, I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. It was the first time I’d laughed since I’d left the convent, and it was such a relief that I resolved to find something to laugh at every day. A simple matter, as it turns out, given the absurdities of Paris society.
“A squadron of lackeys repaired the damage to the table setting, and when they withdrew a figure in red and blue military uniform slid gracefully into the vacated chair. He looked about my age or a bit older. And he seemed entirely at ease in the glittering dining room, the gold braid on his uniform reflecting the light of the chandeliers’ thousand candles.
“‘I thought you could use some cheering up.’ The beautiful dark-eyed boy in uniform smiled broadly at me. ‘But you shouldn’t miss the oysters. They’re wonderful this evening.’
“I could feel the crowd’s disapproving eyes on us. They’d been happy to forgive Joseph his mischief, but his attention to a clumsy fat girl was another thing entirely. I waited for him to draw back, but instead he commandeered an enormous silver platter of Colchester oysters from a passing waiter and dumped at least half of them onto my plate.
“‘Come on,’ he said, grasping his little oyster fork like a saber, ‘I’m starving. You’ll have to eat quickly or I’ll eat yours as well.’
“I stared at him. ‘You’re not going to make fun of my appetite?’ I demanded.
“‘Is that what they’ve been doing to you?’ he asked.
“And when I nodded, his eyes grew gentle. ‘No, I’m not going to make fun of you. I think everybody should eat good food with a hearty appetite. Both of us are going to enjoy our dinners. Our host sets a good table, even if his guest list is a bit on the dull-witted side -- present company excepted, of course. I’m going to eat a lot of his excellent food and I’m going to enjoy watching you eat a lot as well. And we’ll talk and laugh and become friends. It’s important, you know, to have a friend in a nest of vipers like this one.’”
The Marquise smiled at Marie-Laure. “I’ve never enjoyed an oyster more.”
“I imagine that’s what he’s like in bed,” she added. “Taking pleasure in his partner’s pleasure, I mean.”
Marie-Laure hadn’t expected the conversation to take this turn. But the Marquise was right. She thought of Joseph’s wide smile and darkly shining eyes, his hair loose and tangled on a lacy pillow case. Yes, it had especially delighted him when she’d been greedy, so intent on her own pleasures that she’d felt she could devour him whole.
“I suppose a lot of men aren’t like that,” she said.
“Yes, that is exactly what I suppose as well,” the Marquise agreed.
“And you and he never . . .”
The question slipped halfway out before she could take it back. But the Marquise didn’t seem offended.
“No, never.” She laughed. “For soon after I met Joseph, I began attending every performance I could of the Comédie-Française, hardly breathing when Ariane came onstage in her first tiny roles. But I would never have dared speak to her if Joseph hadn’t introduced us.
“I will confess, though, that when he and I were married I experienced a certain curiosity about what men were actually like. Especially when I had such an excellent specimen at my service.”
A blush stole over the Marquise’s smooth, even skin and a secretive little smile played over her lips.
“Ariane didn’t want me to,” she murmured, her voice suddenly shy and girlish. “She said she was jealous enough of the memory of the sainted Sister Victoire. And, well, you see . . . she’s really very possessive.”
The rain beat comfortingly on the windows as the Marquise composed herself.top