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Pix & note: Fontainebleau

I visited the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau in May. It was a gorgeous sunny day, hot by mid-afternoon, even by Texas standards. Fabulous rich blue sky for photography! We went in the middle of the week, but being a World Heritage Site, it was full of people, including many groups of French schoolchildren sitting on the floor listening to their teachers.

A few words to the wise traveler

It’s a big palace; there’s room for everyone. You travel in a single line through the rooms, looping back at one point, confusingly. There are people fore and aft, but you can tuck yourself out of the path to study some detail or soak it all in. Everyone is very tolerant of photography these days. Though it is hard to take pictures of whole rooms, there are so many people and the light is pretty dim.

My usual strategy is to get to these places at opening time. Alas, I planned poorly. It took forever to find the right place in the Gare du Nord. You’d think there’d be signs for tourists going to a World Heritage Site, but no. Mom and I had to wander across three floors even to find an information desk that could give us the correct information. Then we needed correct change to buy tickets from a kiosk and had to run fast to catch the train. “Vite, vite, Madam!” the lady cried to my 86-year-old mother. Luckily, she’s fleet of foot.font2

Also, buy your tickets in advance, for the specific date you will go. France is lovely, there’s no denying it, but something is always on strike, half the things you want to see will be closed and the rest will be understaffed. There was 1 (ONE) woman working the ticket desk at this World Heritage Site on a sunny day in May. We waited in line for 40 minutes. Luckily, I had this fancy window latch to contemplate while we stood stock still for no apparent reason. This is what we call detailed craftsmanship.

It would also be a good idea to bring food and water. The restaurant was closed and there is no cafe. All they had for lunch was French breakfast tacos (ham and cheese crepes) served from a cart. So it’s France, so it’s excellent ham and cheese, but still.

History of the magnificent palace

Fontainebleau started out as a hunting lodge, convenient to the large royal forests around Paris. In 1137, it was called Fontem Blauhad, believe it or not, which means the spring or fountainhead of a person named Blizwald. Wikipedia tells us this with a straight face, so we must believe it.

Francis I (1494–1547) turned the hunting chateau into a palace of exceptional splendor. If you think that window latch is stylish, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! Not one square inch of this place has been left undecorated. Also, we find the ‘F’ for ‘Francis’ absolutely everywhere, in case later generations forgot who built the place.

Every monarch from Francis to Louis XV (sweetly known as Louis the Beloved) added their own touches. The Beloved died in 1774, just before the whole monarchy situation went south. The palace is vast; we only get to tour a portion of it.

Francis is the one who imported the new Renaissance architectural style to France, as interpreted by his architect, Gilles le Breton. It’s a brilliant style; quintessentially French and handsome. Paris is full of buildings like this. That’s a large part of its eternal charm.

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French Renaissance style

There is a still a large and scenic forest called Fontainebleau, to which Parisians regularly resort. I didn’t see it. If I’d been on my own, I would’ve done some hiking in there. But this wasn’t a research trip. I dragged my mother out to this busy place because it was there in Francis Bacon’s day. He probably spent some time there in his late teens. His cousin, Robert Cecil, certainly visited on diplomatic missions in the 1590s.

We start with an overview, swiped from the web somewhere. I do not have an aeroplane.

The red arrow on the right shows the entrance (lockers, tickets, guards). The other arrow shows where you exit. The display rooms run in a line on the second floor (first in British terms). We walk along to the horseshoe stairs and then go through the gallery connecting the front palace to the rear palace and then take a right (hook a roscoe, in Chicago terms). The chapel is on the other side there somewhere. I must confess the topography has me foxed. I’ll scan and post the floorplan. 

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Enter on the right; exit on the left.
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Extra housing for courtiers
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The famous horseshoe staircase
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One more long shot and then we’re going inside.

 

The tour

The main idea is to regulate the flow of tourists, both modern and, I suspect, early modern. Elizabeth’s palaces were tourist attractions in her day; no reason this one wouldn’t have been. One of the functions of a magnificent palace to is show foreign visitors how magnificent you are.

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Let’s see. The yellow building in the lower right portion of the palace houses some exhibits about Napoleon, which are very interesting unless you are focused on the late 16th century. Napoleon who? says me.

The bookshop is the last stop on the tour, unhelpfully, so I didn’t have this plan while we were cruising through. The thing that most interested me was the progression of rooms leading to the monarch. First the outer guard room, relatively plain (nothing here is really plain), then the inner guard room, for guards of greater rank, one supposes. Then we have presence chamber, private presence chamber, reception room, bedroom, another bedroom, and then we exit through rooms in the reverse order, ending with another guard room. Or that’s how it seemed to go.

It was hard to take pictures of rooms and I don’t want to scan the whole book. So we’ll just dip into the photo pool and take potluck instead of trying to reproduce the tour.

Rooms

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A place to confer and to wait.
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Armless chairs for ladies in huge dresses.
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The gallery where we stroll in bad weather and mingle in all seasons.
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The minstrel gallery in the great ballroom.
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The chapel, shorn of all religious frippery.
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The mind-blowing library.

Details

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The people who invented Art Nouveaux must have seen this.
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A typical bit of wall.
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A typical bit of ceiling.
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Some famous person’s bed. Note the mirror on the inside. Kinky? Or just vain?
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His Majesty will see you now.
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A lion AND a dragon, in case you thought Francis was a wimp.
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This, because artists can be hard to keep on topic.
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This, because Francis could have ridden an elephant everywhere if he wanted to — which he didn’t.
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The little angel who said, “Meh.”
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This guy just sits in the gateway, mouth eternally open, with his oddly Vulcan ears.

References

The Château de Fontainebleau. 2008. Connaissance des Arts.

Book covers: some history and a quandary

I’m “rebranding” my Moriarty series, which mostly consists of redesigning the covers. I love my cover creator, but I wanted a fresh take on the whole situation, so I hired the amazing Jane Ryder of Ryder Author Resources to study the scene with me. We spent quality time (on my ticket) browsing images: Victorian mysteries at Amazon, Victorian sensation novels in the British Library online catalogue, and endless Google image searches for things like “nineteenth century painting man on stage,” which yielded bupkiss. (It’s hard to find images of sufficient quality for a paperback.)

In olden days

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An alchemical treatise bound in 1568. Be prepared before you open this one!

A book cover, according to Wikipedia, is “any protective covering used to bind together the pages of a book.” The article notes that books were originally handwritten on parchment, so that each page was an expensive item. The covers, often luxuriously decorated with leather or velvet, with gilding and even jewels, were meant to protect those precious pages and keep them together.

Obvious, you say; but not any more. Where are the pages being protected in the digital books I’m mostly concerned about? I sell paperbacks too, but my covers are chiefly designed to catch the eye, not entice the fingers. They’re attractive images which serve no tangible purpose. I rarely look at the cover of the books on my Kindle, once I’ve downloaded them. They don’t look like much in black and white anyway.

The dawn of the popular

 old-bookAlong comes the printing press, and that stack of paper isn’t so valuable, in and of itself. What’s wanted is quantity. It’s not the publisher’s job to make sure the product will survive for centuries, so now we get covers of simple printed pasteboard. They might be covered with thin leather and sewn closely, for a more expensive volume. But they might be pretty flimsy, almost like modern paperbacks. 

You’d enter the shop and flip open the cover to read the frontispiece, which is where the marketing happened. Consider these favorite examples.

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Not that the author’s name isn’t shown. This short book was published anonymously. It’s loaded with scandel-mongering scurrility.
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By the inimitable Christopher Marlowe, here spelled Marloe. 1593, the year he died.
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Don’t you love the way Francis (Bacon, of course) had them dude up his first name there? He was Baron Verulam at this time, the Roman name of St. Albans, the town nearest his home at Gorhambury.

Onward, into the recent past

You have to have lots of readers as well as lots of paper to produce a truly popular press. So we fast-forward to the late Victorian period, after the new and improved public school program (the Elementary Education Act of 1870) has managed to push literacy out to the masses.

But are the masses clamoring for an updated copy of Francis Bacon’s Great Instauration in Latin? No, they most emphatically are not. What they want is sensation, thrills and chills. They want tales of romance obstructed and rewon; tales of battles, tales of strange occurrences. They want fun!

Scholars of literature date the novel from the early 18th century. Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, was written by Samuel Richardson in 1740. I recently tried to read another early novel – Daniel Defoe’s 1724 Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress – but I got bored and gave up. I should’ve read the blurb: I didn’t know there was a murder in it! (Wait. 1724 is before 1740. Isn’t Roxana a novel? Also, I think Thomas Nashe’s 1594 The Unfortunate Traveler is a novel. That one is a fun read, if you don’t mind early modern English. But I’m not qualified to define the term ‘novel.’ I just write the things.)

Genre fiction

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A plain and sturdy cover

These days, ‘genre’ means ‘fiction that falls into one of several recognizable categories.’ Romance was the first, but by the late nineteenth century, the time toward which I struggle verbosely, we also have crime (mystery, thriller, suspense), fantasy, science fiction, westerns, and horror. The list at Wikipedia includes inspirational as a genre, but I think that’s more mid-20th century. Before that, all literary fiction was supposed to be uplifting.

But we don’t care about all that. We’re looking at covers. Many of the ones you find if you search for “Victorian era book covers” are practical, sturdy, leather-bound volumes that look like they were meant for the burgeoning library trade. You probably had to know which book you wanted when you went in. You’d fill out a slip at the desk and the librarian would go get it for you. So you cared as much about that cover as I do about the books on my Kindle.

But what if you’re browsing in a bookstore, for yourself or for a gift? Then the cover really matters. Also, let’s remember that the Victorians invented advertising, in the sense of big, eye-catching images with bald-faced lies around them. Perfect for fiction!

Here’s sampling of what we might have found.

rudyard-kipling-jungle-book            john-lang-the-ex-wife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haunted House in Berkeley Square          book-cover-vic4

 

Spring-Heeled Jack was only a penny! That wasn’t a lot even back then. I would have read these by the barrow-load.

The Haunted House in Berkeley Square — actually, all of these — display most of the characteristics of a modern popular book cover. We also have a very abstract contingent, but for genre fiction, it’s still most commonly a frame of some sort in which the title and author’s name are displayed clearly. These books put the publisher on the front and even the price, for the penny dreadful. I don’t see any puff quotes — I guess Stephen King wasn’t around yet to tell us what a heart-pounding read this is. But we have the compelling central image that gives us an instant sense of what kind of ride that book is going to take us on. Moody and dark, for the Haunted House. Exciting, non-stop action for Jack.

A Walk through the Covers of Time

We can easily observe the changing taste in book covers by looking at everybody’s favorite lady novelist, Jane Austen. The first one is undated, but probably much like the originals in the late 18th century. Then we have a sensational one from the Age of Sensation, 1870. Then a milder one from 1946. Then one from probably the 1980s, when we’re reading Jane because we have to. Then we get through the whole Jane Reboot with movie after movie (all of which I’ve watched and loved, except for anything with Keira Knightley in it.)

   

    

 

The Quandary

If you’ve gotten this far, you deserve a big chocolate cookie. The quandary is which direction to go in for my covers. Not all the way to early c18, definitely. But neither do I wish to get into the full abstraction of literary fiction in c21. I don’t write literary fiction and my name is not that well known. I think my covers need images that give a good sense of content.

But should I go full-on Victorian? It’s not that easy to find images that are of sufficient quality for my cover creator to work with and also relate to my story. I’m spending a lot of time grazing for images… The have to be in the public domain, absolutely. I’m even considering commissioning some original art, but that’s probably out of my reach.

If you like this sort of thing and want to watch the process, you can tune in to my Pinterest board. Note that not all of these are in the public domain! They’re there so I can contemplate having something similar made for me by an artist.

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