My new book contract & the Congress of Vienna
Happy New Year! As I recently reported on my own website, I'm very happy to be seeing 2010 in with a new two-book contract with Kensington Books. That’s my wonderful new editor Audrey LaFehr in the picture to the left, with me and my fabulous agent Nancy Yost on my November trip to New York at a Merola Opera Program party. I’m in the midst of writing the first book on the contract, which has the working title The Dark Waltz. (People who follow my status updates on Twitter and Facebook have been seeing updates about the progress of this book for some time.)
The Dark Waltz is set in 1814 at the Congress of Vienna. I think I first heard of the Congress of Vienna in Georgette Heyer books (I know there are mentions of Sophy and her father being there in The Grand Sophy). I remember being fascinated by a lecture about it my freshman year at Stanford. I've referenced the Congress as part of the back story in several books, and I’ve wanted to set a book at it for ages. It offers such rich scope for a novelist. After Napoleon was exiled to Elba, representatives of countries across Europe gathered in Vienna to redraw the Continental map. There was a great deal of intriguing, both political and romantic. In the autumn of 1814, the Congress of Vienna was *the* place to be. Imagine a combination of a modern international political conference and the Cannes Film Festival. Some claimed the delegates spent as much time waltzing as negotiating. The Festivals Committee, appointed by Austrian Emperor Francis I, felt it their duty to keep the foreign delegations entertained with events each more lavish than the last. There were masquerade balls, balloon ascensions, sleigh rides, a recreation of a medieval tournament, nights at the theater and the opera.
Viennese society was filled with music. Beethoven, at the height of his fame, gave a concert. Salieri, Vienna's Hofkapellmeister, organized many musical events (including a concert with a a hundred pianos). There were already rumors at the time that he had poisoned Mozart (the rumors that became the basis of the play and film Amadeus) though no evidence to support those rumors. Salieri had taken an interest in the young Schubert. Schubert, who is a character in The Dark Waltz, was seventeen at the time of the Congress and already having works performed(his first Mass premiered in October, 1814).
One could scarcely turn round without stumbling over a spy for one power or another. The Austrians tried to slip agents into the foreign delegations as scullery maids and bootboys. British Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh frustrated these efforts by bringing his servants with him from England. Everyone was combing through diplomatic wastebaskets looking for coded papers.
Scores of illicit love affairs took place in this frenetic atmosphere. Many of the delegates had come to Vienna without their spouses, expecting the Congress to only last a few weeks rather than months. Along with the official delegates, a number of powerful, glamorous women took up residence in Vienna and opened salons. French Foreign Minister Prince Talleyrand (who adroitly managed to maneuver himself into the heart of negotiations despite France being the defeated power) brought his beautiful young niece-by-marriage, Dorothée, as his hostess and fell in love with her himself, despite being thirty-nine years her senior (and despite the fact that her mother had recently been his mistress). Lovely, unhappy Tsarina Elisabeth of Russia found herself reunited with Adam Czartoryski, the charismatic Polish patriot who was probably the love of her life (and had also been her husband's best friend). Meanwhile her husband, Tsar Alexander, and Austrian Foreign Minister Prince Metternich, fierce rivals at the negotiating table, also were entangled with two of the same women, Princess Catherine Bagration ("the naked angel") and the brilliant Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan (Dorothée's elder sister). When I described this to my friend Penny she said, "surely in all Vienna they could find different women to pursue?" I said, "I think that was rather the point." The Tsar and Metternich carried their rivalry over to the boudoir. The plot of The Dark Waltz centers on a third, fictional woman, also involved with both Metternich and the Tsar, who is found murdered on the night she has summoned Metternich, Tsar Alexander, the hero (an English attaché who is possibly her lover) and his wife to her rooms, all at the same time.
I'll be posting more about the Congress of Vienna in the coming months. Meanwhile, what historical events have you always wanted to read or write a book about?