One of the joys of writing a novel about historical Paris is having to do research into historical Paris. I’m discovering that fin-de-siecle Paris is even more interesting and bizarre than I’d imagined. The air seemed to be filled with esoteric ideas, nouveau musique and the aroma of exotic beverages. I had no idea, for example, that Debussy was a Rosicrucian.
The pictures today are from a hotel we stayed in last year in Paris. Lovingly rendered by Ms Pichette, they show the small bar in the lobby with the painting behind it and an absinthe dispensing device on the counter. One could almost hear the chatter of insurrection and decadence, of art and aesthetics, coming from the corner…
“Entertainment in the Days Before Television”
We were recently intrigued by an interesting tidbit we found whilst researching Joy Mallum’s reading material. It was in the restricted section of the library, in a book which also had some information about a rare bit of magic. But our interest in this instance was drawn to something called, rather poetically, the Skeleton Army.
These vile hordes, were, it seems, the sworn enemies of their near namesake, the Salvation Army. Appalled at the notion of tee-totalism, they organised counter demonstrations where they subverted the Army’s songs, shouted foul slogans, and even engaged in violent opposition to the Army. After some unfortunate fatalities their activities petered out, but one can’t help thinking they should appear in some fictionalised form somewhere. Who could write such a thing…
The picture we have chosen to illustrate this little nugget is a skeleton of a bird from the marvellous Booth Museum in Hove. The most tenuous link is the skeleton of one army and the founder, Booth, of the other. We understand neither are related.
Should you ever find yourselves in the Brighton and Hove area (and many people do find themselves in this area) then we recommend a visit. The collection of preserved birds, insects, skeletons and more curios is enough to entertain adults and children with strong stomachs for a couple of hours. One may then find a local hostelry to repair to and, in defiance of the other Booth, restore one’s spirits with a stiff drink.
I feel that we cannot simply pen a line such as “the maid screamed” (on which our present chapter ends) without explaining a little of the literary heritage of this line. It is, in fact, a deliberate quotation from a childhood favourite. The original work is by one Charles Shultz, ventriloquised via a well known canine character, who started a novelette in the following manner:
“It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.”
This is in itself a literary nod to the famous, or possibly, infamous opening lines to the novel Paul Clifford:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
This is the work of one Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who should be very comfortable in these pages, being as he was a Victorian Novelist with a taste for the occult.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, not Snoopy the Dog
In fact, this gentleman led a most interesting life, working as politician denounced by his own wife at the hustings, being offered (and refusing) the Greek throne and gifting us the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”.
Perhaps it is one of those ironies of fate that leads him to be remembered most of all for the clunky and meandering sentence above. He gives his name to an annual competition in its honour whereby literary wags attempt to parody the style of the thing. Those who find themselves at a loss of what to do this Sunday evening may care to peruse it.
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest