Sunday, March 15, 2009
A FEW FUN FACTS ABOUT THE FRENCH REVOLUTION!
So I am in the middle of my new book, MADAME TUSSAUD'S APPRENTICE and decided I would share with you some very strange facts about life in France in 1789. Wait! You don't know who Madame Tussaud is? Well, buckle your seatbelts then because her life was one bumpy ride!
She started out as Maria Gershotlz. Her mother was a maid to a Dr. Philip Curtuis. Dr. Curtius made wax figures, mainly to show new physicians how to operate (doing this on real bodies was illegal in those day!) He took Maria under his wing and began to show her how to do this herself. Now fast forward . . . Dr. Curtius moves them all to France where the King becomes interested in his work. He invites Maria (who is now 20) out to show his granddaughter (Madame Elizabeth) how to make these wax figures. Fast forward again . . .
It is now 1789. Maria is 29, and the people of Paris are starving. What do you do when you're hungry, poor, and your rulers are living in a place like this . . .?
You have a revolution! What else?
So the people rebelled. Poor Maria! She was declared a Royalist (a bad thing to be when people are a bit angry with that crowd) She is arrested. Her head is shaved, and she is slated to lose that head to the guillotine. Don't know what a guillotine is . . . It is a nasty bit of equipment that you lay your head down on and then a blade come whizzing down and chops off that lovely head!
But wait . . . Remember - Maria has special skills! She can make wax figures, including heads! So the National Assembly decides they can use that skill of hers. (Remember - there were no newspapers in 1789). So the new leaders of the French nation offer Maria this deal: if you will make wax replicas of the heads we guillotine (chop off), we will let you go free. So what did Maria do? You'll have to read my novel to find out! Ha! Ha!
But in the meantime, here are some fun facts about the French court and the French revolution (and not all of them will make it into my book - unfortunately)
1. When the King and Queen were overthrown, the new leaders of France wanted everything to be different - including the calendar and the time. So they created a whole new calendar and a whole new way of telling time. They changed the days of the week from seven to ten. Each day was divided into ten hours. Each hour had 100 minutes and each minute had 100 seconds.
Confusing? You bet! If you go to France now, guess what? They tell time and have a calendar just like ours! So this revolutionary change did not last long.
2. The winter of 1789 was so cold, that the Marquise de Rambouillet had her servants sew her into a bearskin to keep her warm. (Of course the servants stood there shivering and sewing! And I don't even want to think about the bathroom solution!)
3. The King's breakfast before he went hunting consisted of four chops, a chicken, six eggs poached in meat juice, a cut of ham and a bottle and a half of champagne (how did he stay his up on his horse?)
4. The King's wife, Marie Antoinette, commonly dressed and bathed in front of forty people!
5. Balloonists were famous people at this time. The first hot air manned balloon ride was launched from the center of Paris in 1783, and people went crazy seeing someone fly for the very first time!
6. Before the revolution, bread cost more than a week's wages! (So how did you pay for everything else. You couldn't - hence the revolution)
7. Some middle class people, wanting to pretend that they had more than they did, set up libraries in their homes where they installed imitation book spines with no books behind them so they did not have to actually read them but could pretend they owned them. (Pretty weird!)
8. Marie Antoinette was considered such a woman of fashion, that once when she was at the opera, eight women were injured pushing others out of the way to see what she was wearing: three had their feet crushed, two had ribs broken and three had their arms dislocated. (Sounds like the Oscars)
9. Before the revolution, there were only two documents that could be printed without being first reviewed by the police. They were a wedding invitation and a funeral card.
10. The Parisians visited their hairdressers every day but only put on clean clothes once a month (Ewww!)
11. Profits from Madame Tussuad's Museum in London funded three great museums: The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Natural Hstory Museum and the Science Museum. This was not a bad legacy to leave behind.
So those are my fun French Revolutionary Facts. Hope you enjoy them!