About two years ago, I started the process of writing a novel based on the life of Betsy Bonaparte. That November we traveled to her hometown of Baltimore to do research. My first full day there, I visited Betsy’s grave to pay my respects. As you can see, the grave has a high marble slab with carved columns at each corner. Misty rain was falling, and giant crows hopped from gravestone to gravestone cawing. It was like a scene out of Edgar Allan Poe. I was weeping. I promised Betsy that I would do my best to portray her fairly, without some of the stereotypes and harsh judgments that have crept into the historical records about her.
Then I found a violet blooming near her tomb. It was late autumn, yet there was a spring flower. So I picked it. I’ve never been able to smell violets. It always disappointed me bitterly as a little girl. However, the one I picked that rainy November day had a powerful scent. I took it with me to press. I still have it in a notebook I carried that week.
After leaving the cemetery, we visited a historic home that had a piece of Betsy’s furniture on display. It was a home she would have visited during her lifetime. After the tour, I found and bought a box of violet-scented powder in the gift shop. When we got back to the inn, I googled Betsy’s name and the word violet, and I discovered that the flower was associated with those who supported the Bonapartes. That was fitting. In spite of the difficulties she face, Betsy never lost her admiration for the emperor.
The whole story is eerie, n’est-ce pas? To me, it felt as thought Betsy was granting me permission to do this project. And I did my best to keep that graveyard promise to her as I wrote The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte.
9 responses to “Paying My Respects”
What lovely way to introduce us to Betsy. And a violet in late autumn, with a scent that you could finally smell? I, too, think she was giving you permission to write her story.
Thanks, Pennie. I worked a couple of references to violets into the novel as a kind of homage to this experience.
this is all very touching—-I understand why you were weeping I’m sure you will treat her story with love and respect
I love this story of the violet. What a wonderful sign. I know Betsy was granting you special permission to write her story.
A beautiful post, Ruth. I have to agree with other posters about she was Betsy was with you! Best wishes to you and your book!
I’m really looking forward to the publication of your book.
To think there actually was a Betsy Bonaparte from Baltimore! It reminds me of that old jump rope rhyme, “A my name is Alice, my husband’s name is Albert, I live in Alabama, and I like apples” and so forth. Betsy would have fit right in! (P.S. – I never jumped rope — only girls did that in the old days — but I sure watched them doing it and heard the rhyme many times!)
Hi Bob! Thanks for visiting the site. I love the jump rope memory. Hmmm. What would Betsy say she liked? Bananas? Berries?
I love the violet story!