The Interrogation of Nicole d’Oliva Part 2

 Previously on the Affair of the Diamond Necklace . . .

My last post (here) was part 1 of my translation of Nicole d’Oliva’s testimony to the court during the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. The examiner told us how she told him that she had met Nicolas de La Motte one day while walking at the Palais-Royal. He took her to meet his wife, Jeanne de La Motte. The pair called themselves Comte and Comtesse, and

Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1783 by Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun. The gown and headdress were changed because the queen’s white muslin dress in the original portrait was considered inappropriate. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

made Nicole part of their circle. Jeanne claimed to be a friend of the Queen’s, and on a summer night, she took Nicole out to do a little favor for the Queen. Nicole was to hand a man a rose and a letter and said, “You know what this means.” She was playing the part of the Queen in the gardens of Versailles–in particular the Grove of Venus.

Here’s the short story.

Suffice it to say that Nicole’s bit of playacting fooled a credulous Cardinal into thinking Marie-Antoinette favored him. He later acted as guarantor for what he thought was a purchase of a necklace on the Queen’s behalf. Jeanne was the go-between. The necklace disappeared (presumably, Jeanne stole it), and eventually all parties were arrested. As a result, Nicole was interrogated.

As mentioned in part 1, this is my attempt at a translation of a transcription from a book in French. I do not know French, so it was difficult. Some of the phrasing might be stilted, and some phrases were downright impossible for me to decipher confidently. But, without further ado, here is PART TWO:

We asked whether, when this person came, she lifted her hat “avec son éventail” [with her fan] and he said to her that he hoped she would forget what had happened in the past [the interrogator is asking about the Grove of Venus scene, and the person in question is Cardinal Rohan] . She answered that she did not raise the white Thérèse [a kind of hat] she had on her head, that she had no fan that night, and that she did not say she forgot the past because she was not able to say anything of the sort.

A little background is helpful here; the Cardinal had mortally offended Marie-Antoinette when she was still Dauphine by insulting her mother. He’d been trying to win back the Queen’s favor ever since (unsuccessfully). This is “the past” that Rohan wished her to forget–keep in mind that he thought he was talking to the Queen herself. Nicole’s comment implies that she was confused by the Cardinal’s words and wasn’t sure how to answer him without breaking character as it were.

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The Literary Run-Around

When I first came across the story of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace–I can’t recall when that was–and decided to write a novel about it–that was some five years ago, now–I knew it had fantastic potential. With that belief, and some humble faith in my writing ability, I started writing. I chose to focus on Nicole d’Oliva, a minor character who nonetheless had a compelling story to tell. I even decided to write it in first person.

After years of writing, rewriting, and editing, I produced a novel of 93,000 words and several hundred thousand words of discarded text. This is the brief story of my efforts, so far, to get an agent to represent Grove of Venus.

First, I queried an agent who I knew was interested in historical fiction. She seemed like a wonderful prospect, and I has very high hopes. I was thrilled to hear back from her shortly after sending my query. She requested the full manuscript, and I was more than pleased to send it on to her. Because I know well that the publishing industry works very slowly, I allowed several months before sending a polite little request for an update. She replied that no news was good news and that she hadn’t gotten around to reading my full manuscript yet. I waited another several months and sent another email asking for news. By this time, it had been something like six months since the first query. Unfortunately, the reply was a no–she didn’t feel strongly enough about the manuscript to represent it. The good news is that she said the writing was strong.

I’d begun with this one agent and since she was considering my full manuscript, I didn’t query any other agents until after she rejected it. This means that just a few weeks ago I began querying in earnest. I started with six and got another request for a full. Again, I was hopeful, and sent off the full. This agent was much faster in getting back to me, but unfortunately it was another rejection. He gave me some reasons, all of which were relatively encouraging. He had another client working on a similar project and he, also, wasn’t passionate about the book.

I’m not sure whether to say it’s a good thing that I received two full requests, and that the proportion of full requests to queries is high, or whether to say it’s a bad thing that both full requests resulted in rejection. Does this mean my pitch is flashy but the manuscript doesn’t live up to it? Or does it mean I’m very close to finding an agent who’s hooked by the query AND by the manuscript?

Time will tell. I only hope to get this book out there for everyone to read!

Grove of Venus


Imagine, if you will, that you are a young woman raised in poverty but fed on stories of your royal lineage–your great-great-great grandfather was the illegitimate son of Henri II. You have tried everything to get the attention of the King, your distant relative, and the Queen, his wife who is spoiled but generally supposed to guide her husband. You’ve attempted fainting in front of the King’s sister; you’ve attempted to sit in the office of the King’s minster, refusing to leave until you get some more money; you’ve been given the honor of carrying the royal name “Valois” but this hasn’t helped finances. You have been forced to sell the modest pension given to you by the crown–instead of steady installments, you get one lump sum.

Now it’s time to get creative.

A ceiling at Versailles--mostly I add it here because it's pretty.

Jeanne de La Motte-Valois (self-styled “Comtesse”) was nothing if not creative and bold. If she couldn’t get anywhere using the official channels, she would turn to deception. The deception was simple enough: she pretended to be Marie Antoinette’s newest BFF. Being the Queen’s friend didn’t just sound nice. When you had the ear of the Queen, people came flocking to you, asking you to talk to the Queen on their behalf. All she would ask in return was a little (monetary) reward. This was not a new con. It had been done before.

However, Jeanne took it to a startling new level. Her biggest victim was Cardinal Prince Louis de Rohan, one of the most important people in France, but on bad terms with the Queen. Jeanne sent him forged letters from “the Queen” and did all kinds of clever things to make him believe that the Queen was willing to reconcile with him. She even convinced him that the Queen needed small loans. The money, of course, went straight into Jeanne’s coffers.

But what is a self-styled Comtesse to do when the Cardinal she is conning begins to doubt her? Set up a face-to-face meeting between the Cardinal and the Queen. [click below to continue reading]

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