Victorine

The rattle of muskets and rumble of cannon, like thunder from an approaching storm, distant but distinct, interrupting the languor of the late morning heat. Victorine’s eyes darted from her vanity to the tall bedroom windows, which looked out across the northern half of Paris, all the way to Montmartre. They had been left half open the night before to ease the withering July heat. As the young woman sat and listened to the fading echo of the guns, there followed several moments of dead silence, and then the gentle cooing of doves on the roof above.

There was no mistaking it, however; Victorine was quite familiar with the sound of gunfire. The only daughter of a man without sons, her father the Count had taught her to shoot and hunt from an early age upon the wide-open game wardens comprising the Lafourcade family estate outside Soissons.

Does this mean people are dying? Victorine wondered. Tensions in Paris had been simmering for weeks, stoked by rumors of impending revolt by restless—— and hungry—— commoners. Victorine was shocked when just two days earlier—— on Sunday no less—— an angry mob had violently attacked the monastery Saint-Lazare and taken its stores of wheat, distributing it to the starving masses in the central market not seven blocks from her apartment. The disquieting sight of foreign troops moving around the outskirts of the city, sent on orders from the King in response to the mounting unrest, only fed the anxiety.

Because of the heat, Victorine had shunned convention and begun sleeping without a night garment. She moved to the window and leaned out, her flowing curls barely obscuring her breasts from full view from the street below, which was empty, save for a lone forgeron making his way to work. He had taken a good long look at Victorine’s unclothed form before she even noticed him, so she rebuffed him by giving him an indifferent Spanish Slap. As the man began to say something equally rude in response, a door opened behind her.

“Victorine! Come ‘way from that window! There’s danger out there today!”

Victorine turned to face her maidservant, Halima, a largish African woman whose complexion was pure Congolese, and whose exotic Lingalla inflection tingled the Continental ear. “Oh dear,” the maid said, as she quickly came into the room, grabbed a silk robe laying across the foot of the brass bed, and held it out for Victorine to put on. “If Monsieur Renelle knew you were parading naked like Eve in front of all Paris, he’d——”

“He wouldn’t give a damn,” Victorine said.

Halima looked with dismay upon her young lady, her charge since Victorine’s childhood, who was leaning back against the window sill with her arms crossed, glaring back with dancing eyes. The maid shook her head.

“If I had my way, I’d parade naked up and down the entire length of The Champs-Élysées!” Victorine said, as she stepped away from the window, yanking the robe out of the maid’s hand and draping it loosely over her shoulders, leaving the front defiantly wide open.

“Now why by the saints would you be wanting to do that?” Halima asked. She closed the robe and tied the belt snugly around Victorine’s waist.

“That’s how the women in your homeland do, Halima! Why can’t we European women do it, too?”

Halima turned and headed towards the dressing closet, mumbling something. Victorine, pretending to not hear her, fell backwards onto the bed.
“I am so bored. I have half a mind to go out and help the mob burn the damn city down.”

Halima emerged from the closet making the sign of the cross with one hand and holding a nicely tailored day frock in the other. “Stand back up, child; time to get dressed. Monsieur be here soon.”

“He’s coming to lunch, not breakfast.”

“Well, you can’t go ’round like this all morning. Get up, please.”

Victorine raised her head slightly, took one look at the drab green frock Halima was holding, and plopped back down into the bed. “I’m not wearing that ridiculous thing.”

Halima frowned, returned to the closet, and a moment later emerged holding a lemon-colored sun dress made for just such a hot summer day. “Stand up, m’Lady.”

Victorine rolled onto her side and lifted up on an elbow so she could see what Halima was holding. “Oh hell no!”

As Halima lowered her head and turned back toward the closet, Victorine’s attention was caught by the beautiful sitting room dress of azure Duchesse satin which was fitted over a headless mannequin standing near the vanity. She popped up and went over and began stroking the sleek fabric in her fingers and against the back of her hands. Such a dress was a rarity even among the wealthy due to its color. “Here, Hallie… help me on with this.”

“Now, now, child; in this heat you don’t need to be wearing a fancy thing like that——”

“Don’t backtalk me, woman, I’ve made my decision. Fetch me a corset and help me on with it.”

Halima sighed and retrieved undergarments and a corset from the closet. As she ably guided Victorine into them, Halima continued to mutter under her breath, while Victorine steadied herself by holding the maid’s shoulders. Halima then removed the dress from the mannequin, helped Victorine step down through it, and began lacing it up loosely around her.

“I suppose it be okay, since you can’t leave the apartment today, what with so much trouble about,” Halima said.

“As a matter of fact, I am going out today.”

The maid wheeled her gently around and met her with a scowl. “No. Your father, bless his soul, he would send me to Tangier and sell me to the slave traders if he know I let you go out today.”

“My father is old and his mind is feeble.”

“This is true; but I promised him during his better days that I keep you from trouble. Besides, what would Monsieur say?”

15 thoughts on “Victorine

  1. johnsonofdaw says:

    Victorine: Writing flows nicely and dialoge is convincing and interesting. Am getting to know Victorine and Halima and had a glimpse of the Count and Monsieur. Have a good idea of the geographic setting, but havn’t placed the time period yet.

  2. karengrikitis says:

    I like your characterisation of Victorine and the narrative flows very well. I’m not sure there’s enough to get me really hooked in these opening passages, though I would read on in the hope of finding something to draw me in later in this first chapter. Watch out for syntax errors.

  3. Kathy Panzella says:

    The rattle of muskets and rumble of cannon, like thunder from an approaching storm, distant but distinct, interrupting (interrupted?) the languor of the late morning heat. upon the wide-open game wardens ( wardens means an officer or guard in contemporary English so would change to fields) comprising the Lafourcade family estate outside Soissons. (where? Soissons (French pronunciation: ​[swa.sɔ̃]) is a commune in the Aisne department in Picardy in northern France, located on the Aisne River, about 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast of Paris. So would change to “outside Soissons, a day’s ride northeast of Paris.” Would delete: Does this mean people are dying? Victorine wondered. “giving him an indifferent Spanish Slap.” (meaning?) or say, giving him an insolent upturned palm. The sentence, Tensions in Paris had been simmering for weeks, stoked by rumors of impending revolt by restless—— and hungry—— commoners., makes me think that your story is about the French Revolution. Am I right?

  4. Hades-uftg Tartarus says:

    The setting is interesting. However, the writing needs a lot of work. I’d suggest you pay attention to sentence structure. “The rattle of muskets and rumble of cannon, like thunder from an approaching storm, distant but distinct, interrupting the languor of the late morning heat.”
    This clause is very awkward. It isn’t an independent clause. It doesn’t have a verb. “Interrupting” is a verbal, not a verb. Maybe if you simplify: the rattle of the muskets and rumble of cannon interrupted the languor of the late morning. (heat has nothing to do with the sound so I’d get rid of it).

    “As the young woman sat and listened to the fading echo of the guns, there followed several moments of dead silence, and then the gentle cooing of doves on the roof above.”
    Another awkward sentence. You don’t have a full thought here.

    Also, I was taken away from the scene pretty early on to read backstory that doesn’t add anything to the scene. I’d suggest you try to stay in the moment and make sure something of interest is happening.

    You have good ideas, but this opening comes across as passive. Nothing really happens. There’s a war out there and this lady just sits around, being frivolous. This kind of thng is okay, but only if the characterization is strong and there’s a bit of tension. Thiere’s no tension here; and the POV is all over the place.

  5. Ellen M. says:

    Nothing exciting happened and I wasn’t hooked. I have read stories before about young women and their servants and the relationship between your characters is the same as others I read. There is always a young defiant woman in charge of her maid. The maid always tries to make her stop some improper action. It’s overdone.
    I think the story about a revolt could go a hundred different directions and is a good choice.
    I didn’t find some of the dialog true to the times. Examples: when Victorine tells her maid, “Hell no.” – That is something that people say these days on sitcoms, but I can’t visualize a young woman in your story saying it like that.
    When Victorine addresses her maid by saying, ” Don’t backtalk me woman…
    I can visualize a man saying that to a woman but not two women engaged that way.
    The dialogue seemed to modern for them.
    I know it seems like I’m picking a lot but it wasn’t bad. I thought some of it was amusing. Keep writing.

  6. Alex Zaykov says:

    Hi Douglas,
    The world in your story is pretty well fleshed out. I like the atmosphere of the scene, the sort of lull before the revolution explodes. I think the first scene can be tightened up without damaging the proper introduction of Victorine. There are a number of details – the dress picking, the nakedness and the lying around, the dialogue with the servant, – that serve the same purpose to show that Victorine is headstrong, spoiled, bored with her tedious life. You can lose at least one element or make all of them more concise and move on to the part where hell breaks loose. 🙂 I know how hard it is to cut living flesh out of your novel draft, but sometimes we tend to dwell too long on a scene or a point that is actually not needed. Just before I posted my draft here I finally found a way of cutting a long dialogue from the first page by two-thirds even though I liked it very much. I shortened the text between the hook in the second sentence to the ensuing battle from 840 to 550 and it wasn’t easy, but may not be enough.

    The story looks promising and engaging. Good luck!

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