SHADOWBOX takes place in two cities which have very different characters, even in 1832.
Paris, and London.
Both cities are long-established national capitals. Paris has a head start on London, having been absorbed into the Roman Empire earlier by sheer geographical proximity. Over the course of a couple of millennia, both cities were shaped by their landscape, their people and by their wars.
While I’m acquainted with the streets of central London (to a very limited extent) from the time I worked in Southwark, as well as visiting for shopping or the odd night out, I have next-to-no knowledge of Paris.
The only time I visited the city for any length of time, other than passing through, was in 1990. At that time I was on a budget that makes austerity look positively decadent.
The other few times I’ve been through Paris, it’s been a short trip on the Metro from the Eurostar at Gare du Nord to one of the other international stations. Not much time for dawdling when you have a sleeper to catch…
On the other hand, my knowledge of London also consists of traversing the city from modern transport hubs to specific other places – museums, offices, a friend’s house, shops. I haven’t the innate knowledge that someone has when they’ve lived in a place all their life, or even just taken the time to explore their neighbourhood on non-motorised transport.
I needed maps.
And possibly a trip to visit Paris, although I haven’t made it so far.
In the event, mainly to stop using the lack of a Eurostar ticket as an excuse to stop writing, I made do with a number of online and offline resources that I hope have given me enough flavour of the city to paint its details in words for the reader without affecting the story. For example, is it essential to tell you that:
- Belleville and Montmartre are in their own respective arrondisements, when those parts of the city don’t feature in the novel?
- the Ile de la Cité is covered with telegraph wires (which it wouldn’t have been in 1832)? and
- semaphore towers stretched across the country from Marseilles to Cherbourg, hubbing at Paris Montfaucon (an early technology abused to such devastating effect in The Count Of Monte Cristo)?
Readers only need to know details when they act in service to the story. While factoids like those above are fascinating, if they don’t help me paint you a picture or tell you a tale, I’ve left them out.
So, to the maps.
How far back did I have to go? And how detailed?
First off I found a very basic map of Paris, showing the Ile des Cignes. One of the Seine’s smaller islands, downstream of the heavily-fortified Ile de la Cité, by 1832 this had pretty much been joined to the mainland.
While the Ile des Cignes has some nice supernatural echoes, it isn’t significant in the city’s cosmopolitan circles – the circles within which Charles Lyell and Louis Beauregard mingle, along with Adolphe d’Archiac, Garibaldi and other notables.
Then I took a download of the Plan de Paris en 1787 par Brion de la Tour, and examined the basic street layouts. Much of the streetage in the centre of Paris was laid out by Henri IV in the early 1600s, and wasn’t significantly disturbed until the reforms under Hausmann following the revolution of 1848.
But there’s a huge gap between 1787 and 1832 – 55 years, in fact – during which the political landscape changed significantly in France. Did it affect the geography of Paris?
Then I found the highly useful oblique projection of the Plan de Turgot, which shows what sort of farms and houses and river traffic to expect in Paris in 1832. You can see how much detail the map-maker has included, although the scale of this map isn’t great.
The map that gave me much more was the Picquet map of Paris 1814. The link takes you to the wikipedia page for the the full map, which is a massive 89Mb. It’s closer in date to the time of SHADOWBOX. The file is larger, which means you can see more detail. For example, look at the little trees and furrows of the market gardens in this sample:
The tributary rivers of the Seine are clear, and the barrieres across each major road. I originally mistook these for the barricades of the revolutionaries, but after a bit of rootling around I realised they were more like the turnpike gates of Britain.
For London, I used a WikiPedia download of the 1848 Crutchley Pocket Map of London (again, another large file).
This was one of the maps I used in 1888 when I was editing THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, but there was more in common with 1832 than the later period.
In 1848, for example, there was still an open square of parkland in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which had mostly disappeared under buildings by 1888. The railway stations had yet to be completed in 1848 – but in 1832, they didn’t exist, so where they do appear on the map I had to ‘imagine’ them away, or avoid the area altogether.
What I do find rather interesting is how both London and Paris developed most strongly on their northern banks. The Tube map of London shows this most clearly. The map of the Paris Metro doesn’t have the same projection.
But the reasons for that development aren’t found on any maps.
“London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation.” ― G. K. Chesterton
I adore maps. I’m grateful to my childhood geography teachers for showing me the language of maps, how to read within their folded sheets the secrets of cities and landscape and geology, developed over centuries.
I like being able to see the history of a place laid out in its streets and gardens, the names and patterns of all ages mingling to bring each town and city a flavour of its own.
And in 1832, both Paris and London had very distinctive spirits, as well as similarities.
Next: The 5th post in the SHADOWBOX series: Rivers of Paris, Rivers of London, a supernatural and physical journey across time and faith.
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P.S. If you want to find the rest of the posts in this series so far, click on the link to the SHADOWBOX page. When the novel’s available I’ll add links there too.