Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meeting Charlotte Corday

I've put this post off for awhile as I've worked on other things , but I thought today would be an appropriate time to start talking about my trip to Paris way back in March. Why, you ask? Because July 27th marks Charlotte Corday's birthday, and she was one of the biggest reasons I went to Paris in the first place.

A large part of my WIP, Through Charlotte's Eyes, surprise surprise, is about the famous assassin Charlotte Corday. No one could make much sense of why Corday thought killing journalist and politician Jean-Paul Marat would end the French Revolution - until her distant relative, Anne-Marie Gessner, tumbles into her life, becoming Charlotte and seeing life through the French revolutionary's eyes.
Well, that's the premise of my novel at least. I'd read a lot about Charlotte while at The University of Chicago. I saw pictures of her online and in books, but I'd never walked the streets where she walked, until I went to France. And lo and behold, I found her throughout the country!
First up, the Conciergerie, where 'convicts' were taken shortly before they met the guillotine. The building is now a museum all about the French Revolution. One room, in fact, listed all of the people whose last days were spent in the Conciergerie jail cells.
In the above picture, Charlotte's crime is listed as being a 'noble,' which she was and which was considered a crime, but that's not why she landed below the blade of the guillotine. The only thing I can think of is that this list of guillotine victims was updated in the early 1800s, a time in which the French still considered Charlotte's crime reprehensible because the people still idolized Marat. It wasn't until the latter-half of the 19th century that opinions about Charlotte's murder plot changed, with history books portraying it as a heroic and courageous act. Charlotte's claim in her final days - that she killed one man to save 100,000 - grew in acceptance over the years, and Charlotte, amazingly enough, did turn into a hero of sorts nearly a century later.
In fact, Charlotte Corday was among the most famous people to stay at the Conciergerie during the French Revolution, which is why it came as no surprise that her picture was prominently displayed in the museum. Many history books, in fact, claim she stayed in the same cell as Marie Antoinette, but one walk through the museum shows that was clearly not the case.
Rather, Charlotte would have stayed in a cell much like this one. (Granted, no weird looking mannequin would have been standing in the corner. But, you get the idea). She would have one small pallet to sleep on and a place to relieve herself, and that was it! On the other hand, Marie Antoinette's quarters were on display in the Conciergerie as well, and they were incredibly spacious, especially considering they were attached to a chapel, and they contained an actual bed. Charlotte had no such amenities. Then again, she wasn't a dethroned Queen.

The Conciergerie was just one place I found Charlotte. I'll continue to post about where I found her in the coming weeks. Hint on the next place: it involves chocolate!
In the meantime, happy birthday Charlotte!


Bingqilin00 said...

Love it! Happy B-day! Now, I may be a sloppy reader, but you said she wasn't sent to the guillotine for killing one person. What was she sent for? (Just being 'against the man'?)

Liz S said...

What I meant was that she wasn't sent to the guillotine for being a 'noble,' but for killing Marat!