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First Page: Percy & Marguerite

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Chapter 1 The Flanders Regiment Banquet Oct 1, 1789

If there was anything Marguerite St. Just was certain of doing well, it was executing a grand entrance to perfection. She could predict the oohs and ahhs her fashionable sapphire-on-white embroidered gown would affect. She knew exactly how the plume on her fiery hair would lend a towering illusion to her medium height. And that the best angle for which to display the diamonds around her porcelain neck was to enter facing the chandeliers at precisely 45 degrees.

Countless nights had she played to enthralled audiences at the Theatre Comedie. Tonight might be no different, except that the atmosphere was tense, the stage, was a royal banquet and the man at her side, her cousin, Louis-Antoine, recently made a Lt. Col of the French National Guard.

Not her usual set-up perhaps.

The actress in her however, could not help but turn over in her head what she might say as they entered tonight’s dinner banquet. "What a disgusting display of pomp and arrogance!" Had not the rumors about Versailles been confirmed from the moment they had set foot upon this estate? Here one would find all the riches that rightfully belonged to the people of France! Surely all this ostentatious display of wealth would reach a gaudy climax in the King’s own Opera House.

But instead Marguerite held her tongue, for she could not be sure what she was in for. It was this same prudence that had earned her the title, "the cleverest woman in France."

The dinner this evening was given in honor of the Flanders Regiment. As it was customary that a banquet be held for any touring troops at Versailles, this was no exception. However, a growing public disapproval for lavish feasts at this country palace lent a sour taste to tonight’s feasting.

Louis St. Just had countless times asked to escort her to various functions, but only recently had these invitations revealed a more refined taste, thought Marguerite. He could be very crude sometimes, inviting her to unsavory fetes and places of ill repute. Using language ridden with sexual innuendos. This was not surprising given that his claim to fame was an explicitly lewd document that raged against Church and King. But as he often reminded her, they were family. And quite frankly, she owed him her entry into the Paris stage. And so she had agreed. After all, she thought, she had always wanted to see Versailles.

"Mademoiselle Marguerite St. Just et Monsieur Louis St. Just!" bellowed the royal butler as they paused at the entrance to Opera House.

So unexpected was the weakening of her knees upon entering the double doors that she held fast to Louis’s arm for support. When she looked up at the ceiling she beheld the dazzling sight of crystal chandeliers. Such beautiful hues in the painting above were picked up by the heavy turquoise and gold curtain that draped down upon the theater’s main stage.

But for the chance to perform in a place such as this, she thought!

***

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

24 Comments

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    May 08, 2010 @ 04:18:31

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  2. Aislinn Macnamara
    May 08, 2010 @ 05:31:01

    Just a note on the French here. If her cousin’s name is Louis-Antoine with the hyphen, then he’d never be referred to as just plain Louis. To a French speaker, they’re two different names. Oh and in French, family names beginning with St. are usually hyphenated, too: St-Just.

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  3. Lynne Silver
    May 08, 2010 @ 05:42:23

    Will this be a pre-quel to the Scarlet Pimpernel. As it is one of my favorite novels, I will be sure to read more!

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  4. Lynnne Connolly
    May 08, 2010 @ 05:46:35

    I’d be interested if you can persuade me to like the excessively irritating Marguerite. She was the person I most wanted dead in the books. Interesting that they killed her off in the TV series!
    The excerpt is fine, but it doesn’t engage my interest, probably because I recognised her!
    Also, announcements of arrivals weren’t made at this period. And she could have seen Versailles at any time, as much of the palace was open to everyone.
    Just make sure the Scarlet Pimpernel books are out of copyright. In the UK, that’s the life of the author plus 75 years. That would mean that copyright doesn’t run out until 2022, so you might have to get permission from the d’Orczy estate.

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  5. Julia Spencer-Fleming
    May 08, 2010 @ 06:15:42

    Smooth, readable, publishable prose and I like your voice. Watch your excessive commas:

    Tonight might be no different, except that the atmosphere was tense; the stage was a royal banquet and the man at her side, her cousin Louis-Antoine, recently made a Lt. Col of the French National Guard.

    I’d prefer her first musings about the lavishness of the place and the “sour taste” of the event to be more personal. This sounds a bit like an opening narration of a educational documentary–”as disaffection swept across France…etc.” This is your chance to start setting a clear picture of Marguerite: Would she think of a time when one of the silver place settings could have saved her family home? Would she compare the paste jewels and moth-eaten silks at the theatre to the real thing? In more cliched words, don’t tell us she sympathizes with the revolution, show us.

    I’ve always thought her character a mystery; how did an actress, at a time when women on the stage were considered a few steps above prostitutes, attain such high social standing? She resents the nobility, yet moves among them easily after her marriage. Give me the answers Countess d'Orczy didn’t, and I’ll happily run out and buy your book.(I confess, I wish there was more posted right here so I could keep on reading!)

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  6. Ros
    May 08, 2010 @ 06:31:55

    I’m really sorry but I just don’t think this is publishable at all. There were quite a few sequels to the Scarlet Pimpernel, the last few of which have been out of print for years. If there was such a demand for the Pimpernel, you’d think people would be reading Baroness Orczy’s versions, but they aren’t. In addition, I’m afraid that your prose doesn’t quite stand up for me. It feels too modern. Try to make sure you use full sentences, for a start.

    I honestly think the best place for this is on a fanfic archive and, if you’re serious about publication, start writing an original story.

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  7. DS
    May 08, 2010 @ 07:24:32

    Have to agree with both Lynnne Connolly and Ros. Potential copyright issues in some countries and probably not commercial.

    Also, you might want to do some more research on St-Just. He was just 22 at the time and I’m not sure how she could have “owed him her entry into the Paris stage”.

    @Lynnne Connolly:

    Interesting that they killed her off in the TV series!

    Was that the 1999 series where she was played by Elizabeth McGovern or another one? I was never sure I had seen all of the 1999 episodes.

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  8. Barb in MD
    May 08, 2010 @ 09:07:36

    Alas for our writer, I am another that must mention that pesky copyright problem, which would mean this work is not commercially publishable. So if what you really want to write is a Pimpernel story, then fanfic it is. If, however, you want to write a story of romantic intrigue set during the French Revolution time frame–go for it!

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  9. Tracey
    May 08, 2010 @ 09:12:45

    I agree with Lynne Connolly, Ros, DS and Barb in MD, who said that there are likely copyright issues. In addition to “the life of the author plus 75 years” copyright issue in the UK (and Orczy died in 1947, so 1947 + 75 = 2022), she wrote a LOT of books in the series. Now, while works published before 1923 are considered out of copyright in the US, it doesn’t sound like that condition applies in the UK. Also, I’m not sure if the “works published before 1923″ clause would apply to an ongoing series…and the last Pimpernel book was published in 1940, Mam’zelle Guillotine.

    Assuming that Orczy’s estate has kept renewing the copyrights of her books, you would be in a situation where the first six books of the series (The Scarlet Pimpernel [play--1903, novel-1905], I Will Repay [1906], The Elusive Pimpernel [1908], Eldorado [1913], Lord Tony’s Wife [1917] and The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel [1922]) would be out of copyright in America, but the following five books (Sir Percy Hits Back [1927], A Child of the Revolution [1932], The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel [1933], Sir Percy Leads the Band [1936], and Mam’zelle Guillotine [1940]) would not be. If the copyrights are kept up on books published from 1923 to 1963, then the copyright in America is the date of publication plus 95 years.

    Which, if Orczy’s estate has maintained the copyrights, would mean that Sir Percy Hits Back would be under copyright until 2022, A Child of the Revolution until 2027, The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel until 2028, Sir Percy Leads the Band until 2031, and Mam’zelle Guillotine until 2035.

    Or the estate could have failed to renew the American rights, which would make the American copyrights the year of publication plus 28 years, which would mean that the entire series was out of copyright in America in 1968…but that the series was still under copyright until 2022 in the UK.

    And I have no idea how publication of Scarlet Pimpernel fanfic would be affected by the first book (or, possibly, the entire series) being out of copyright in America but in copyright in the UK, or how copyright in America would be affected by half the series being out of copyright in the US and half of it still being potentially in copyright. It seems like a legal tangle…and that’s not necessarily something that a publisher would want to get into.

    Due to the problematic legality of the situation, I think that the best place for this story would be a fanfic archive.

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  10. job
    May 08, 2010 @ 09:47:00

    I like the period. I’m a great fan of the SPimp. I’d be delighted to see a prequel. As everyone said, check the copyright. Someone will know.

    There’s a structural weakness, I think, in this first page. What we have is backstory and infodump, rather than vivid and immediate stuff that is going on right now.

    Can we discuss the politics and her history with her cousin maybe when she’s sitting down holding a hissing, angry conversation?
    Can we enter the story with more interesting action than walking into a room and thinking about politics?

    Minor comments:

    This may just be me. I started out all at sea because I didn’t realize we were in France.

    You might change the ‘Flanders Regiment’ to a French rendering. This would still be comprehensible and it would tell the reader we’re not in Hampshire. Or you could add the word ‘Versailles’ up top.

    There were a few word choices that stopped me.

    She could predict the oohs and ahhs her fashionable sapphire-on-white embroidered gown would affect.

    Would effect?

    would lend a towering illusion to her medium height.

    Would the illusion itself be towering? Or would the towering plumes lend an illusion?

    And that the best angle for which to display the diamonds

    Perhaps, the best angle with which or in which . . .?

    to enter facing the chandeliers at precisely 45 degrees.

    I’m having a problem seeing someone walking into the room, keeping at 45 degrees from the center of it. Sorta coming in sideways.
    And I just don’t believe that would make any difference in how diamonds sparked twenty feet away. My credulity gets all twisted up and uncomfy.

    Theatre Comedie.

    I’m more familiar with the Comédie-Française.
    ?

    Tonight might be no different, except that the atmosphere was tense, the stage, was a royal banquet and the man at her side, her cousin, Louis-Antoine, recently made a Lt. Col of the French National Guard.

    There’s a disconnect in the three items in this list.
    She mentally ticks off the differences between walking on stage and walking into this room.

    Tense atmosphere. Check.
    Banquet hall. Check.

    Her cousin has gotten a promotion.
    Not so much check.
    It’s not parallel. I can’t relate this to walking on stage at the theatre.

    Finally, I was surprised that Marguerite had never visited the house of the Duc of this or the Marquise of that. In SP — was there some indication that Marguerite was unsophisticated or an inexperienced country girl? It seems oddly naive that a star of the Comédie-Française is so shocked by the glitter of Versailles/ The palace was admittedly the grand example of gaudy — but hardly unique.

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  11. Anne Douglas
    May 08, 2010 @ 13:10:27

    Do I have to hand in my author card if I say that I had no idea it had any relation to the Scarlet Pimpernel (I’ve not read the SP), and I thought this piece was sort of interesting?

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  12. Gwynnyd
    May 08, 2010 @ 13:22:03

    Her cousin has gotten a promotion.
    Not so much check.
    It's not parallel. I can't relate this to walking on stage at the theatre.

    Hmm… No, I think it fits, though it is a tad obscure because what the three things contrast with are not described.

    Tonight might be no different, except that the atmosphere was tense (instead of being the familiar relaxed audience) , the stage, was a royal banquet (jnstead of being the theater) and the man at her side, her cousin, (instead of another actor) Louis-Antoine, recently made a Lt. Col of the French National Guard.

    This beginning felt passive to me. You give too many convoluted explanations before the actions they justify.

    If you must write the opening page as a reflection, why not have her go weak at the knees first and then justify it?

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  13. Marianne McA
    May 08, 2010 @ 16:17:46

    This isn’t a comment on the page.

    I haven’t read The Scarlet Pimpernel for some time, but it was a book I enjoyed and reread many times. (I’ve only read one of the others in the series.)
    However, I wouldn’t feel the need to read a prequel – I think Baroness Orczy started the relationship at an interesting place.

    I suppose I’m wondering if you’d have to be a diehard fan to want to read a version of the early parts of that relationship, and whether there are enough diehard fans to make it worthwhile. (Though I suppose the P&P spin-offs do well, so what do I know…)

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  14. hapax
    May 08, 2010 @ 18:11:54

    I wouldn’t read this, because I love Orczy’s books, and and this doesn’t have the flavour of them at all.

    Wrt to copyright and saleability, though, Lauren Willig’s Scarlet Carnation books seem to be doing quite well. Perhaps stepping them back a bit from the central characters of SP … MUST it be Marguerite’s story, and not (say) another actress who wished to emulate her? … might work for you as well.

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  15. theo
    May 08, 2010 @ 21:28:49

    Setting aside copyright issues which others have covered quite well, I am one of the minority that chooses not to read sequels, prequels or anything in between when it comes to beloved characters penned by those not the original authors. I tried once (case in point, Scarlett) and found it so bad, I would have rather ripped my nose from my face than finish it. Unfortunately, that experience has colored my preconceptions of anything else along those lines.

    That experience coupled with the fact that I don’t get the same feel after the first couple of sentences from this excerpt that I do from the original Pimpernel and it’s a no for me. I couldn’t finish this.

    Sorry.

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  16. Polly
    May 08, 2010 @ 22:19:02

    I’m another who won’t touch sequels/prequels/etc with a ten foot pole. I may wish Jane Austen had written more books, but I don’t ever want to read “sequels” to P&P–essentially, I don’t want to buy and read someone else’s fanfic.

    Frankly, your tone isn’t close enough to Orczy’s to pull me in, and while you may have a great story on its own merit, I won’t notice it because I’ll be continually measuring it against the original.

    If you’ve spent lots of time imagining what Marguerite’s life was like before the opening of the Scarlet Pimpernel, you might be able to write a story about a character with a similar background, but make it your own story and characters.

    As for the selection itself, it seems like you’re trying for a kind of “grand” style. I think that’s fine, but make sure it’s consistent. Sentences like “Not her usual set up perhaps” doesn’t ring true with the elaborate descriptions elsewhere. Also, she seems awfully naive and unsophisticated for someone already labeled the “cleverest woman in France.” I’d assume that by the time she’s earned that description, she’d already have the sophistication and polish not to be excited to see the grandeur of Versailles.

    Good luck, but as it stands, I doubt it’s the book for me.

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  17. kbrum
    May 09, 2010 @ 04:27:28

    Haven’t read SP for ages but I vaguely recall that Marguerette was on the tall side, not of medium height.
    Happy to be corrected however.
    I’m also with Lynne Connelly:M S-J was a pain the first time around.

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  18. sao
    May 09, 2010 @ 05:06:45

    I didn’t immediately think of the Scarlet Pimpernel, but I’m another who won’t read a book about characters developed by another author.

    On its own, assuming you just borrowed the name, there were too many contradictions. Marguerite has an extravagent dress and diamonds, but rails at extravagance? She’s used to making entrances, but goes weak at the knees at Versailles? Her cousin is rude and obnoxious, but she accepts a date with him?

    You tell us about tension, but I don’t feel it.

    I totally didn’t get the 45 degrees bit. Usually, there’s one entrance door, so she’s going to look funny walking through the door at an angle. Ditto if she is bending or stretching to get her throat at a specific angle.

    I think you put too much background in. Start with action.

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  19. Lynne Connolly
    May 09, 2010 @ 07:52:23

    @DS: “Was that the 1999 series where she was played by Elizabeth McGovern or another one? I was never sure I had seen all of the 1999 episodes.”

    Yes, that’s the one. They had a second series, and killed Marguerite while I stood on the sidelines, cheering. She died in childbirth. Marguerite was one of the most spoiled, demanding, complaining heroines ever and she got on my nerves. I thought Richard E. Grant made a fabulous Pimpernel, though.

    @sao:
    In the 1740′s, hoops were so wide that women had to go in doors sideways, but by the 1750′s the collapsable pannier had been invented, so it could be lifted up on its hinges and in any case, hoop size diminished considerably after the Peace of Aix-La-Chapelle.

    And yes to the action scene, which this isn’t.

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  20. DM
    May 09, 2010 @ 10:15:41

    While I agree that most prequels and attempts to use other authors’ characters are failures, no one has brought up the notable successes. If you want a prequel that will knock your socks off, try Wide Sargasso Sea, and if you want to see a writer take a minor character and create a major personality, try the Flashman series. In both cases the author brings something new to the table. It’s not just a chance to spend more time with beloved characters–it’s a rethinking of the values that underpin the source material.

    It’s impossible to figure out if that’s what’s intended here, because all we’ve got is a first page. But if the author is going to blow my mind with how different the REAL story of Percy and Marguerite is, then bring it on.

    Other authors are working in this territory without violating copyright. Willig was mentioned. Judith Ivory has a Pimpernel-esque book that is now titled Angel in a Red Dress. Floral spies in Revolutionary France can be done as homage. If this story absolutely requires 100% identification with Orczy’s original characters, then I agree that a publisher might think twice…but if the author had already secured the rights to use the characters, that problem would be solved. I wouldn’t write an entire novel without investigating the rights first, but I wouldn’t abandon the project without making an attempt to secure those rights.

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  21. Polly
    May 09, 2010 @ 11:22:45

    I thought about whether or not Wide Sargasso Sea changed how I felt when I was writing my earlier commentary, and decided that I don’t consider it a prequel. Yes, it uses Jane Eyre as a starting point, but it’s a commentary on Jane Eyre, not a continuation of (or a lead up to) Jane Eyre. It’s also a story that stands on its own without Jane Eyre–he doesn’t have to be Edward Rochester for the novel to work. I think, for me, that’s the big difference between a sequel/prequel etc and Wide Sargasso Sea; it’s a reworking, not a further telling, of the story, and it stands alone.

    I guess, ultimately, I keep thinking that “these aren’t your characters,” (not you in particular, but anyone writing sequels/prequels, etc.), and that’s not fair. And if you’ve spent enough time figuring out new adventures and twists on their personalities, then they aren’t the original author’s characters anymore, and that’s not fair either. Either way, I don’t think it’s a great idea.

    Again, good luck. I’d love to read a good story set in 1780s France, but not if it’s about Percy and Marguerite.

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  22. Susan/DC
    May 09, 2010 @ 15:45:52

    The part I didn’t understand was that Louis was crude and “his claim to fame was an explicitly lewd document that raged against Church and King,” yet 1) he had just been promoted in the French National Guard and 2) he was invited to a banquet at Versailles. Wouldn’t such a document have put paid to either of those things?

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  23. Mina Kelly
    May 10, 2010 @ 07:57:51

    I haven’t read any SP books, so I didn’t pick up on that (obviously!). I will echo what others have said about copyright, though it does depends who and where you’re hoping to sell the book to. The fact some of the original series is out of copyright but some isn’t really complicates things. If it weren’t for that, you might get away with selling to perhaps a small US press, and just not selling international rights.

    In terms of the writing, I found it a bit overdone. There’s too much description and very little action. As a stranger to SP, all I got from this was that an actress obsessing with her clothes was about to enter a room. Not exactly a hook. For example:

    She could predict the oohs and ahhs her fashionable sapphire-on-white embroidered gown would affect. She knew exactly how the plume on her fiery hair would lend a towering illusion to her medium height. And that the best angle for which to display the diamonds around her porcelain neck was to enter facing the chandeliers at precisely 45 degrees.

    It just has too many adjectives: fashionable, sapphire-on-white, embroidered, fiery, towering, medium, and porcelain. You could cut most of them without losing any meaning, or you could cut the whole thing because you’ve just wasted the first paragraph telling us nothing but that Margeurite is wearing clothes (that will make people ooh and ahh, yes, but I’d much rather see people ooh and ahh than be told they will!).

    It really jarred when you had her annoyed at the pomp and circumstance of it all – what is the opening if not an invitation for the readers to be dazzled by her own pomp and circumstance? Feathers and embroidery and diamonds suggest she’s as complicit as everyone else in wearing France’s wealth. It makes her look extremely hypocritcal.

    Maybe this is true to the SP character – I don’t know – but if it is that would explain why the other commenters aren’t keen to read a book about her! There’s nothing to make her likeable here, unfortunately, and not enough actually happening to give a hint to the plot.

    If you could reign in the adjectives, I think you’d find the pace moved a lot faster and it was easier to hold people’s attention. Your writing is technically proficient and has a really nice style to it, but for an opening scene it’s just not working here. It’s like the set up to a joke so far: A woman walks into a ball. I’m waiting for the ba-dum-cha.

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  24. Nicole Schauder
    May 10, 2010 @ 09:04:43

    Thank you all very much for all the insightful comments. As I had told Jane, upon sending this, this was a very unpublished attempt, which I didn’t want to waste any more time on if I didn’t think it was worth the effort. I am new to writing and publishing and have had a million questions which have largely been answered in 23 comments!

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