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, 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 (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…

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7 Comments to “For the King: how I imagine my fictional characters”

  1. Thanks, Marilyn! I won’t be the one to contradict you on this point…

  2. Marilyn says:

    I also love both Portraits! You have good taste Catherine :)

  3. Penny says:

    The picture of this woman reclining on a couch is hanging in my
    living room. I like the young man as well but I prefer to hang up the women or

    by the way, I am really getting impatient to discuss For the King
    in public. I can’t say enough good about it.

  4. Elena, Lisa, Danielle, I am so glad you find the characters in the novel match these portraits. And I agree, Danielle, it is much better for the lady on my cover to have a head! Hopefully the “headless” trend has run its course for historical fiction, but we shall see…

  5. Danielle says:

    I’ve been reading a bit every night and am thoroughly enjoying myself so far. It’s nice to have visuals for the characters–this Roch is slightly more boyish than I had been envisioning him, but I like his face–he looks as charming as the character seems in the book. And Blanche is close to as I imagined her, too. By the way I love the book illustration and the fact that the lady’s face appears on the spine and is not cut off!

  6. Lisa Yarde says:

    Catherine, how beautiful, I love both portraits.

  7. Yes, that is just how I picture them!

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