Actually I love to read “historicals”, those being the subject of all this month’s guest-author blogs, here, on “Guys Like Romance, Too”. There was a time when I don’t think there was a book ever written about Imperial Rome that I hadn’t eagerly devoured. I read just about every book that Thomas Costain, and/or Mary Renault, and/or James Michener ever wrote. Certainly, I was first in line at the book store when Gore Vidal decided to write JULIAN and CREATION, even, U.S. history never a favorite of mine, his LINCOLN and BURR.
As far as my loving to write an historical novel, it’s quite another story. While you may think, what with over 200 published books under my belt … to the point where they and I already have a mainstream 303-page reference book devoted entirely to us … that historical novels would share equal numbers with the other genres I’ve written, but you’d be mistaken. In point of fact, I can actually count upon the fingers of one hand the number of historical novels seen to have my name on their covers. I realized, as far back as 1973 … when, as William J. Lambert III, I penned my Roman novel GAIUS MAXIMUS as A Trojan Classic … that the genre was just too time-consuming in its need to provide accurate facts and figures, regarding a time period other than the one in which I existed. And don’t be fooled into thinking that readers of historical novels don’t know when and if an author makes any kind of historical faux pas, quick to call him out on of the carpet for it.
Mainly, when venturing into the genre, I’ve relegated it either to my short-stories, like my Roman “Paean to Pain” in my LOVE HURTS collection, and like my homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” via my “Ludus Scaenicus Mortis Rubrae” in the anthology RED, or to flashbacks of the kind found in my “Black Candle Reader” (World War II), and in my SUCKS: BOOK #1 OF THE DRAQUAL VAMPYRE CHRONICLES (Druidic Britannia).
Therefore, I wasn’t all that quick to jump at the invitation I received from Wayne Gunn, Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, to provide the cementing text he was after to bring together a number of translations by the late Jacques Murat and him of the erotic poems (from the original French) by the infamous poets and lovers Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. It took a whole lot of persuading, and I wasn’t playing any kind of superficial hard-to-get. Honestly, I thought I wasn’t up to the task he was requesting, although he continually and persistently begged to differ. In the end, and I thank him for it, his continual persistence paid off, the result of which saw me begin, proceed, and actually finish the project which has since become known as the critically acclaimed historical novel, ARDENNIAN BOY. To be thanked, too, is the always-ahead-of-the-pack Laura Baumbach, commander and chief at MLR Press, who was firmly onboard from the very beginning, providing encouragement, incentive, and a contract that included a hard-back edition of the book, before the manuscript was anything more than a perspective.
Certainly, out of the turbulent passion of Rimbaud and Verlaine poured some of the world’s most recognizably greatest poetry.
At the dawn of France’s Third Republic, Arthur Rimbaud arrived in Paris, fresh out of school. The precocious but untamed savage from Ardennes brought with him a sheaf of radically innovative poems and a letter of invitation from a rising literary star, the poet Paul Verlaine. Convinced the way to greatness was in taking the road of excess, the randy Arthur was ready to try any and everything. He rapidly seduced Paul and turned the latter’s bourgeois world on its head. Paul, trapped in an undesirable marriage, closeted, not to mention ten years Arthur’s senior, desired (and yet found himself unprepared for) the tempest that engulfed him.
…misfortune led a young punk to Paris: Raimbaud [sic], originally from Charleville, who came by himself to present his work to the Parnaissians. In both morals and natural talents, this Raimbaud, between fifteen and sixteen years old, was and remains a freak. He can write poetry like no one else, but the results are absolutely incomprehensible and repugnant. Verlaine fell in love with Raimbaud, who returned his passion: they took off to Belgium to indulge in heart’s ease…. —M Lombard, Peace Officer Paris Prefecture of Police, 4th Investigations Unit, Report submitted August 1, 1873.
Mortal! Angel! Devil! In short, Rimbaud!
You merit first place in my anthology;
Though stupid hacks regarded you like some jejune
Monster, a foul-mouthed kid, a drunken schoolboy,
Spirals of incense and the lute’s sweet tune
Herald your entry into the hall of fame,
Where glory forever chants your immortal name,
You who loved me for real, not for show.
— Paul Verlaine
In the end, ARDIENNIAN BOY chronicles one of history’s most infamous love affairs, which produced some of the most brazen and bawdy of the world’s academically-recognized literary poetry. The book, called “A masterpiece of literary erotica”, is definitely not for reading by anyone sexually faint at heart.