Shadowbox: Magic Lantern Shows

Where can you see the world as it was in 1832, with living, breathing people, and the sort of lives they had?

Apart from living history museums such as Beamish and Ironbridge, we have dramatisations. Here are just a few I’m familiar with. If you know of any others, please add them in the comments section.

Precious Bane – the wonderful BBC production with Janet McTeer and Clive Owen. The last scene of this marvellous production has stayed with me in the almost thirty years since I saw it on TV. If you can find it on satellite or cable, do yourself a favour and watch it all the way through.

Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) - Julie Christie and Alan Bates

Far From The Madding Crowd – the production from 1967 with Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp. Huge tracts of land. Dorset.

Stair Hole [Dorset] Looking East, Frederick Whitehead, 1890s.Comrades – The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of 19th century English farm labourers (also Dorset-based) who formed one of the first trade unions and started a campaign to receive fair wages. This production is famous for having Alex Norton playing 14 different roles within the story, including that of a Magic Lantern Man.

Subtitled “A Lanternist’s Account of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and What Became of Them”, the film plays with the idea of social puppetry and class perception through the figure of The Lanternist – Tara Judah, Senses of Cinema

The Fool – another British production, this time featuring Derek Jacobi in twin roles as a man who passes between high society and low. Sticks in my mind for the woman who makes her living by knitting “squares”.

Les Miserables – this is the Hugh Jackman version of the musical. I’ve yet to see the film but remember the stage version from about 1988, in London (my cousin had tickets and a husband who wasn’t interested). I wasn’t much interested back then either, but was impressed by the stage set.

And, of course:

The Count of Monte Cristo – although this TV adaptation with Gerard Depardieu mucks about with the ending somewhat, the most thrilling and entertaining parts survive intact and the characters are superbly acted. A family affair, this film, as Depardieu’s daughter Julie plays Valentine de Villefort and the young Monte Cristo – Edmond Dantes – is played by Depardieu’s son Guillaume.

Whatever influence these dramatisations may have had on my imagination – however much they might have helped me to picture the period in which I set SHADOWBOX – the story within the pages of the novel is my own.


Next post in the SHADOWBOX series: What’s Missing In 1832?

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Shadowbox: A Question of Honour

Louis Beauregard fights his fair share of duels within the pages of SHADOWBOX. The world of organised combat back in 1832 had room for such niceties, before the Queensbury Rules for contact sports came into effect.

Duell im RegenThe duel was based on a code of honour, and fought mainly to resolve differences caused by some suggested or actual slight.

Honour … remains awake in us like a last lamp in a temple that has been laid to waste.
Alfred de Vigny, Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)

A duellist didn’t have to kill his opponent in order to satisfy the “rules” of the duel. As Wikipedia explains:

At the choice of the offended party, the duel could be fought to a number of conclusions:

  • To first blood, in which case the duel would be ended as soon as one man was wounded, even if the wound was minor.
  • Until one man was so severely wounded as to be physically unable to continue the duel.
  • To the death (“à l’outrance”), in which case there would be no satisfaction until one party was mortally wounded.

For a pistol duel the parties would be placed back-to-back with loaded weapons in hand and walk a set number of paces, turn to face the opponent, and shoot. The more grave the insult, the fewer the paces agreed upon.A matched pair of engraved and gilded muzzle loading percussion lock dueling pistols. Located in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Each party would fire one shot. If neither man was hit and if the challenger stated that he was satisfied, the duel would be declared over.

If the challenger was not satisfied, the duel continued until one man was wounded or killed. To have more than three exchanges of fire was considered barbaric and, on the rare occasion that no hits were achieved, somewhat ridiculous.

It has a strange, quick jar upon the ear,
That cocking of a pistol, when you know
A moment more will bring the sight to bear
Upon your person, twelve yards off or so.
– Byron, Don Juan

Of course, within the pages of SHADOWBOX my characters are duelling in Paris. After the French Revolution, duelling in France was codified and rigorous rules were set in place to ensure those who fought in duels were properly accounted for. (The link is to French wikipedia; good luck translating it, as my schoolgirl French is not up to it).

"A Duel", by Eugene Louis Lami

“A Duel”, by Eugene Louis Lami

Alexander Dumas used the duel as a form of dramatic tension in many of his novels, especially effective in The Count of Monte Cristo, where the Count and the young Vicomte de Morcerf come to blows.

Between 1826 and 1834 more than 200 men died in France as a result of duels. One of these was Évariste Galois, a radical republican and something of a romantic figure in French mathematical history. He died in a duel at the age of 20.

So while Louis Beauregard accepts those who challenge him, the potential to be convicted of murder still hovered in the background of every encounter. And so did the potential to die.

The best memorial for a mighty man is to gain honor ere death.
Beowulf, VII.

A Pistol Duel, (c) Barbara Sobczynska

A Pistol Duel, (c) Barbara Sobczynska


Next post in the SHADOWBOX series: Crime & Punishment.

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Shadowbox: Rogues’ Gallery

Every century – every decade – has its great rogues. I wanted to make Louis Beauregard one of them.

In order to do so, I had to investigate the type. Not being a fan of romantic fiction, where I gather the rogue is a favourite character, I sought them out elsewhere.

And of course, this being a story about a gentleman, I disregarded female rogues, of which there are quite a few.

Here’s my top five rogues of the early nineteenth century, real and fictional:

1) The Count of Monte Cristo – not a conventional rogue, as he’s driven by revenge.

Nonetheless in the course of his ravages he succeeds in escaping from prison, ruining a bank, starting a run on the stock exchange, impersonating a priest, poisoning the young fiancée of a good friend, consorting with Italian bandits, corrupting a public servant, bribery, slave-buying, seduction, ruining the reputation of a prominent war veteran and destroying the marriage of the only woman he loves.

2) Flashman – created by George Macdonald Fraser as a spin-off from Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Flashman is the epitome of dash. Rapacious, greedy, risk-taking, cowardly, a braggart and a snob, a man who swindles everyone he knows and chases womankind to the brink of insanity.

Lestat3) LestatAnn Rice is a genius, and Lestat is a rogue of the highest order.

A vampire of long-standing by the time he appears in Interview With The Vampire, he drinks human blood, kills his mentor, destroys his best friend and his adopted daughter, drives too fast, mocks those who care for him, lives on the edge of danger and never truly dies.

4) Byron – the original Mad Bad and Dangerous To Know. With Shelley and Coleridge, one of the Romantic period’s great poets. Asthmatic, aristocratic, lived on the lake with Mary Shelley and John Polidori on the night Frankenstein was created.

Fought duels, gambled his fortune without caution, dabbled in the occult. Ran away to Greece to fight in their War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire (nowadays we’d call him a terrorist) and destroyed his health with wine and laudanum and high living to die of fever at the age of 36.

5) George IV, Prince Regent – the man who spawned a nursery rhyme (“Georgie-porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry”) and became one of Britain’s most unpopular monarchs. George IV lived a life of excess that marked his reign as the end of the Age of Libertines.

Mocked in Blackadder III as a “thickie”, George took over the throne from his father, the mad King George III, and proceeded to bankrupt the monarchy by speculating on the stock market, adultery, throwing immense parties and showing blatant disregard for Church and State.

Five mischievous men to act as blueprints for Louis Beauregard. Still, after looking at all those mischievous characters, I had to ask.

What’s the most important part of a rogue’s character? Apart from the fascination of watching someone needy make a car-crash of their lives, what makes an ordinary miscreant into a rogue?

A true rogue brings his friends down with him.

Then goes off to find other friends.


Next post in the SHADOWBOX series: Who’s Who in my story.

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