Today I have been writing the historical afterword for my novel and to help me do it I’ve pulled down from the shelf some of the books I have loved best while working on Charlatan. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite, but The Sun King by Nancy Mitford has to get a special mention.
I bought that book fourteen years ago. That’s a life time ago – in fact that’s my oldest child’s lifetime ago, pretty much, as it was not long after I had Dominic (somehow now 14 and six foot 2) that I found myself I pushing him around in his pushchair in the small Suffolk village we lived in at the time, quietly dying of boredom. Adjusting from working full-time to being at home with a baby was a task in itself, but at least I had mastered the art of sitting on the floor with a small child and playing with him with one hand while holding a book and reading it in the other. The trouble was that all I had on my shelves fiction. I needed something a bit more challenging.
The answer came in the form of the village second-hand book store which, very handily for a mother with a pushchair, had books in boxes set out on tables on the pavement. That’s where I came across this:
The cover of my copy is not quite so attractive as the edition now available on Amazon that is pictured above! But what a wonderful read it is, packed with detail, generously illustrated and delivered with Nancy Mitford’s inimitable voice and wit. In chapter six I first came across the Affair of the Poisons. Mitford provides a lively, gossipy outline of what happened in Paris in the late 1670’s and early 1680’s but what really caught my interest was when she wrote that she had gleaned much of this information from another book altogether, from which she said “most of the foregoing facts, which are only like the visible part of the iceberg, have been shamelessly culled.”
How much did I want to know about the rest of the iceberg? So much! And although I never managed to find a translation of Georges Mongredien’s book about Madame de Montespan, (the book that Nancy Mitford referred to) I did find Anne Somerset’s The Affair of the Poisons. And maybe a few more…