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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Humor Amidst the Madness of Terror

Madness. A strange subject we have this month! So I thought I'd tell you a little tale about a very dangerous, very sly, intelligent and enigmatic man and a funny, strange event that he may or may not have deliberately caused to happen.

It just happens that right now I'm studying one of the most bizarre eras in history, the Terror, a part of the French Revolution when even the revolutionaries themselves turned against each other. At its center was perhaps the maddest, yet perhaps sanest man of them all, Joseph Fouché. If he was neither or both of those, perhaps he was both the most unprincipled or most passionately principled of all the French fanatics. He is known as The Executioner of Lyons, responsible for the deaths of thousands merely on the basis of their status as aristocrats and/or wealthy men, and yet later seemed to be the only voice of reason in all of France, calling for the repatriation of those who had previously fled to escape the guilloutine. He supported Napoleon in his rise to power, but betrayed him in the end, and Napoleon later said if he had won at Waterloo, he would have had Fouché shot.

So much for the man's history. His unique ability to gather information and persuade men to act based on fear for themselves had kept his soul and hide together in this terrifying time. And the same traits qualified him to take on the Ministry of Secret Police. He had fingers in every pie. His network of spies reached everywhere, and very few of them knew any of the others. And although he received reams of reports daily, he filled several wastebaskets every day with reports he didn't want.

One day one of his associates, named Réal, complained to him he dreaded going to the theater that night because he knew the overly anxious Gohier, another agent, would draw him aside, asking as he always did for a report for him to check out, which Réal never had. His eyes sparking with mischief, Fouché pointed to a wastebasket and said "Give him one of those."

Réal, glad to be relieved of the tedium of Gohier's approaches, complied, picking out a report by an agent of a possibly illicit assembly in the garden of a house outside Paris. Gohier glowered and said he'd heard of these meetings and was surprised that so little concern was given to them when they were clearly dangerous. The conspirators gathered nightly in the garden, he said, and they spoke in such low, conspiratorial tones that the agents were unable to hear their plans. Clearly arrests were called for. And off he went to Diligently perform his duty.

At this point, Réal began to worry that he might have missed something important, and that could reflect badly on himself. So he sent his own men to investigate as well. And the following night, he paid a visit to Gohier's home. The property, it seems was owned by a hatmaker. "On fine nights,... the manufacturer sets his hats out on poles in his garden to dry. Now, if you imagine a hedge at the height of the poles..."

Well, Fouché was also known for his very sophisticated and subtle sense of humor...


At 4:36 AM, Blogger Dianna Love said...

Very interesting and funny Delle. I'm always amazed and impressed at the amount of research a historical author has to do.

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Very funny, Delle!

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

What a great historical fact, Delle! I can't wait to see how you put all this research into one of your fabulous historical romances. Something like the Scarlet Pimpernel, I'm guessing??

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Delle said...

Has to? HAS TO? I would do it if I never conceived of another historical story again! That's the pleasure of secondary sources, I think. Those authors have already come across the interesting tidbits to share.

It will be interesting to see if I can use this specific incident, or perhaps just catch its essence. I had been hoping for a more direct connection between my heroine and Fouche, but that may not work, as I have found he was in disgrace during the period of my next story, when I really needed for him to be Minister of the Secret Police. But I've always said, nothing in an author's life ever goes to waste.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

How right you are about nothing in an author's life going to waste. You never know when some little tidbit of information can become very useful when you are writing.

At 9:55 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Fascinating and funny, Delle! Great fodder for a story. I am with you. My biggest guilty pleasure is spending time reading my research books. I love the minutia of it - those little personal stories that make all of this historical figures oh so human!

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Delle, what an interesting story and character this Fouche was! Loved it. Your love of research is apparent!

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

And CONGRATS to Louisa for finaling in the Golden Heart for the second year in a row!!!

At 7:57 AM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Theresa! I am definitely "gobsmacked" as Anna Campbell says!


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