Last week I wrote about how Marville’s old photographs of Paris allowed me to enter Victorine’s world. I needed that gift from the past, the history provided by Marville. But the flow goes both ways: there are some things of mine, from the present, that I gave to Victorine.
It’s what novelists do: we give pieces of our own experience to our characters. In this instance, though, I mean that in writing Paris Red, I gave an object I own to Victorine.
A coppery shawl. A shawl the color of a newish penny.
It was something she really might have owned—everyone had shawls back then. Plus, it was something I treasured. I used to wear it as a winter scarf, but the fringe kept pulling out, and since I didn’t want to ruin it entirely, I folded it away.
Then, without me even thinking about it, the shawl worked its way into the novel. I don’t know how or why, but once it showed up, it clearly belonged in the novel. It belonged to Victorine.
As it turns out, it’s a good shawl for a character in a novel set in Paris in the 1860s. Here’s a photo of a shawl from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that’s similar to mine. This black shawl is dated from the 1840s and is “probably French”:
In the novel, Victorine receives the coppery shawl as a gift. It’s a bit worn, just as my shawl is, but she loves it because of its color and fringe.
I think my shawl is the color of Victorine Meurent’s hair. More than that, I now wonder if I bought my shawl twenty years ago because it reminded me of the hair color of some redheads.
I think that’s how it is sometimes: we love without knowing why. I know I loved the story of the woman in Manet’s paintings before I knew anything about her.