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BITTER GREENS: The Facts behind the Fiction of Charlotte-Rose de la Force's life

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

To celebrate International Women's Day, I thought I would spotlight the real (and unjustly forgotten) historical women whose lives I have drawn upon in my fiction.

First off the rank is Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, the 17th century fairy-tale writer who is best known for having written the best known version of 'Rapunzel'. I drew upon the true events of her dramatic and tempestuous life to write my novel Bitter Greens . 

This blog was first published in September 2014.

My novel BITTER GREENS is, of course, a work of imagination.

However, in weaving a tale of fancy I have used as the immovable pegs the known facts of Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s life, few as they are.

Even the year of her birth is open to argument, ranging from 1650 to 1654. I travelled to Château de Cazeneuve in Gascony and, with the help of her baptismal records, was able to confirm it as the earlier date. I also saw her baby pram and the simple white family chapel where she was baptised.

Chateau de Cazeneuve, in Gascony, France

Of her childhood, we know only that she met King Louis XIV in 1660 at the Château de Cazeneuve, and that two years later her mother was imprisoned against her will in a convent in Bordeaux.

Charlotte-Rose went to court at the age of sixteen, and was maid-of-honour first to the queen and later to the Duchess of Guise.

She had an affair with Moliere’s protégé, the actor Michel Baron, who notoriously left his nightcap in her bedroom one night.

Michel Baron, the 17th century French playright

Later, Charlotte-Rose was engaged to the Marquis de Nesle, the betrothal ending in scandal after a pouch she had given him was found to have toads’ feet and spells in it. As a result, Mme de la Force “came to the attention” of the King during the infamous Affair of the Poisons.

Her love affair with the much younger Charles de Briou caused more scandal, particularly after she dressed up as a dancing bear to gain access to him. They wed, but their marriage was annulled in the courts.

In 1697, she was banished to the abbey of Gercy-en-Brie after writing some satirical Christmas verses and under suspicion of having an affair with the Dauphin.


The Dauphin

She wrote ‘Persinette’ and various other fairy tales while imprisoned there, publishing them anonymously the following year.

 The mystery of how Charlotte-Rose de la Force came to know of Giambattista Basile’s fairytale ‘Petrosinella’ may have been solved in 2007 by the fairytale scholar Professor Susanna Magnanini. She conjectures, in ‘Postulated Routes from Naples to Paris: The Printer Antonio Bulifon and Giambattista Basile’s Fairy Tales in Seventeenth Century France’, that a copy of his fairytale collection may have been brought to Paris around the time of the explosion of literary fairytales by French writers Charles Perrault, Charlotte-Rose de la Force, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier and others. If so, these French storytellers would have had to have read Basile in his original Neapolitan dialect, which is strikingly different to both Latin and Italian. 

The story ‘La Puissance d’Amour’, told by Charlotte-Rose in the novel on the night she first meets Charles de Briou, is a paraphrasing of one of her actual fairytales, which has never before been translated into English.

Similarly, ‘Bearskin’, the story about a princes turned into a she-bear, is one of Henriette-Julie d’Murat’s most famous fairytales, and she was indeed a cousin of Charlotte-Rose de la Force.

I first heard about Charlotte-Rose de la Force in an essay by Terri Windling, 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair', in Endicott Stduio's Spring 2006 Journal of Mythic Arts. This was the first seed that led me on my journey to discovering the life of this extraordinary writer.

My primary source for the facts of Charlotte-Rose's life come from "Mademoiselle de la Force:  auteur mèconnu du XVIIͨ siècle", by the French academic Michel Souloumiac, which I had translated into English, again for the first time. My secondary source was "Letters from Liselotte: the collected letters of Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine and Duchess of Orléans, 'Madame', 1652-1722", in which she recorded the gossip of the Sun King's court. Charlotte-Rose is mentioned a number of times.

Researching and writing the life of Charlotte-Rose de la Force was like assembling and putting together a gigantic jigsaw - it required patience, dedication and persistence. I feel, however, that I have discovered one of the most fascinating women ever forgotten by history.

Read more about BITTER GREENS or BUY IT HERE!

Shenna commented on 23-Jan-2013 01:29 PM
Basically want to say Now i am thankful I came in your webpage.
Colette commented on 08-Nov-2013 08:07 AM
I have just finished reading your book Bitter Greens and found it very interesting and entertaining. It certainly expanded on the line: "Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair" which is all I remember from my childhood. As I am also of French descent I found the historical parts of great interest too. Lucky you and your family doing your research in my beautiful La Belle France which sadly now we are retired in Australia I might not see again, despite having lots of family living there. Ahh memories.......
Emma commented on 22-Feb-2014 01:23 PM
I just finished Bitter Greens literally like five minutes ago. It was absolutely wonderful, all the stories and characters so real and interesting. I had, unsurprisingly never heard of Charlotte-Rose, and I agree that she is one of the most fascinating women. Such an incredible life! I greatly admire all the research that must have gone into making this novel.
Fiona commented on 03-Mar-2014 04:23 AM
I totally concur with Emma's comments above, 'Bitter Greens' is brilliant in conception and execution. Your book has shed light on the Sun King's reign and life in court, life in the 17th century and expanded upon one of the most loved fairy tales of all time. I will now explore further writings of this period so thank you for this opening and many, many congratulations for the painstaking research you have put into your fascinating book.
Margaret commented on 29-Jul-2016 08:33 PM
Wow what a book I loved it, Emma and Fiona have said it all and I cannot wait to read more of Kate's book's
Sue commented on 19-Dec-2016 08:56 AM
I came across this site while researching my family tree. I have been trying for ages to trace one particular lady. Family stories say there are links to the Sun King and Caumont and she burn all papers to her fortune. Did Charlotte have any daughters. My ancestors record of death is recorded as persomme which is really odd. I know a real long shot could it have actuallly said ‘Persinette’
Amanda Neill commented on 10-Jun-2017 01:09 AM
The journey to find and read this book is a long one , beginning with the ABC show the Bookclub. It again came up at the Sydney writers festival. and then I saw it in the Kings Cross book market. So I saved it up to read until I went on my work retreat. But why did I wait so long !! It absolutely captivated me. I could not put it down - it took me 3 days. I sat looking out at the sea with this marvelous book - and I feel exhausted after its richness, drama, romance research and sheer storytelling. I loved it, but I rushed through it so I am going to go back and savour those parts I rushed through. It was great to read more details on this blog !! Great work, great achievement!! Thankyou for this book
Stephen commented on 27-Jan-2018 04:01 AM
I'm rather late to this discussion having only discovered this highly entertaining novel recently. One thing I've been trying to find out was how exactly Charlotte Rose was related to King Louis XIV of France. Looking at the family trees, I can't see a connection at all.

Does anyone know?
Isobel commented on 28-May-2018 04:15 PM
Dear Stephen,
Charlotte's mother was Louis VIX's second cousin.
Hope that helps.

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