Not really a thing…

It’s not really a thing. 

It’s just that I’ve been asked to write two short pieces for another website for World Book Night–one on Paris in the last decade of the 18th century and one on London at the same time as part of a feature on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities

I’ve done the one on London–that was easy.

But now, you see, I’m fossicking about gathering together my bits on Paris during the years of the Revolution.  While the truth is, this is a subject I avoid at all costs–the savagery of the Parisians toward their neighbours and fellows makes Attila the Hun and his gang look like kitten-cuddlers and I just can’t comprehend that depth of depravity. 

Nor do I wish to.  So for the most part, I allow it to slip from my mind.

Still, as I’ve been wandering about through the pages of various histories, biographies and my own blogs and writings, I came upon this.  About Paris in 1812.  Which I wrote.  It’s from Of Honest Fame.  But I think it rather beautiful: 

Winter in Paris.  And walking, listening, he [Boy] moved through the chaotic shoving crowds of pedestrians, past the jostling, creaking carriages, upon streets coated with stinking mud–the tainting effluvium of uncollected stable sweepings and refuse, ground into a glaucous black mass that coated the boots and shoes of all who ventured forth.  Past the tradesmen–the tinsmiths soldering the pots and pans and basins, working shoulder to shoulder with the caners reweaving the buckling chair seats–who set up shop in the midst of it all.  Past the water-carriers with their wooden pails and their constant cries of ‘A l’eau!’  Past the wounded veterans, who having outlived their usefulness to the Emperor now stood daily, begging, impassive, under the fine arches in the Rue de Rivoli, silently saluting the officials who passed on their way to and from the Palais du Louvre.  Down alleys barely wide enough for two to pass.  Beneath the high brick and stone walls of the abandoned monasteries and convents and churches–the homes from which their inhabitants had been torn by the Revolution only to perish–that bordered the maze of narrow streets of the Latin Quarter and the Ile St. Louis.  Along the cold banks of the Seine, where the slow barges drifted that carried the wood and wheat and wine that fuelled the city.  All that while listening to the snatches of conversation which he could neither explain nor understand.  Listening.

As I said, it’s not really a thing.  I just thought it vivid and beautiful and I wanted to share it.  That’s all.


7 comments on “Not really a thing…

  1. Grace Elliot says:

    Beautiful imagery.
    G x

  2. rappleyea says:

    Evocative and lyrical. There are scores, thousands maybe, of great novelists – writers of good stories, interesting plots, and engaging characters. But there are very, very few wordsmiths – writers who are artists using words as their medium. John Le Carre, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Barbara Kingsolver are a few modern examples. You are a wordsmith.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Wow! Holy fantasmagorical wow! Thank you.

      I think you may enjoy the beginning of the new book then too…x

      • rappleyea says:

        Oh cruel tease! OF COURSE I’ll enjoy the beginning of the new book. Are we pre-ordering yet??

      • M M Bennetts says:

        Ha ha ha! No, we’re not to pre-ordering yet…unless you’re talking about Tsar Alexander pre-ordering 50,000 more horses brought up to the front for the autumn 1813 offensive in Saxony…That bit we’ve done.

  3. You are quite right – it is beautiful. Beautifully written, and I thought that when I read it originally in your book – which I love. But the terrible sadness of the past, the hopeless misery in which so many passed short lives – and expected no better – can be hard to write about. You evoke the atmosphere gloriously and the sensitivity leaps from the page – but to imagine actually living there and then is impossible. I have the same problem writing about the 15th century – I sometimes wonder why on earth I love it so much.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Barbara, that’s a really interesting point you’re making. Especially in light of the fact that yesterday–when I took time out to write this–I’d been brushing up on my facts for a short piece on Paris during the 1790s and what I’d read and reread…well, the level of evil madness, the degree to which the Terror was genocide, just shocked me as much as it always does. I was rereading this one woman’s biography and her hiding and escape in 1793 read exactly like similar stories by those hiding from the Nazis. And yet, the French Revolution is celebrated as a ‘good thing’.

      Which is to say, I don’t know how I write about it. (I read a lot of Robert Frost beforehand…) Or rather–about the French Revolution, I just don’t if I can avoid it. I can just about manage the Napoleonic wars because I know that eventually the combined sane powers are going to whoop the little Corsican and put him on an island in the middle of nowhere…

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