I’m very pleased to welcome my author friend Miriam Drori to the blog today. I have known Miriam for about eight years, but I only had the pleasure of meeting her in person a few years ago in Carcassonne, when our former publisher invited us to an author get-together.
Miriam is about to publish Style and the Solitary, the first in a series of crime mysteries set in Jerusalem. So what does that have to do with France? Well, one of the main characters is an immigrant from France and therefore something of an outsider. And the story of Beauty and the Beast, which was published by a French author in 1740, has a significant bearing on Miriam’s story. Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve was a penniless widow in a man’s world and thus also an outsider.
By a strange coincidence, one of the authors at our recent local literary festival, Nick Jubber, has written a book about fairy tales and how they have been disseminated down the years. He told us a little about Gabrielle-Suzanne, so I was very interested to read more about her in Miriam’s post.
That’s enough from me. Over to you, Miriam.
Thank you, Vanessa, for inviting me to talk about Nathalie, who, as the protagonist of my cosy crime novel, Style and the Solitary, provides its French connection.
Nathalie’s roots are in France and the French language. She grew up in the charming city of Strasbourg, studied French Literature at the Sorbonne in Paris, and returned to live in her home town, which she loves and misses greatly. She also misses her family and many features of French culture. Opportunities to speak her mother tongue are now few and far between.
What made her leave her utopia to live in a place with difficulties galore? A place where her so-called friend has the cheek to suggest that all French people are obsessed with love? The answer is in this excerpt from Style and the Solitary, in which she tells Asaf, the other main character, about her former life:
“You know, I used to walk a lot in Strasbourg. There’s no sea, but it has a big river, a medieval bridge and several medieval churches. There are whole areas where you walk into a different century. And theatre, opera, museums. A group of us used to meet up every weekend and…” She trailed off as her thoughts took over. For her, walking, activities, cultural events – they were all done with other people, never alone. She shouldn’t have mentioned doing these things with others, but if she didn’t, that would mean hiding who she was and everything in her past, and that couldn’t be right either, could it?
“And what?” Asaf prompted.
Well, she’d started now. “We’d meet up and watch a play and then wander around or stop in a bar or a café. I do miss my city, but I know I can’t live there any more.”
“Why…why did you leave?”
“On Yom Kippur – the one before last – I was walking to the synagogue with my family when someone sprayed us with water and called us ‘sales juifs’ – ‘dirty Jews’. We weren’t injured, but for me it was a wake-up call. You hear about incidents against Jews, but when something happens to you, the situation becomes more real. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave my home town, but I made it and now I’m sure it was the right one.”
So, Nathalie had always felt she belonged in France, until one person planted doubts. In her new home in Israel, she knows her origins will always make her an outsider, but she feels accepted there. Asaf, as hinted at in the excerpt, has spent most of his life outside society. Perhaps that’s what draws the two to the work of an 18th-century outsider, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.
Beauty and the Beast
Gabrielle-Suzanne was an unusual woman, a Protestant in a Catholic country and a female author in a patriarchal society. Born in 1685, about a month after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had granted substantial rights to France’s Protestants, she probably suffered religious persecution, although it’s unclear if she did. At least one of her relatives left France to escape persecution.
Although only about twenty when she married, Gabrielle-Suzanne had the sense, a few months later, to request a separation of property from her husband due to his habit of squandering her fortune on drink, gambling and womanising.
Widowed after six years of marriage, Gabrielle-Suzanne was forced to work to support herself at a time when that was very difficult for women. Later still, she co-habited with the writer, Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon, who probably introduced her to the world of literature. She published several books, including La Jeune Américaine et les Contes marins (1740), which includes the story that links her to Nathalie and my novel.
Beauty and the Beast was one of the works Nathalie studied for her literature degree. Here, she recalls telling her flatmate about it:
Last night, just beforegoing to bed, she’d told Tehila all about Beauty and the Beast, surprising her flatmate, who thought the story was a children’s fairy tale. “No.” Nathalie had hastened to put her friend right. “Beauty and the Beast was written long before the Disney Company turned it into a cartoon. The original story was written by a woman called Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740.”
“1740, and a woman! That’s amazing,” said Tehila.
“She was very rich and had a lot of influence. Actually, she lost her wealth but still had influence. She wrote the story to teach people a lesson.”
“At the end of the story, Beauty searches for the Beast and finds he has been murdered. She is so sad, and she screams, ‘I am sorry! This was all my fault!’ When she says that, the Beast turns into a handsome prince. And the lesson is that when someone believes in you, you can become a different person, or the person you were meant to be.”
And that’s the basis of Style and the Solitary, out soon from Amazon.
Life on La Lune: Thank you, Miriam. I have never visited Strasbourg, so it will have to go on my ever-lengthening bucket list. And it had never occurred to me to discover more about the author of Beauty and the Beast, a fairy tale with which we are all familiar. Good luck with the book!
Miriam Drori, author, editor and social anxiety warrior, worked as a computer programmer and a technical writer before turning her attention to full-time writing. Her novels and short stories cover several genres, including crime, romance and uplifting fiction. She has also written a non-fiction book about social anxiety.
Born and raised in London, Miriam now lives in Jerusalem. She has travelled widely, putting her discoveries to good use as settings in her writing. Her characters are not based on real people, but rather are formed from an amalgam of the many and varied individuals who have embellished her life.
When not writing, she likes reading, hiking, dancing and touring.
Style and the Solitary
An unexpected murder. A suspect with a motive. The power of unwavering belief.
A murder has been committed in an office in Jerusalem. Asaf, who works there, is the suspect. But is the case as clear-cut as it seems?
Asaf is locked in a cell and in his own protective wall, unable to tell his story even to himself. How can he tell it to a chief inspector or a judge? The fear would paralyse him.
His colleague, Nathalie, has studied Beauty and the Beast. She understands that staunch belief can effect change. As the only one who believes in Asaf’s innocence, she’s motivated to act on his behalf. But she’s new in the company – and in the country. Who will take her seriously?
She cajoles her two flatmates into helping her investigate. As they uncover new trails, will they be able to change people’s minds about Asaf?
Will Nathalie’s belief in Asaf impel him to defeat his own demons and clear his name?
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