Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Géricault's Horses

In the opening chapter of The Appassionata, four-year old Tori looks out her bedroom window, watching her parents in the street below as they board a carriage that will take them to the opening of Hugo's play, Hernani. She's balanced on her rocking horse and quite enchanted with a white horses that is in the team below.

Théodore Géricault, I've come to realize, was totally into horses. Not only did he ride (and suffer several bad falls that ultimately killed him), he painted horses over and over again—including this image of a carousel horse. That Delacroix (who posed as a model for Géricault and was deeply influenced by him) has in his possession a study, a sketch or even a completed work of one of Géricault's horses, a sentimental memento that he's studied carefully, makes sense to me.

It also makes sense that he would use Géricault's image to talk to Liszt about visual art and the horse in his own work, Death of Sardannopolis. This huge painting is covering the wall in Delacroix's studio. Liszt finds it stunning.

Right now, Tori is caught up in the mythology of Pegasus. I worry that Pegasus has been over-exposed so I'm looking for another mythic equine to hang all this on, but perhaps it's enough to simply change the name to its French spelling, Pégase. Yes?

The reason all this is important, is that Tori witnesses the death of that same white carriage horse, the one she spots from her window, some six months later when she and her mother are caught up in the street violence of 1830. The horse's death traumatizes her and comes to represent in her psyche the whole of the violence she witnessed that day. One thing that seems missing is her interaction with the horse when she boards the carriage. I need to find a way to bring a small exchange between girl and horse into the story. Let her feed the animal an apple or something.

The horse is a symbolic character moving through the story. It has a role in Jacques Jölliet's relationship to Tori too. Jacques is a young officer who wants to marry Tori. A white horse should appear in the periphery whenever Tori is about to experience a death of some kind or a disappointment. For example, what if, when Tori and Liszt are on the footbridge in Chartres talking and seeming close and promising, Tori notices a rider coming down the street on a white horse. At this point she and Liszt have not discussed the death of carriage horse that they both witnessed and remember.

The horse and rider just go by, Tori notices, has some response, but not enough to speak of it. Then, that evening she learns Liszt is leaving Paris—without her, their relationship is over. The next time we would see the white horse it would set up a tension for what's to come next, and this is in the section I'm now beginning to write, the section of the book that follows the relationship between Jacques and Tori, set in the street violence and political upheaval of 1848.

My justification for bringing Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) into the novel, at least in name, is he's considered the first and most important painter of the Romantic era. Delacroix is better known, is the bigger modern celebrity, but Delacroix could be considered a student of Géricault, certainly an admirer. It feels important to find some way to make Géricault's influence known, and to get some of his biography on the page.

I know very little about him as of yet, except that he loved to ride, suffered from depression, lived in Montmartre and was considered a dandy. And here's a juicy something: Géricault fathered a child to Alexandrine-Modeste de Saint-Martin, born 1785. The daughter of a military officer, she married Géricault's uncle and they had two sons. She became Géricault’s lover in 1814 (she would have been 29, Gericourt 23) and got pregnant. Géricault left for Rome, perhaps to avoid the complications of the affair. After his death she lived mostly in seclusion. Gotta say, this sparks all sorts of thoughts in my writer's mind.

He died at age thirty-three believing he had wasted his time, not painted anything of value. He seemed to have had difficulty caring for himself. His death came on, in part, because he ignored his injuries. I read that one fall led to some kind of ulceration on his spine, which was ultimately responsible for his death. I'm still trying to find the information. Apparently he suffered from tuberculosis as well, who didn't? It was a terrible plague in its day.

I've located an English library in Paris where books in English are available, at least on site. I'm going to make a trip there soon in hopes that I'll be able to find information on all of the more obscure characters I'm writing about, including Louise and Aristide Farrenc, Victorine, of course, and the poet, Elisa Mercoeur.  Géricault is a big name in France, certainly I'll find more about him there.

This last image by Géricault reminds me a bit of Delacroix's tiger painting.


  1. Molly,

    Cara Black had a status message on Facebook linking to a travel article of Paris. I think you should not only read that post, but add Cara as one of your FB friends. And if you haven't read any of Cara's novels you should since they all take place in Paris. Each novel centers on a different neighborhood.

    Here's the link:


  2. Molly,
    Because I've had trouble in the past with putting more than one link in a comment, I'm doing these in separate comment posts.

    In regard to researching horses, you might consider visiting Chantilly. It's about an hour RER trainride north of Paris. We did that on our last day when we in Paris two years ago.

    It's about a twenty minute walk from the station to the chateaux. There's one for the people and one for the horses. It has a wonderful museum dedicated to all things equestrian. You might want to call ahead and see if you can get an English language guide to schedule a tour for you. It might happen.

    Here's a link to my post on my trip there:

  3. Aaaand for my third link...you had mentioned trips outside of Paris. Here is one that may not be in the Romantic period, but it is highly romantic and highly recommended by me.

    Guedelon in the Burgundy region. It is about an hour and a half drive south of Paris. So if you somehow get a car or perhaps befriend someone with a car...consider going there on a weekend.

    It is an amazing site. I talked Cindy Pavlinac into making a side trip there when she was on a trip to photograph Chartres Cathedrale. She agrees that it was well worth the effort getting there.

    They have been building a castle the old fashioned way for the last twelve years. The project is expected to take twenty five years to complete.

    It is simply amazing.

    Here's my blog write up on the subject:


    Oh, and should you go, please be sure to ask to meet Julie and Noemi. Tell them that you are my friend. I am helping them spread the word about their latest project which is creating a similar castle from the ground up in Arkansas that will be opening to the public in May 2010.