Okay, so I’ve abandoned any and all attempts at having a break, because it’s just not working. Instead, I’m placing all my thoughts, effort, and time into continuing my work on Wings of Malice, a young adult fantasy novel.
Getting back into it after such a long break has been tough. Fortunately, I did leave the project with most of it already complete. At this stage, I’m merely going through and refreshing my memory of the story and plot, and doing my 3rd round of edits as I read. There are of course areas where I will need to write up new stuff. This is just typical of my process. I’ll be onto my 2nd or 3rd round of edits on a project, but then will have a fair few blank spaces or chapters, which I have neglected (and usually continue to neglect, in favour of something easier!) To that I say, “No!”
I know it’s wrong, but I keep doing it!
Of course, after working on Eleanor, I’ve learnt some things about my writing. Most importantly, I’ve learnt how to identify errors that I make. And it is difficult, because I’m relatively blind to my own errors. I’m easily able to identify them in a client’s work, but it is harder to do so for my own. I cannot explain why. I suppose it is simply a matter of having fresh eyes looking at it. Knowing a story so well, and being able to picture every aspect of it, makes me blind to see how it is truly conveyed in my writing.
As I look over Wings of Malice now, I can see some of those errors that I had been making. Some of them appear quite obvious now (it has been a year since looking at the project), such as issues with point of view. Though, I think that was more to do with my inability to decide on 3rd person omniscient or 3rd person limited. Also, each chapter focuses on a different character and so, once again, I had difficulty in deciding whose point of view should be showcased. Trust me, it’s a thing. And I’m working on it! Though, I confess, I still have trouble every now and then with slipping from 3rd person limited to 3rd person omniscient. I’ll blame it on the fact that prior to 2013, I wrote everything in 1st person. There we go!
With Eleanor, however, I had already made the decision on p.o.v, etc before I started writing it.
I can also see how my writing and writing process have developed since last year — even just the little things. I am now able to organise and prioritise my work better. 12- to 14-hour days are a norm now, and my impossible deadlines are starting to become a reality. National Novel Writing Month has made me realise my true potential. I had never thought it possible to write 50k words within a month, and did not expect myself to even finish, but I did! So, the pessimist in me is trying to learn to become more confident in my ability.
Now, where were we?
Ah, of course! To help keep me motivated and committed to Wings of Malice (at least until NaNoWriMo this year), I will be employing the services of Phoenix Johnson Graphic Design once again.
If you remember, Phoenix designed the deliciously orgasmic cover for Eleanor.
I have a few design ideas for Wings of Malice, but nothing set in stone as yet. And this will of course mean rewriting the blurb. It is awful, I know. I’m horrible at writing blurbs. I know I’m not alone in this though… ahem… right?
In other news…
Comps! If you remember, last week I discussed how I would research possible comparable titles to Eleanor. I recently started reading, The House I Loved, by Tatiana de Rosnay — a potential candidate for my list. I’m only about halfway through, so I’m not certain I will name it as a comp, but it is a neo-Victorian or, as it’s set in France, neo-Napoleon III? No? Neapolitan, then? Napolitana? Should I just shut up? Okay, will do. 😛
Speaking of Napoleon III, or at least a Napoleon, I suppose it’s the right time to reveal my NaNoWriMo project idea. I will be writing a piece on the Marquis de Sade. Shock. Horror! I know, I’m quite predictable. I love reading about his life though. And, I thought I’d put my Honours thesis research to use because, quite honestly, I don’t think I have it in me right now to get my paper ready for an academic publication. Not now, at least.
Oh, and there is a link between Napoleon and Sade, don’t worry. I’m not making things up. I’ll let you know more details as soon as I figure them out myself. Right now, the plan is to write about a series of important events in Sade’s life. Each chapter will reveal a different event. I know, right now it doesn’t sound exciting. I’m stuck between not wanting to explain too much of it, and not knowing how to even express it! It’s in my head, figuring itself out (and now casually listening to The Cranberries’ “Zombie”).
You really don’t want to know how my mind works, and why it wanders where it does!
Anyway, thanks for keeping up to date with my work. Join me again next week!
BREAKING NEWS: I just absolutely hate USB sticks! Well, this particular one that I had been relying on so heavily. It decided it would corrupt itself, or allow itself to be corrupted or, much like The Marquis de Sade’s Justine, its virtuous nature was corrupted by external forces.
Not to worry (I know you were), as I had recently backed up my files onto other external drives. I believe the discrepancy (in word count, and so forth) has been rectified, but this rude awakening has led me to consider using an online cloud thingy. So, I’ve downloaded Dropbox.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, Eleanor is soon to be sent off to beta readers. Hooray! (insert the sounds of celestial beings singing).
Well, now. Back to your regular programming.
Just so typical of my indecisive nature, I have a number of alternate endings for Eleanor. And, as you may have guessed, I can’t decide which one I like most.
And so, I will be doing none of them! I have deleted all of these alternate endings, and am starting afresh… with an ending I never thought I would write.
This new ending however, has left me with some complications.
One such complication: Can there be a happily ever after in a tragedy? I think we all know the answer to that. And yet, a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet is commonly referred to as a romance. I cannot think why.
Other complications have meant me having to do something so uncharacteristic of myself, it has shocked not only me, and my partner, but it goes completely against my ethical standpoint. Let’s simply say that, if the vegan community didn’t already hate me, it will now!
I always thought my cruelty-free lifestyle would seamlessly and naturally translate into my work, but I am looking to challenge myself and my readers. I want to write something shocking. This may mean people despising or loving my writing (or being utterly apathetic, who knows?). As long as it evokes a response, a strong emotional response (and a review, wink wink), then I have done my job.
Though I would love to publish all of my endings, I’ve been told that it’s not exactly feasible. That is unfortunate, because I am rather fond of them all. Perhaps I could make Eleanor a Choose Your Own Adventure-style book?
I had also considered putting it up to a vote, but then that may mean revealing the ending… Hmm… I think there is a flaw in that plan. Perhaps instead, a simple, subtle poll?:
It is all rather moot though. I have already chosen my ending for Eleanor. Still, if I could publish all 5(?) endings, I would.
In other news… shocking, shocking news… while I have successfully killed off many characters in the past (in a number of my works, and without shedding a single tear), a death scene I recently wrote had me weeping uncontrollably. All in a few lines. Does this make me a master writer? I think so 😉
I shall let you, the reader, be the judge of that however.
I know a lot of people, myself included, who have said that they feel like they belong in another period of time. Yes, I feel that at times. All the time. Absolutely. I think the idea of being, say in 19thC London, away from the thrall of Facebook (and away from the evil trolls who frequent it), could mean me spending more time… focusing on my pox-ridden body.
And that is the reality. We probably couldn’t manage living in those times. We romanticise it because of people like Mr. Darcy, but the truth is that we would likely be those people lying in the streets, struggling to survive because illegal immigrants like Heathcliff have taken our jobs!
Also, let’s not forget how women couldn’t vote, women were property, women couldn’t own property (unless they were lucky enough to be in a family with no males), and so on and so forth. So, if you were a guy, things might be all right for you then. That is, if you weren’t poor!
In my ideal historical fiction, is a realistic (and honest) portrayal of the setting and lifestyle of the period. But even writers like Jane Austen weren’t that honest, and she lived in those times! It was all very pretty, the idea that we could choose who we wanted to marry, but that really wasn’t true. Marriage was for social or financial benefit. And for that reason, Mr. Collins is the most realistic character in Pride and Prejudice. He might be boorish and ugly, but he is realistic.
But really, Mr. Darcy. What a hunk of a man! Or was he?
I imagined Jennifer Ehle (of the BBC’s miniseries Pride and Prejudice) was a more realistic portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet than Keira Knightly (in both physique and acting ability!), but I never questioned whether Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen were realistic portrayals of Mr. Darcy.
Keep in mind, it’s never a good idea to challenge the romantic image of Mr. Darcy as he has been conveyed in film and television. Women will come at you with pitchforks! But, I came across a number of articles looking at that very idea, and I’ve come to the single conclusion:
We’ve been lied to!
A study, conducted by Professor John Sutherland of University College, London (where Eleanor attends, by the way), revealed that “the revered Darcy would have had powdered white hair, a pointy chin, a pale complexion, a long nose and sloping shoulders. Not quite the brooding, chiselled chap portrayed on-screen by modern-day actors” (Thompson). Feeling heartbroken yet? Go ahead and read more.
“That’s all well and good, Cadence,” you might say “but that was in the film, not the novel.”
“Well,” I would respond. “please let me explain.”
Mr. Darcy is described by Austen as “handsomer than Mr. Bingley” (8), which is interesting considering the unappetising description given by University College, London’s study. And so, the “brooding, chiselled chap” in Pride and Prejudice is probably just as brooding and chiselled as The Marquis de Sade!
Geoffrey Rush was aptly chosen to represent Sade, in my opinion. Perhaps then he is the closest to Mr. Darcy? But I may be wrong. What do you think? Would you watch Rush as Darcy in the next Pride and Prejudice film? I know I would!
As readers, we aren’t given much to go with in terms of description — “fine, tall person, [with] handome features” (Austen 7) — and I imagine the BBC series and film have clouded our judgement and given us a biased image of the “handsomer than Mr. Bingley” Mr. Darcy.
But enough of Mr. Darcy, and his lies!
Emily Brontë offered us a much more detailed, and rich description of the brooding and chiselled Heathcliff. Nelly describes Heathcliff, upon his return:
He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man; beside whom, my master seemed quite slender and youth-like. His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army. His countenance was much older in expression and decision of feature than Mr. Linton’s; it looked intelligent, and retained no marks of further degradation. A half-civilised ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire, but it was subdued; and his manner was even dignified: quite divested of roughness, though too stern for grace (Brontë 69).
And upon their meeting, Mr. Lockwood describes Heathcliff as:
…a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose (3).
Though, of course, our image of beauty changes with time. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley will always adhere to our image of beauty because the description is lacking. We then see Pride and Prejudice as timeless, in that regard. The reader is able to create their own image of what beauty is, or should be.
So… should I be creating a detailed image of beauty (my own interpretation, or rather the depiction of beauty of 19thC London) or, instead, should I consider the readership’s desire for a timeless beauty?
To accommodate this need of the reader, and like Austen, I too have not given detailed descriptions of characters, such as Eleanor’s love interest, Mr. Ashwood. Yet, part of that stems from Eleanor’s own rebellion from her duty in finding a husband. She is more concerned with content of character, in a friend or confidant (who she sees Mr. Ashwood as). And therefore, does not consider his appearance too deeply.
What other novels do you feel have not been entirely honest with the reader?
Let me know in the comment section below.
What do we see in terms of historical fiction, however? In my experience, in my readings of historical fiction, the image of beauty has been altered by the author’s personal bias, and not “limited” to the standards as set by the period. If we can go back to Wuthering Heights, we see this with Heathcliff. Although the character is seen as dangerous, violent, exotic, and sometimes that is attributed to his mysterious origins and colour of his skin, Heathcliff is still considered beautiful when compared to Mr. Linton for example, who is perhaps more aligned to the true standard of beauty for that period.
So, what is beauty? Should we be challenging our own standards, or leaving it open to interpretation?
In my last historical fiction post, I mentioned how I am trying to be more open to the demand for a romanticised history, and I think I have done that in Eleanor, at least I hope so. For example, Eleanor’s young sister, Vivienne, falls in love with a man whom she knows nothing about. He is handsome, yes, but as Eleanor and Vivienne grew up without a mother, they were without that person to arrange marriages or find suitors for them (such as Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice), they’re now going in blind. Vivienne knows that she should find someone to free her from her financial problems, she believes she has found someone to do that, but it was essentially ‘love at first sight’, that compelled her to fall for the mysterious Mr. Winters.
Eleanor rejects the societal expectations of her sex, and embraces the possibility of living life as a spinster. She sees that as the fate of someone of her social standing (particularly after the death of her father, and considering her money woes), therefore she believes it right to accept her future now, and prepare for it. She would rather that fate than to marry without love.
And yet, all the while, Eleanor is faced with the question of what love truly is.
Getting sidetracked! The point is, Eleanor is well aware of the consequences of veering off the path meant for her, in search of another.
But, what were/are the biggest research issues in writing Eleanor?
Specifics about human anatomy, in terms of surgical procedures [both Henry (Mr. Ashwood) and Eleanor perform surgeries].
Language. Trying to make accurate dialogue for 19thC London, which entails looking at other works written of that time. But I also like to write pretentiously, so it’s pretty easy for me! 😉
I recently happened upon a book on etiquette, which will perhaps be of the greatest help for me in terms of staying true to the lifestyle mannerisms of 19thC London. There are specific moments in Eleanor I have been uncertain of, and already this little book, Hints of etiquette: A shield against the vulgar (which contains, Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society: with a Glance at Bad Habits, 1842, and Hints for Etiquette; or, Dining out Made Easy, 1849) has answered a number of my questions. For instance, in regards to dancing.
I’m quite fond of this entry (on how not to be an arsehole!):
It has somewhere been observed that, ‘In good society, a tacit understanding exists that whatsoever conversation may take place shall be to a certain degree sacred, and may not honourably be carried out of it, and repeated to the prejudice of the utterer’ (Agogos, 68-69).
But, of course, I refer again to Eleanor and Vivienne’s naivety of such customs. It is a factor that surfaces again and again in the novel, and illustrates their poor decision making in some scenarios.
In regards to my issue with maintaining consistent and dated language… this is something I will delve into further in my historical fiction blog post concerning language. Most of the research was through reading, ultimately. That is probably the best advice out there — read, read, read!
In terms of my research of human anatomy…
Many universities have a program whereby members of the public can take full advantage of their libraries. This has been most beneficial to me, in particular with researching human anatomy. I often borrow books from a local university. And, as a former student with Curtin University, I am privileged enough to be able to continue using their library facilities both on-campus and online. That is just one of the many perks of choosing an education with them!
What is your research process? Let me know in the comment section below.
I also attempted to research human anatomy and surgical procedures from videos. This is (or, would have been) something helpful for my research and writing process as I describe a particular procedure in Eleanor. Alas! I found it to be quite difficult viewing. Nausea was a problem! Instead, I had to rely on graphic images of the procedure from books and online. A book I found to be incredibly useful was, …. Wait, scratch that! I don’t really want to give it away. The specific surgical procedure is quite a pivotal plot point, so, just ignore this.
However, I will say that the late Dr. Clarendon (Eleanor’s father) was well-versed in human anatomy, as you know (he was a revered anatomist with University College, London), but his field of specialty, or at least his focus, was on the female reproductive system. He considered some theories like the ‘wandering womb’, for example. But, I will not go further. This is simply to illustrate an example of the research I have had to undertake for Eleanor.
I have so much more to say, but sadly this post is getting a little too long. Perhaps I will make a part 2, but for now, I will leave it as is. Feel free to message me, or comment below with your thoughts.
Please join me next time when I look at male characters in historical fiction.
What are your thoughts on historical fiction? Who are your favourite authors? Let me know in the comment section below.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York and London, 2001. Print.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Wordsworth Editions Ltd: Hertfordshire, 1992. Print.
“Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade” Image. Rushysgirl. 10 Sep. 2007. Web. Date accessed 5 June 2015.
“Portrait of Sade” Image. Smithsonian.com Feb. 2015. Web. Date accessed 10 Apr. 2017.
Thompson, Rachel. “This is what Mr. Darcy would have actually looked like – and it’s not pretty“. Mashable. 9 Feb. 2017. Web. Date accessed 18 Mar. 2017.
I’ve always had a fondness for historical fiction, and I’ve particularly admired the commitment and the lengths writers go to, to create the perfect story in our world.
Over the coming weeks, I will be examining a different element in creating historical fiction. These will include: setting, character development, and research, just to name a few.
Each blog post will be concerning issues I have faced, and how I overcame them (or plan to overcome them).
I am by no means an expert. I merely wish to share my personal experiences with the genre, my likes, dislikes, and the highs and lows of my writing process for my first historical novel, Eleanor.
Is there a formula for creating these worlds? How deep do writers need to go, in their research, to ensure their reader is completely immersed in these worlds?
These are just some of the questions I am trying to answer in my quest in completing Eleanor.
After having fallen in love with a number of historical novels, I knew that I wanted to write my own. I can’t remember where I got the initial idea for Eleanor. It was simply a desire to write the un-romantic Romantic. I wanted ugliness, darkness, and to be as near to the raw, unbridled, reality of nineteenth-century England as possible.
One of my biggest concerns with historical fiction is the tendency for some writers to romanticise the period they are working in. And, yes it is fiction, and though I confess I sometimes have the desire to read the romanticised version of history, it is not real. I prefer the raw, unabridged version, including all the ugly parts of history. I want something as true to life as possible, I suppose. Otherwise I feel like I’m being lied to about what life in those times was truly like.
Perhaps I should stick to non-fiction then?
You know I am a pessimist, and you know that I prefer to read novels with sad endings, because I believe they are more realistic… perhaps that is why I need an historical fiction with that darkness.
That may sound contradictory when last time I talked nonstop about my love for purple prose, but if you remember: anything can be made beautiful with purple prose.
Ugliness, darkness, reality; they can be written beautifully. (Beautiful writing or purple prose does not always imply ‘happy’). We can see it in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Wuthering Heights, and Adam Bede, as just some examples. In historical fiction, we can see it in Rebel Heiress.
I instantly fell in love with Fiona Mountain’s Rebel Heiress (also published as Lady of the Butterflies) when I read it a number of years ago. This is one of my favourite historical novels. There is romance, yes, but there is sadness, rejection, and isolation too, because that is an inevitability of life. You cannot escape the darkness of the world. I loved the ending, and though I confess I would have liked to see something more definitive, or to see the heroine be with her love interest, it was a realistic ending. The fact that it went against my expectations (because I always assume there will be a happy ending), I loved that even more. I highly recommend this book, and… sorry for the spoilers, haha!
It just seems that characters in a lot of our literary worlds have a pretty good spell of luck. I don’t see many heroes dying of the plague, or women dying in childbirth. And that’s where I’ve found a love in Bernard Cornwell. He tells it like it was!
Can you steer me in the right direction? What should I be reading?
What should I be avoiding?
Next book in the queue is The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. I’ve heard great things, so I’m looking forward to it.
For Eleanor, I am trying to be more accepting of the fact that readers love the romanticisation of history, but I want to add the ugliness of reality too. For instance, I don’t think I’ve come across a book that has described the common difficulty in bathing. A simple act today (for most parts of the world), but as you can imagine, without running water it would have been a pain in the arse. That is something that has come up in Eleanor, in a very minor way. Really, it’s about balancing historical accuracy with an interesting narrative. I don’t need someone to give expert knowledge in the area of Victorian bathing, but it gets hard imagining a world where it seems no one takes the time to use the facilities. Like in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (apparently I’ll use any excuse to reference my favourite game!). Sometimes I wish Geralt would at least stop fighting monsters for a minute to avail himself toilet-wards. I have video footage of a NPC doing it, but Geralt’s too good to pee on a tree obviously!
Paint me a picture, historical fiction writers! Your characters can’t always be smelling nice when their last bathing was a year ago! It’s hard to imagine the hero or heroine being romanced when they stink. Maybe they wear a lot of perfume as compensation?
For my love of The Marquis de Sade, I am completely free to dabble in the darkness. His life was lavish, decadent, toxic, and miserable. There isn’t much argument for adding romance in there, but… perhaps I could? Why not romanticise a horrible man? We romanticise the abusive Christian Grey. It then stands to reason that Sade could be romanticised too. Forcing women to take aphrodisiacs (Spanish fly), pouring hot wax on their bodies, and whipping them; there is a familiarity there, I’m sure 😉
Though I prefer to be ethical, historical fiction is, well, fiction.
Sade the coward? Never! He single-handedly broke out of the Bastille to save Marie Antoinette, his long-time admirer, from the guillotine. History won’t tell you that, but it’s true! He then married her, ‘cos, you know… facts.
I’m starting right now! Come on, it could work. You’re just jealous because I thought of it first! I’ll even stick a copyright symbol on it, to be sure.
I enjoy studying Sade’s life, and do also enjoy writing academic papers on him and his works, but I would love to write a fictional creative piece. I have started on a few. Feel free to check out my short piece, Letter to the Marquise.
Although his life was incredibly depressing, it was still really interesting. If someone could write a biography of his life in narrative form… that would be amazing! That’s something I want, and maybe something I’ll try myself.
Now, I shall take my leave because once again my thoughts are getting distracted and I don’t know where to end.
Please join me next time when I look at research for historical fiction.
What are your thoughts on historical fiction? Who are your favourite authors? Let me know in the comment section below.
You all know my love for The Marquis de Sade or, rather, studying his life. Every now and then I like to work on a creative piece. This is a piece I was working on last year, and just completely forgot about. I was to submit it for Blue Fringe Arts, but didn’t finish it in time.
Since completing my honours dissertation: “Sade and the death of the virtuous woman: The construction of virtue in Justine“, I have been contemplating undergoing a PhD. I know I want to focus on Sade, once again, the problem is that I cannot decide on whether to write another dissertation, or do a creative piece instead.
Stolen away at just fourteen years
Reduced to nothing and left in tears
With chastity cherished, her fate is sealed
Her virtue cries and weakens to vice
For her conviction, it is her price.
Defying chaos, defying Nature
Justine soon falls, poor innocent creature.
Unwelcome, this is not her own world
She lies lost, lonely little girl.
But she falls to her own grotesque sin
of growing pride, her vain delight in
purity fair, chastity true
They are taken; as blood from rue
Alas! we find her faith runs deeper
Even when placed with soulless preachers
Her searing flesh beneath the brand
And bones cracking under their hand.
The Marquis de Sade has been a small obsession of mine for quite some time. While I have been working on an historical novel regarding the French writer, I have also been writing little musings. After reading through many of his letters, I have been trying to get a feel of his voice.
This short story is a reworking of a university assessment. Studying the life and work of the Marquis de Sade is a little obsession of mine. So much so that I am studying his work, Justine, for honours thesis. This is a work of fiction.
Want to read more of my works on the Marquis de Sade?
Read the poem, My name is beauty
To Madame de Sade,
I must impart upon you the events of my dream which have changed my life entirely. Though the dream is bittersweet, I confess I have repressed it for too long. The dream or, better fitting, nightmare haunts me as much in happiness as in sadness and I am caught by conviction to gratify you with it.
It was a warm night as I flattered the people of the ballroom with my presence. The smell of foie gras taunted my senses and I satisfied myself by bathing in its wondrous scent. The room was set in colourful disarray. And from the spectacle of ballroom jezebels I emerged, Napoleon’s adversaire, the great nobleman, Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade. A delicate sense of awe surrounded me. My eyes searched the room for the disgust I hoped I would find on the Corsican’s face. Oh, it sent shivers through me, I felt so powerful, to be a threat to the dear old Emperor. Shades of gold teased my eyes, every speck of light bouncing off every inch of the intricately detailed ballroom. And that dear old Corsican, just a foot above the recently polished parquet floor, sent me daggers. I walked past the Emperor, eyeing him intently, and from the crowd of deviant souls I heard one speak.
“Napoleon would see him in prison before he would see a win in war.”
Ha! Indeed, I have been in and out of prison more times than I can count. They scorn me with flattery. To think I am such a threat to the Corsican that I should be hidden behind the walls of Sainte-Pélagie.
Oh, but the creatures! Pathetic, they crave my attention. I sneered at them. I pitied them. They surrounded me in the hopes I would surrender myself to them. But do not fear, they are all beneath me. Women are whores.
My dearest queen, I confess I became aroused. A creature began to mock me with her vile tongue, and questioned my motives; my intentions with my “heroine” Justine. Oh, what a sweet and innocent creature she was, so ignorant; how I loathed her. Much like the dear Justine, I imagined no one loved her. But, oh! I started to hear the gentle banter of adoring devotees, gathered in the midst of the room.
“Justine was raped and beaten mercilessly, all because she was good-natured. Sade despises the good in humanity. By the laws and rules of men, Justine was a good woman and yet Sade punished her relentlessly for not adhering to his particular morals.”
Oh, the pitiful Justine. Pray, do continue, I thought.
“Oui, Madame you are correct, but of course, she is at fault for her own innocence and beauty. What man can resist, in the world of Sade, an opportunity to corrupt? And further, we see that once she has been corrupted, she is of no further use to man. She has lost her virtue, the only thing that she holds dear; that is precious to her, and therefore she must die.”
My dear, they may call me a hater of women if they must – oh, how they pretend to despise me – but they cannot resist the temptation of my tantalising work.
“To add, woman’s existence is relative to man, she is nothing until man gives her meaning. The Marquis does not love Justine. She is nothing, as all women are nothing. He despises her.”
That I can confess with certainty, Justine is an example. I willingly submit her to terrible fates. These scholars, these disciples of mine, completely understood my insatiable desire to humiliate the ‘innocent’ Justine. Je déteste Justine! What do I care of the fate of woman? Justine is worthless because I made her so. She is no different from any other woman. She died because I made her die. I am the authorial power. I have power over the weak.
“But his desire is nothing short of that of modern France. Her people are just as sexually devious. Why are we to repress and condemn our natural urges?”
Why indeed? I thought. Dearest one, their constant appraisal of me was ever so delightful. Though it was just a dream, I imagine myself as the talk of every ball; of everyone.
“Exactement. He confronts us with what we refuse to accept as reality. We punish him because we feel we are justified sinners unlike him.”
“Oui, Mademoiselle. Can we really censure a man whose only crime is reflecting the despicable society in which he lives?
That is true, but my dear, what came next was horrifying.
“I theorise that the Sadean women are incapable of happiness because Sade is incapable of happiness himself.”
Bah! Dearest one, even you must know that in order to be happy and free we must do evil things? They continued the torture.
“Sade is complacent in humiliating Justine. It is clear that the persona – and I imagine it reflects his nature – is unmoved by human misery; using Justine to make a point about how we should not idolise virtue. Sade was indifferent to Justine, he did not love her. Perhaps he hated her, as he hated all women.”
Of course I did not love her; such a pathetic creature as she. How could anyone love her? Silence ensued as they reflected on my creation, before one of them started again.
“I wonder if Sade feels empathy for Justine, or if she is just a fantasy to him. Justine is confronted by horrible hardships; abuse, rape, persecution. She is sadness personified as she exclaims, ‘Oh, God, who decrees all, is it therefore written that no virtuous act shall be suggested by my heart but it shall immediately be followed by misfortune?’ But as Sade continues to deny authorship of Justine, sometimes in jest, what is he saying about his creation, Justine? Is she as sad and pathetic as Sade? Will he deny her and himself so he can be free of any political dangers inherent?”
It was a dream, still I confess I was completely caught off guard by the contempt they unleashed towards my good self. It is true that I denied authorship of Justine and continue to do so as it is for the freedom I crave; the freedom that that damn Corsican will deny me as long as I proudly give myself to my disciples. Alas! They condemn me to misery?
Dearest one, they professed to know me better than I know myself. I recall that dream to you the best I can. I was once a man of power, and yet here I am withering away in my cell. I relive that dream, in my mind, as I am confined by these walls; lusting after my instrument with which I cast my envious mark. The Emperor has deprived me of such joy. To take my ink, my quill, he has castrated me!
My beautifully furnished two-room suite cell saw the collapse of me, physically and mentally. I fell to the cold, hard ground in quiet reflection. I thought of Justine’s tortured life, her broken soul and saw myself.
Dearest one, I am imprisoned unjustly. I am denied freedom not only from the Emperor but from my family who curse me and deny me, just as I deny Justine. I face my fears within these walls, and yet my mind is haunted with my own reflection, of Justine. I fear madness will consume me, if it has not already.
Adieu, my dearest one! As you cannot conceive the dread I feel each and every day I am confined here and as you cannot free me, I must now say goodbye for I fear I will never be set free. All I have left to comfort me are the depressing immortal words of Justine: ‘Under what fatal star was it necessary that I should be born?’ I, unavenged as she, shall remain within these torturous walls until death takes me.