Friday, July 6, 2012

Richebourg the Dwarf: Memoirs of a Spy and His Wetnurse

I love books... writing, reading, collecting. 
The library's used book shop, mixed lot boxes 
at the church rummage sale, dusty shelves in 
remote corners of antique emporiums.
These are a few of my favorite things.

Even as a child I cherished books, although I can't recall too many around the house other than an aging set of Encyclopedia Britannica, some Time Life series collections, and my mother's Harlequin romance novels. I don't know whatever happened to my dog-eared copies of Little Women and Charlotte's Web, may they rest in peace. I sure would love to have them back, but I suspect they are at the bottom of an unknown landfill with my rainbow suspenders, pet rocks, and bellbottom jeans.

I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn't share this dream with anyone, probably because I didn't perceive it as a realistic goal. I might also have feared ridicule. It would have been like saying, "I want to be the first woman president of these here United States."
Too big for my britches, dontcha know.

My mother had the firmly entrenched viewpoint that higher education was a waste of time for girls. My sisters and I would "just get married, have kids, and all that tuition would be wasted." In the event I was unable to snare a good provider, her aspirations for me were secretarial in nature. I staunchly resisted her recommendation that I take typing — now called keyboarding. I had Mad Men-esque visions of myself adrift in a subterranean steno pool, growing old in serviceable shoes and a boxy Chanel knock-off suit, my cat eye glasses fogging with age. I wanted to be a Gloria Steinem, Mom was more of an Anita Bryant. A classic generational schism.

My fledgling attempts to write consisted mainly of staring at a blank sheet of paper for hours on end, desperately trying to think of something to say. I attempted a contemporary romance about a decade ago and made the extremely ill-advised decision to let a couple of friends and acquaintances read it — including several men. Bad idea!

Endless ribbing and humiliating quotations, laser focused on anything hot and heavy. I used the word “moist” at some point and one guy in particular thought it the very height of hilarity. For months he grinningly inserted the word into casual conversation. "It's so hot today. Are you feeling... moist?" The joke got old for me after about five minutes, but he nursed it along for years. Later I wrote a kind of spooky, freaky, 1920s film noir short story about an abused wife going crazy and made the identical bad decision to pass it around. I thought it was very artsy, dark and interesting. (What can I say... I'm a slow learner.) They acted like I was going psycho, like I was a tetchy vagrant in a tinfoil hat, mumbling to myself on the sidewalk.  Now I only request critiques from people I respect and trust not to excoriate me if they find my work lacking. Honest opinion, yes, but hold the battery acid.

Writing has provided me with an excuse to indulge my book addiction. Over the past two years I have added to my modest collection of vintage reference material. My favorites are bound editions of old magazines. While some of the writing is ponderous and sappy — the Victorians liked their prose with extra cheese — the magazines are a wealth of historical ephemera. I came across this wonderful little ditty while researching information about women who followed the drum during the Crimean War. It was off subject, but fascinating.

“Death of a Dwarf — A dwarf named Richebourg, who was only 60 centimetres (23 1/2 inches high), has just died in the Rue du Four St. Germain, aged 90. He was, when young, in the service of the Duchess d'Orleans, mother of King Louis Philippe, with title of 'butler,' but he performed none of the duties of the office.  After the first revolution broke out he was employed to convey despatches abroad, and, for that purpose, was dressed as a baby, the despatches being concealed in his cap, and a nurse being made to carry him.  For the last 25 years he lived in the Rue du Four, and during all that time never went out.  He had a great repugnance to strangers, and was alarmed when he heard the voice of one; but in his own family he was very lively and cheerful in his conversation. The Orleans family allowed him a pension of 3,000f. — Galignani's Messenger.”
Now come on! You couldn't make that up! I shared this with my husband Jeff and he made some extremely inappropriate comments about Richebourg, razor stubble, and his wetnurse. For reasons of propriety, I'll not share them here. Suffice it to say they were hilarious.

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The Promise is available at Amazon at the following links:

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Look for Juli D. Revezzo's book, The Artist's Inheritance, coming in August:

When Caitlin and Trevor settle into their new home, strange changes come over Trevor. He grows obsessed with a beautiful chair he's carving. 

Then nightmares deepen and ghostly manifestations call to Caitlin. She knows something’s not right, and not just her newfound precognitive abilities. It’s the damned chair, she’s sure. Is it merely a mundane piece of furniture? If so, why is it attracting dark forces—forces brought about by an ancestral curse? The same dark forces that drove Trevor’s siblings to insanity and suicide.

Before Trevor's obsession leads to something far more deadly, Caitlin must convince him to sell the chair. But armed with only a handful of allies, and little experience of the supernatural, she must proceed with caution against the gathering hellish forces. If she succeeds, she will break their family’s ancestral curse. If she fails, she may lose forever the one person she cares about most: her beloved Trevor. 

Image, top right: Clipping from an engraving of Jacob Ries in court attire, circa 1710.