Sarah Bernhardt’s Hospital | A Back Story to Paris in Ruins

When I heard that MK (Mary) Tod’s new historical fiction novel featured Sarah Bernhardt and her hospital during the siege of Paris, I begged Mary for a back story. Here it is, along with an extract from her wonderful novel, and a link to my review. Thank you Mary!

Sarah Bernhardt and the siege of Paris
The Franco-Prussian war occurred in 1870 during the reign of Napoleon III. The French were quickly defeated, and the Prussian army soon surrounded Paris, determined to force the French government to surrender. The siege resulted in thousands of deaths and untold suffering. Tragedy didn’t end there. In the middle of March, radical republicans overthrew the government and established the Paris Commune. For ten weeks, the Commune carried out acts of murder, assassination, pillage, robbery, blasphemy, and terror, until finally expiring in blood and flames.
A perfect setting for a novel!
Serendipity led me to Sarah Bernhardt’s role in the siege of Paris. A biography of this famous French actress had been on our bookshelves for years. I think it belonged to my mother, and at some point in the last thirty years, I ‘borrowed’ it with the intention of reading Sarah’s story. It remained unread, despite its alluring cover, until I had the idea of writing a novel based on Bernhardt’s life.
As it turned out, Sarah’s life and character did not appeal to me—too many affairs, too extravagant, too self-centered and domineering. I have to like my main characters, and in this case, I wasn’t sure I could. So, the biography went back onto the shelf until deep into writing Paris In Ruins, when I wanted one of my characters to volunteer to nurse the wounded and recalled the story of Bernhardt’s good works during the Franco-Prussian war.
In My Double Life, Bernhardt mentions her decision to establish a hospital, or an ambulance as many of the smaller ones were called then.
“The Odéon Theatre had closed its doors, but I moved heaven and earth to get permission to organise an ambulance in that theatre, and, thanks to Emile de Girardin and Duquesnel, my wish was gratified. I went to the War Office and made my declaration and my request, and my offers were accepted for a military ambulance. The next difficulty was that I wanted food. I wrote a line to the Prefect of Police. A military courier arrived very soon, with a note from the Prefect containing the following lines:
‘Madame—If you could possibly come at once, I would wait for you until six o’clock. If not, I will receive you to-morrow morning at eight. Excuse the earliness of the hour, but I have to be at the Chamber at nine in the morning, and, as your note seems to be urgent, I am anxious to do all I can to be of service to you.’” It was signed Comte de Kératry.
Sarah knew the comte from an earlier time. They had even corresponded when he left France to serve in Mexico. At his office in the Tuileries Palace, she asked for ‘bread, milk, meat, vegetables, sugar, wine, brandy, potatoes, eggs, coffee’, and also asked Kératry to get rid of the gunpowder stored in the theater’s basement. “If Paris were to be bombarded and a shell should fall on the building, we should all be blown up, and that is not the aim and object of an ambulance.”
Kératry must have been entranced by Sarah Bernhardt for he fulfilled all her requests and more.
There are many details in My Double Life about the small hospital at the Odeon Theater and others in The Divine Sarah, that biography I mentioned.
“When at last the casualties were brought in, they arrived in horrifying numbers. Beds were set up in the auditorium, the dressing rooms, the bar, and the foyer. Even the stage was filled with the mutilated and the dying.”
I’ve situated my character Camille Noisette as a volunteer in Sarah’s hospital. A privileged young woman accustomed to servants and parties, Camille is determined to help her fellow Parisians and soon becomes accustomed to the horrors of caring for the wounded including the prevalent use of amputation as a treatment.
Ultimately, Sarah’s hospital is forced to close when the Prussian bombardment begins to destroy buildings in the area. I won’t tell you what happens to Camille—that would give the story away—but here’s a little excerpt from Paris In Ruins to spark your interest.
~~~

“Do you know where I might find Madame Bernhardt?” Camille asked an old woman sweeping the black-and-white tiled floor of the theater’s vestibule.
A puzzled look caused her to repeat the question, this time a little louder, and the woman waved at a narrow door tucked behind the grand staircase. “Là-bas,” she said. “Down there.”
“Monique, why don’t you wait for me here?” Camille said, pointing to a low bench. “I’m sure I won’t be very long.”
Following a dimly lit corridor that slanted downward, Camille reached the back of the theater and discovered a series of small rooms and a jumble of props and costumes as well as ladders, lamps, chairs, and a panel where tools of all sizes and shapes hung in an orderly fashion. A light glowed softly in the distance.
She took a few more steps. “Bonjour,” she called. “Is anyone here?”
Oui, un instant,” came the reply.
A minute later, a dark-haired beauty dressed in black emerged from a doorway, and although Camille could not see her face clearly, she knew from the mass of curls and statuesque posture that she was about to meet Sarah Bernhardt.
“Yes?” Bernhardt said. “If you are an actress, the theater is closed because of the war. I cannot help you. Life is difficult for anyone in the theater. You will have to make do, just as I am, as there are more important matters at hand.” She arched her dark eyebrows and tilted her head as if expecting Camille to leave.
“My name is Camille Noisette, Madame, and I’m not an actress. However, I’ve heard you may soon open the Odéon as a hospital for our wounded, and I would like to help.”
Bernhardt frowned and moved closer to Camille. “Where did you hear such a rumor?” The tone was dismissive, but the voice was pure as crystal.
“It’s not true?” Camille asked.
“I didn’t say that. I merely asked where you heard the rumor.”
“I . . .” Was truth the right strategy? Would Sarah Bernhardt be offended if told of the gossip at Madame Lambert’s salon? The actress’s reputation held her to be impetuous and demanding, a woman of powerful connections and great willpower who was capable of daring risks to have her way. There was no point in lying. “I heard it at an evening salon. One of the gentlemen in attendance speculated that the Comte de Kératry would willingly help you.”
Bernhardt laughed—a deep, throaty sound accompanied by a toss of her head. “Yes. That’s exactly what people would say about me. And they’re right. I am planning to open a hospital here, and I saw the comte yesterday. He is being most generous.” The last sentence was accompanied by a sultry look.
“Well, I would like to help,” Camille said. “I believe you will need volunteers, and although I’m not trained to nurse, I’m sure I can be useful.”
Sarah Bernhardt tapped an index finger against her lips while surveying Camille from head to toe. “You don’t look useful. You look like a young society woman accustomed to having others wait on her. Why would I need someone like that? You’d only get in the way. And I’m having enough difficulty as it is. Both the French Society for Aid to Wounded Soldiers and the French Army medical corps are in hopeless disarray.”
It hadn’t occurred to Camille that her station in life would be a reason for refusal, and for a moment she searched for an adequate reply. “I can . . . I can read to wounded soldiers,” she said. “Or write letters. I can fetch supplies, fold linens, and spoon soup into the mouth of someone too weak to feed himself. I’m not afraid of hard work.”
“Hmm. You’re right. Those tasks might be useful. Do you know anyone who could provide supplies?”
“Such as?”
“Food, medicines, fuel, coffee, clothing, blankets. The hospital will need all sorts of things if we are to treat the wounded and help them heal. The Comte de Kératry told me definitively that they are expecting thousands of casualties, possibly tens of thousands. Many will die before they can be treated, but others we will save. They will all need to eat and drink and be kept warm.”
“Tens of thousands, Madame? But how can that be? Paris is completely fortified.”

~~~
When the siege was almost at an end, Sarah wrote this in her memoir: ‘The infamy of war. What has happened to humanity when our enemy deliberately targets buildings flying the ambulance flag? Will there ever be a time when wars are no longer possible? When the ruler who wages war is dethroned and imprisoned? This horror is like poison seeping onto our streets, affecting every man, woman, and child.’
The siege and the insurrection that followed were a turning point for France and Sarah Bernhardt, one of France’s most famous actresses, played an exceptional part.
M.K. Tod writes and blogs about historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS  is available for pre-order on AmazonUSAmazonCanadaKobo and Barnes & Noble. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Thank Mary, fascinating. Here’s my review: Goodreads Review | Paris in Ruins

 

A Cornish Murder Mystery set in Wartime Britain

Let’s be frank. I’ve been knee-deep in research on the Wars of the Roses for my work in progress, and I have to say this is some of the most complicated and confusing reading I’ve had to do for a long while (and I thought the English Civil War had a lot going on!). So when my dear author friend JG (Jane) Harlond told me about her latest murder mystery novel, Courting Danger, and offered me an Advance Review Copy, I was a little worried that I had no brain cells left for solving a murder! NO worries! I had the best time traipsing around Cornwall with Detective Bob Robbins–truly a mental vacation that did me the world of good. Here’s the blurb and my review, and I absolutely recommend you take yourself off to the west country and enjoy a week in Bob’s company. You’ll not regret it!

“Dr Lanyon might have been a well-respected physician, PC Oliver, but he had the morals of an alley-cat.”
Cornwall, England, 1943. Dumpy, grumpy wartime detective Bob Robbins is sent to investigate a doubtful suicide in a remote moorland pool. Gogmagog Ditch is steeped in folklore but what attracted the victim to such a desolate spot, and why?
Dr Corin Lanyon was liked by all and loved by many – especially women. Assisted by young PC Oliver, Bob untangles the victim’s relationships and connection to a Celtic heritage group, revealing a network of deceit and stolen museum pieces. Could one of the folklore group be guilty of murder, or was it the doctor’s mad aunt? Or one of the American GIs preparing for D-Day?
A second death in an ancient stone circle means Bob and Laurie must focus on where the crimes were committed – starting with another visit to the bleak moorland pool and the discovery of a sacred cave in a hollow hill.
Courting Danger is a thrilling tangled web of clues set in the breath-taking beauty of the Cornish moors during WWII that any mystery fan will love.
www.jgharlond.com
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Amazon USA.
Amazon.co.uk

My review:
I didn’t want to leave!
Atmospheric moorlands, ancient folklore and magic, and a curmudgeonly retired detective who discovers more than a mysterious death in his locale (slight spoiler alert — will cupid’s dart penetrate Detective Robbins tough exterior?). From the moment a body is discovered in a lonely haunted beauty spot to the satisfying tidying up of red herrings and loose ends, I was completely immersed in JG Harlond’s newest Bob Robbins quintessential English murder mystery. Set in 1943, Ms Harlond captures the spirit of wartime Britain and serves up a deliciously unrationed feast of secret trysts, torrid affairs and pagan rituals against a backdrop of the brooding Cornish countryside. Crackling with wit and sardonic humour, I absolutely loved the characters and their behaviour; I truly was waiting for the knock on my door announcing Detective Robbins was here to interview me, so immersed was I in the story. I had not read Ms Harlond’s previous two Detective Robbins novels; however I’m a huge fan of her historical fiction, and her brilliant ability to bring characters to life shines in this genre too. Highly recommend – just be sure you remember your way home, because you’ll want to stay in this world!

Author Chats | M.K.Tod | New Release | Paris in Ruins

I’m delighted to welcome a dear friend and award-winning historical fiction novelist M.K. (Mary) Tod to Author Chats today. I’ve been looking forward to this for ages – ever since I read an advance copy of her latest novel, Paris in Ruins (review coming next week!) Join me as we chat about the research she undertook, the chapters she removed, and why, when you believe in your story, you never ever ever give up.
Author Chat | M.K. Tod

Historic Heroine Talks Now Live on Friends of Lydiard Park Website

A quick note as I emerge blinking from my writing cave to say that the Historic Heroines talks I gave on behalf of the Friends of Lydiard Park are now available for your viewing pleasure on the Friends’ website. They are only about 30 minutes each and are stuffed full of great photography and behind-the-scenes stories about some very gutsy seventeenth-century ladies. Hope you get a chance to meet them!

Webinar Recordings

Book Blast | The Fall of Kings

The Fall of Kings
(Legend of the Cid, Book 3)
By Stuart Rudge

Castile. 1071AD. Three kings. One crown.
After Sancho II of Castile dispatches his champion Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar to capture his brother, King Garcia of Galicia, he hopes it is a defining moment in his quest to reunite the lands of his father under one banner. But Alfonso VI of Leon is one step ahead, and has already added the lands of Galicia to his domain. When the only alternative is war, Sancho turns to Rodrigo to lead the armies of Castile, and he must use all his tactical acumen to defeat the Leonese in the field. Only one son of Fernando can claim victory and become the Emperor of Hispania.
Rodrigo and Antonio Perez, now a knight of the realm, find difficulty adjusting to the new regime. Dissent and unrest run rife throughout the kingdom, and the fear of a knife in the dark from enemies old and new hangs heavy upon the pair. But if it is allowed to fester, it threatens to undo all that has been achieved. Can Rodrigo and Antonio root out the enemies of the king, and prevent chaos reigning throughout the land?

The Fall of Kings is the breathtaking third instalment of the Legend of the Cid.
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Stuart Rudge
Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history, and his love of tabletop wargaming and strategy video games. He studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Newcastle University, and has spent his fair share of time in muddy trenches, digging up treasure at Bamburgh Castle.
He was worked in the retail sector and volunteered in museums, before working in York Minster, which he considered the perfect office. His love of writing blossomed within the historic walls, and he knew there were stories within which had to be told. Despite a move into the shipping and logistics sector (a far cry to what he hoped to ever do), his love of writing has only grown stronger.
Rise of a Champion is the first piece of work he has dared to share with the world. Before that came a novel about the Roman Republic and a Viking-themed fantasy series (which will likely never see the light of day, but served as good practise). He hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mound of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers.

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Announcing Project Archive | 1000 years of Lydiard History

I’m so delighted to say we have appointed Sanders Web Works to help us build out Project Archive – an incredible endeavour locating, documenting, curating and digitising 1000 years of Lydiard history. Here’s a link to the announcement, and look for regular updates as we bring this wonderful initiative to life.

https://www.friendsoflydiardpark.org.uk/news/local-company-to-build-lydiards-project-archive/