Also, over the next couple of months on her blog, Julie will be offering a series of posts on historical fiction beyond the Tudor trend. Welcome, Julie!
For me, authors like Patrick O'Brian, Connie Willis, and Heather Domin do just that – you feel the oppressive openness of the ocean in O'Brian (how's that for unintended alliteration?), the wintery isolation of Willis' mediaeval Oxfordshire, the sun-baked Roman courtyard in Domin's novel. As an author, it's a unique challenge. It's difficult enough to capture the feeling, the soul, of a place in modern times, never mind imagining what it would have been like 200, 600, 1,000 years ago.
Capturing a sense of the great basilica at Vézelay – both past and present - was the genesis of my novel The Pilgrim Glass. My husband and I visited France in November 2002, traveling to Burgundy and Paris. He was a budding oenophile, and I had always had an affinity for France (I suppose seven years of school French will do that to you). We'd had a lovely time in Beaune and the Côte d'Or and, on our rainy drive back to Paris, decided to stop off in Vézelay on a whim.
It was bitterly cold that day – well, bitterly cold to a couple of Californians. The town was mostly empty, and we drove our rental car up the narrow, winding street and parked right under the shadow of the massive Romanesque basilica. We were the only people there, and the silvery light from the clear windows made it feel both more lonely and more awesome (in both the old and new senses of the word). We explored the crypt below the altar, and the cloisters, and the park. We read the stories of the capitals and the tympanum, and admired the last of the roses clinging to the garden wall.
I wanted to know all about this place, the starting point for so many mediaeval pilgrimages to Compostela. What did it feel like to stand, alone, in that great echoing space hundreds of years before? What was buried under rubble and centuries? Who else stood in that spot, what did they think, did they see the same things I did, feel the same things? What was it like when the light was golden, and not silvery? What was it like to know only how to read the capitals in the church, and not words on a page?
Historical fiction allows us to suggest answers to these questions, to travel both in time and space. I hope the novel conveys a sense of this lyrical village on a hill, both in the present and in the past. I hope, through Jonas, I've conveyed the awe and wonder I felt in the great cathedral that cold morning in early November.
Julie K. Rose is a regular reviewer for the Historical Novels Review and has published short stories in a variety of speculative fiction publications. She is also an art history buff, mandolin mangler, mystic poetry lover, terrible singer, history lover, and wanderlust-addled bleeding heart liberal. The Pilgrim Glass, her first novel, is available now at Amazon (trade pb or Kindle) and at B&N. For more details, see Julie's web site.