“History is the witness of the times… the life of memory…”— Marcus Tullius Cicero
Preserving the past is linked most often to physical assets, such as buildings, or artifacts like paintings, jewelry or utensils. But what of the people? How do we preserve the memories that tell us about those no longer with us? By telling stories about them. I’m working currently on a novel of historical fiction about a young man who lived in 18th century France before and during the chaotic French Revolution. The turmoil ruling that period known as the Reign of Terror makes it hard to write about without losing one’s way in the maelstrom. But this young man of whom I write lived a story that made him one of, if not the most celebrated man of his time. What’s left to tell about him if he’d earned such notoriety? Almost everything, because very few of his life stories were preserved to pass down. How could that be when one of our own Presidents, John Adams, praised him as ‘the most accomplished man in Europe’? Mozart praised his musical abilities and complained of his enviable relationships with the royalty of France, connections he himself yearned for but did not have.
And so the questions about him still echo today, largely because over two-hundred-years of silence have produced an anonymity of prejudice. Stories can’t be preserved if they’re not told, and we know that some narratives are lost by the choice of those living with them. How often do we hear the question asked, you never heard any of this in your family? To be followed by the answer, no, never. We know nothing of it. Continue Reading