If you read any of my Seen Through the Phantom’s Eyes series, the importance of the Palais Garnier, also known as the Opéra Garnier is obvious.
Construction on the Palais Garnier was begun in 1861 and opened in 1875. The architect, Charles Garnier, was a young man who won a competition, from a field of 170; Napoleon III had a vision for redesigning the city by widening the streets and creating a new “look” for the City of Light, and this was part of it. Garnier’s opulent design reflected the Second Empire Beaux-Arts style, and presented ample opportunities to see and be seen. At this time in history, people did not go the the opera to look at the show, but to look at one another; the house lights were not even dimmed during the performance. Until 1881, when electricity was installed, the theatre used gaslight.
At London Hospital, in Whitechapel, Dr. Treves deposited me at what I presumed was his surgery office door.
“I’m wanted in the operating theatre, Madame LeMaître. Please make yourself at home,” he said. He bowed to me and left me alone.
I let myself into the suite, but saw no one. From a back room came a muffled “I shall be with you in a moment. Please have a seat.”
“Thank you, I shall,” I responded.
“Oh, my goodness. A lady caller? I wish I had known. I would have rung for tea.” From out of the back room came the man to whom the muffled voice belonged. The reason for his tone was immediately obvious: his mouth and head were grossly malformed, as was one side of his body. However, the hand he extended to me was as beautiful and graceful as a woman’s.
“Madame, please allow me to introduce myself. I am Joseph Merrick. Sir Frederick isn’t here just now. May I have the sisters bring you tea?” — Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder
Joseph Carey Merrick lived in England during the Victorian era. He suffered from what we now understand as Proteus syndrome, where parts of the body grow at different rates.
Merrick spent part of his life as a sideshow freak until he was taken in by Dr. Sir Frederick Treves. Treves arranged a home for Merrick at the hospital where he worked and took care of him until his death at the age of 27. Merrick was literate, and a devout Christian. He often told visitors that his favorite book was the Bible.
I won’t go into Merrick’s entire biography in this brief post; additional information is available here. He was also the subject of a play and film, both entitled The Elephant Man.
As we continue our celebration of 10 years in print for In The Eye of The Beholder, it’s time to meet another important character in the book. She was mentioned in my earlier post about Claire Delacroix.
Josephine is Claire’s Friesian mare.
I gave Claire a Friesian because the breed is both large and versatile. Originally bred in the Netherlands to carry men in armor, they’re now part of the light carriage horse class. They’re remarkably graceful for their size. Friesians were nearly extinct at several points throughout history, but have risen in popularity in recent years.
The most notable characteristics of the Friesian are their black coat, feathered hocks, and heavy manes and tails.
Josephine is based on a real horse, a stallion named Goffert 369. I was fortunate enough to see him do a lovely freestyle dressage in 2006. Six months later, he colicked and passed away. Horses are remarkably fragile creatures, despite their size, and stomach troubles can indeed prove fatal.
Here is a brief video, from the performance I saw.
After I returned my skates, my legs rubbery with exertion, Gilbert bought mugs of tea and roasted chestnuts from a nearby vendor. We watched the other skaters for a while, sharing our snack in companionable silence. When we finished our treat, I thanked Gilbert.
“It is nothing, Claire. Seeing a bit of color back in your cheeks and a smile on your face are worth more than gold to me.” Gilbert’s gaze was penetrating at first, and then he looked away. “I should take you home soon, Claire.”
“Perhaps you could help me with my Christmas shopping before we go,” I suggested. I was not ready to be shut up in the house again today. Tomorrow might be different; I had to take advantage of my improved mood.
So, we again took an omnibus into Knightsbridge to shop at Harrods. We browsed the entire seven floors. In the mens’ furnishings department, Gilbert especially admired a walking stick with a faceted blue glass knob for a handle.
“That’s a gentleman’s stick for certain,” he said. “It’s very handsome.” He examined the price tag and put the stick back in the display.
“Let’s see what we can find for the family,” he said.
“What are you planning to buy for Honor?” I asked.
“I don’t really know, Claire. She is a hard one to read. She doesn’t appear to care for frills and things; she’s said more than once that she’s a simple girl and not ‘one o’ them toffs’ she could name. I think she may be something of a snob.”
“I think she may just be sounding you out, Gilbert. She’s a good girl and you could do much worse for yourself.”
“I suppose you are right,” Gilbert smiled. “She is a very appropriate match for someone like me.”
“She is quite pretty, too,” I smiled.
“She is that. I am a rather lucky fellow.” His smile broadened, and I could not help grinning back at him in delight. — Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder
Harrods is a London department store (owned by the state of Qatar since 2010), where you can shop today if you are so inclined. It was established in 1824 by Charles Henry Harrod. There were many changes to the store over the years, including a complete rebuild after a fire. Harrods was home to England’s very first escalator, installed in 1898.
Harrods doesn’t allow photographs inside, so I don’t have any pictures of my own. I do, however, have some amusing shopping bags and a brush that I used to use on the horses when I was an active equestrian.
For many years, Harrods held several royal warrants. However, previous owner Mohamed al-Fayed burned them, claiming they were cursed. They were not renewed by any members of the British royal family.
If you have the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend investigating every floor. There are 330 departments, so you’re sure to find something of interest to look at. The decor and displays are amazing. Heck, even some of the escalators are brilliant.
It took a couple of months to find François and bring him to Baincthun. When he arrived, he came with several other Camargois horsemen with whom he had established a riding troupe. I enjoyed meeting his companions, but found my cousin to be somewhat cold and given to putting on airs. He even had a valet, which was peculiar for a man of his station.
François moved into the Baincthun house with me and his companions took lodging in town. Their horses joined Josephine in the barn.
I scandalized François and many others by putting off mourning a mere six months after my father’s death. I wanted to ride, and so I did. I also wanted to marry Philippe and cease the pointless waiting. – Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder
Claire’s handsome cousin François comes across pretty much as a stereotypical, mustache-twirling villain in this book — and that was a deliberate choice on my part. We learn more about him, and his valet, in In The Eye of The Storm.
The main reason I create the character was to highlight some oddities of Napoleonic and coverture laws. According to Napoleonic law, all children were to inherit equally regardless of gender, . However, coverture law still existed, which meant that a male relative controlled a female relative’s inheritance unless she was married. In that case, it was controlled by her husband. Because Claire is unmarried, the closest relative they can find is her cousin in the south of France.
François really is a jerk, but he is also the reason why Claire winds up in the opera house in the first place, so he moves the story along.
Are you enjoying this series so far? Intrigued enough that you would like your own copy of In The Eye of The Beholder? Here are the blurb and purchasing links.
When French equestrian Claire Delacroix loses her fiancé in a tragic accident, she comes to live at the Paris Opera during its 1890s heyday. Life is not easy for a woman in fin de siècle France, where her rights are determined by a male guardian. Claire, both intelligent and independent, chafes under the strictures of her time.
Whilst working at the opera, she meets a mysterious, masked stranger: Erik. Is it possible that the two of them will heal the pain of each other’s past?
Updated for 2015 with glossaries of equestrian terms and French words used in the text.