For the King: how I imagine my fictional characters

My mental images of the historical figures who appear in my novels are of course determined by their numerous portraits and the descriptions of eye witnesses. I don’t have to wonder what Napoléon Bonaparte looked like in 1800. But what about fictional characters, such as Roch Miquel or Blanche Coudert in FOR THE KING?

Well, my mental image of those is just as precise. Roch (pronounced rock) was inspired by the beautiful portrait of the painter Jean-Baptist Isabey by Gérard. Roch is a handsome man, well aware of it without being conceited. The earnest and thoughtful gaze of the man in the portrait is what I imagine Roch’s to be. What I also loved in this portrait was the dull, dun-colored background. It fit well the urban setting of the novel.

isabey-gerard

Isabey, by Gerard (detail)

Roch is a young bachelor. He has never encountered much trouble with the ladies, and, at the time of the assassination attempt against Bonaparte, he is engaged in a liaison with a married woman, the lovely and mysterious Blanche Coudert.

Madame-Recamier-by-Gerard

Madame Recamier, by Gerard (detail)

I have always imagined Blanche as a brunette, and the image that forced itself upon my mind was the iconic portrait of Juliette Récamier, also by Gérard. Madame Récamier was the leading society beauty of the time, and a staunch opponent to Napoléon.

Then the strangest thing happened: as her image was superimposed on that of Blanche, some details from her biography naturally flowed to Blanche. Those details (no spoilers here!) became part of Blanche’s many secrets, which my readers will discover in due time. Let me add that otherwise Blanche is very different from Juliette.

I would have loved either of these portraits for the cover art of FOR THE KING, but conventional wisdom holds that male pictures do not sell for historical fiction (a pity, in my opinion.) As for the striking portrait of Madame Récamier, it had been used too many times already.

But I still have a lovely brunette on the cover of my novel…

Thanks to Historical-Fiction.com for hosting this post!

My thanks to Arleigh for hosting this!

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