One pleasure recently - having gained some time as The Romancer is now proofed and ready for its print run - has been reading original materiel in the excellent reference library of the Bowes Museum.
I have been reading letters written to Josephine, the French wife of John Bowes. She was in safety in England but very popular with her her friends in France who continued to write to her as they experienced the worst of the Franco Prussian war and the siege of Paris.
The gossipy, urgent tone of these letters of the French demi-monde is redolent of its time in late 1860s France. Preoccupation with siege and safety mixes with social niceties and conventions being flouted. Thanks to Josephine for the use of her box at the opera sit there alongside concerns for the loss of a box of game, (shot in England by John) sent by Josephine as a gift to help the ousted soldiers and the poor in Calais.
What caught my eye yesterday was a reference in a letter (1870) to aeronauts who has landed in a balloon which had floated over the hated besieging Prussians and landed near Calais. The letter tells of aeronauts emerging with four pigeons. There were four birds because apparently the dastardly Prussians had birds of prey trained to attack and kill these winged messengers. So they attached the message to four birds hoping one would get through…
It occurred to me that these birds of prey were an innocent metaphor for the ultimately brutal occupying Prussians.