Time travel to Egypt

Eye_of_horus_2   From Loretta:
 
  My blog went up at the crack of dawn last week (well, before 10 AM is dawn to me) because we were driving down to NYC for the day, so that I could see Napoleon on the Nile: Soldiers, Artists, and the Rediscovery of Egypt, at the Dahesh Museum  http://www.daheshmuseum.org/
      I had never heard of this museum before reading a review of the exhibition in the New Yorker.  It is a very interesting place, and I highly recommend it to those interested in academic art of the 19th and early 20th century.  Anyone interested in a little more insight into some of the historical background of Mr. Impossible would probably enjoy it, too.  If you can’t get there, please do visit the website, which includes a podcast, a short video tour, and pictures.
      Museums–and not only living history museums like Old Sturbridge Village–are important research tools for me.  For those of us without quick access to the British Museum, the collections and exhibitions within driving distance are research oases.
      At certain nearby museums are Regency-era portraits, for instance, that I revisit as one would visit old friends.  Susan/Miranda can tell us far more about these portraits than I ever could–her comments on the portrait of Sarah Churchill used on the cover of Duchess enhanced my understanding of the work tenfold.  But even without really understanding them properly, I get a great deal out of viewing them.  For one thing, a painting in a museum is the real McCoy, not a small reproduction in a book.  One of the portraits I visit repeatedly is of a couple, and the painting is enormous, the subjects about life size.  A picture is a whole different experience when you see it full size, when you can see the texture of the paint.  And in some mysterious way, one seems to absorb a sense of the time in which it was painted.
      The same holds for engravings, I discovered.
      The bulk of the Dahesh exhibition includes engravings from the Description de L’Egypte.  This massive work–published between 1809 and 1829 and comprising in its first edition, according to my catalog of the exhibition, “ten volumes of explanatory text and thirteen volumes of engraved folio plates”–was the work of an army of artists and scholars Napoleon took with him on his Egyptian campaign.  The military campaign (1798-1801) ended in failure.  The Description de L’Egypte, however, is a world wonder, an extraordinary scholarly achievement.  It’s mentioned several times in Mr. Impossible because, if not for it, Daphne would not be in Egypt because she would never have discovered hieroglyphs.  Not only is the Description considered the foundation of Egyptology but it gave rise to the burst of interest and travel (and many other things, good and ill) of the early 19th C often referred to as the “rediscovery” of Egypt.
     Description_de_legypte I have a small reproduction volume of the collection of engraved plates as well as some larger reproductions in various works I consulted while writing Mr. Impossible.  I have seen scholars on TV opening its pages, so I had an idea of the size.  But nothing prepared me for the engravings themselves.
      The works are big, averaging about two feet by a foot and a half in size.  Some are larger, some smaller.  The detail is simply astounding.  And it is its details that make the Description invaluable to Egyptologists.  In some cases, these engravings provide our only accurate record of monuments now lost.  In other cases, they provide a clean, sharp, and reliable record of hieroglyphs and images that over time–and with abuse of various kinds–have been marred, dulled, or destroyed.
      Horus_on_wallsmall Among other stunning accomplishments was a replica of a papyrus:  They copied down every last image and hieroglyph exactly–not that the papyrus was the only example of this.  Wherever they found hieroglyphs–basically everywhere, and at the time, completely indecipherable–they copied them…each and every one.  This strict attention to detail was priceless later, when scholars finally were able to decipher hieroglyphic writing.
      However, I am not an Egyptologist and I can’t read hieroglyphs and my story wasn’t about ancient Egypt but about early 19th C Egypt, and here, again, the Description was indispensable because, in addition to meticulously recording monuments (as well as imagining, based on what remained, what these might have looked like in their prime), it records the “modern” Egypt of about 1800.  Since that Egypt had not changed much as of 1821, when my story takes place, the Description offered the equivalent of photographs of the people and places my char
acters might have seen.
      The Description engravings were not the only interesting objects in the show.  Among other eye-openers for me were some 1830s reprints of James Gillray caricature prints from 1799.  Once again, size matters.  All my late 18th C and early 19th C caricature prints are little reproductions in books.  The real prints (and reprints) have a completely different impact–and the wit comes through more clearly, I found–when one can see every detail and read easily the bubbles over the characters’ heads as well as the lengthy titles of the works.  Seeing these prints life-size gave me a stronger sense than ever of their impact on the public–and why a character like my Lord Rathbourne of Lord Perfect would not want to see himself featured in such prints.  These are not like the small political cartoons one sees in the newspapers.  Imagine yourself pilloried on a colored engraving 10 inches by 14 inches prominently displayed in a shop window on a London street where your family, friends, and enemies might see it as they stroll by.
      I imagine such things as I write my stories, and it helps me understand my characters and the world they live in.  My world includes photography, film, video and the instant gratification of the internet–to see pix of illustrations from the Description de l’Egypte, all one need to do is look it up in Google Images.  The bulk of my research is via books but always I crave visual images.  For those of us writing in the pre-photography era, the art of the time is our window into the past.  And when it comes to art, there truly is nothing like the genuine article.
      Luxor_entrancesmall_1 Still, I’m the writer not the reader, and I know that not everyone finds museums stimulating.  Some of you have expressed your opinions about how much history you want in a story.  My question is, Do you go looking for more?  Do you like to?  Is there any fiction or non-fiction you’ve read lately that has compelled you to do some Googling or make a trip to your library or a museum?  Do you like museums–and if you do, which do you like best?
      Yes, it’s a lot of questions, because I’m nosy.  Feel free to dive in anywhere.
      

36 thoughts on “Time travel to Egypt”

  1. Oh, Loretta, you make me lust for that exhibition! As you say, period art is a gold mine for those of us who write in times gone by, before photography. No wonder Mr. Impossible had such an incredible sense of place!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  2. Oh, Loretta, you make me lust for that exhibition! As you say, period art is a gold mine for those of us who write in times gone by, before photography. No wonder Mr. Impossible had such an incredible sense of place!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  3. Oh, Loretta, you make me lust for that exhibition! As you say, period art is a gold mine for those of us who write in times gone by, before photography. No wonder Mr. Impossible had such an incredible sense of place!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  4. Oh, Loretta, you make me lust for that exhibition! As you say, period art is a gold mine for those of us who write in times gone by, before photography. No wonder Mr. Impossible had such an incredible sense of place!
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  5. I did not know of the exhibition currently running in NYC, and have never been to that museum, but I saw an excellent exhibition on the same theme in Paris in 1998.
    Napoleon’s Egypt expedition was, as you say, a huge step forward in scholarship, and one that is rarely matched even today because of its integrated, cross-disciplinary character, which you have described so vividly.
    To return to your question, I don’t see how anyone writing fiction based in a period other than the here and now could fail to find inspiration and new insights in museums and galleries. Artefacts carry within them echoes of the meanings they have had to all the humans who made, used and observed them: they are a conduit into the past that we can all use.
    I speak as one who has handled ancient objects every day of my working life. I was a museum curator for 40 years… 🙂
    If anyone doesn’t know the British Museum’s website, do make a note of it: http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk
    and remember that if you have questions, you can e-mail curators in the appropriate BM departments, and they will do their best to help you.

    Reply
  6. I did not know of the exhibition currently running in NYC, and have never been to that museum, but I saw an excellent exhibition on the same theme in Paris in 1998.
    Napoleon’s Egypt expedition was, as you say, a huge step forward in scholarship, and one that is rarely matched even today because of its integrated, cross-disciplinary character, which you have described so vividly.
    To return to your question, I don’t see how anyone writing fiction based in a period other than the here and now could fail to find inspiration and new insights in museums and galleries. Artefacts carry within them echoes of the meanings they have had to all the humans who made, used and observed them: they are a conduit into the past that we can all use.
    I speak as one who has handled ancient objects every day of my working life. I was a museum curator for 40 years… 🙂
    If anyone doesn’t know the British Museum’s website, do make a note of it: http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk
    and remember that if you have questions, you can e-mail curators in the appropriate BM departments, and they will do their best to help you.

    Reply
  7. I did not know of the exhibition currently running in NYC, and have never been to that museum, but I saw an excellent exhibition on the same theme in Paris in 1998.
    Napoleon’s Egypt expedition was, as you say, a huge step forward in scholarship, and one that is rarely matched even today because of its integrated, cross-disciplinary character, which you have described so vividly.
    To return to your question, I don’t see how anyone writing fiction based in a period other than the here and now could fail to find inspiration and new insights in museums and galleries. Artefacts carry within them echoes of the meanings they have had to all the humans who made, used and observed them: they are a conduit into the past that we can all use.
    I speak as one who has handled ancient objects every day of my working life. I was a museum curator for 40 years… 🙂
    If anyone doesn’t know the British Museum’s website, do make a note of it: http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk
    and remember that if you have questions, you can e-mail curators in the appropriate BM departments, and they will do their best to help you.

    Reply
  8. I did not know of the exhibition currently running in NYC, and have never been to that museum, but I saw an excellent exhibition on the same theme in Paris in 1998.
    Napoleon’s Egypt expedition was, as you say, a huge step forward in scholarship, and one that is rarely matched even today because of its integrated, cross-disciplinary character, which you have described so vividly.
    To return to your question, I don’t see how anyone writing fiction based in a period other than the here and now could fail to find inspiration and new insights in museums and galleries. Artefacts carry within them echoes of the meanings they have had to all the humans who made, used and observed them: they are a conduit into the past that we can all use.
    I speak as one who has handled ancient objects every day of my working life. I was a museum curator for 40 years… 🙂
    If anyone doesn’t know the British Museum’s website, do make a note of it: http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk
    and remember that if you have questions, you can e-mail curators in the appropriate BM departments, and they will do their best to help you.

    Reply
  9. As a reader I often find myself going to look at websites after I have read a book! Even more contemporary ones that feature unusual locations, can make me want to go and visit right now! I call it cyber-tourism!

    Reply
  10. As a reader I often find myself going to look at websites after I have read a book! Even more contemporary ones that feature unusual locations, can make me want to go and visit right now! I call it cyber-tourism!

    Reply
  11. As a reader I often find myself going to look at websites after I have read a book! Even more contemporary ones that feature unusual locations, can make me want to go and visit right now! I call it cyber-tourism!

    Reply
  12. As a reader I often find myself going to look at websites after I have read a book! Even more contemporary ones that feature unusual locations, can make me want to go and visit right now! I call it cyber-tourism!

    Reply
  13. I constantly Google stuff when I come across something I didn’t know as I read…like Waghorn’s “quick trips” from India to England. A charming self-portrait of Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun in my National Gallery (London) mini-book compelled me to learn all about this unconventional female artist and make her an inspiration to my artist heroine.
    I am museum-mad (worked in a local historical society museum for three years–heaven except for the sneezing)and love the Victoria and Albert Museum in London above all else. It simply has everything. I’m also fond of historic houses that are open to the public in England and New England, where I live.
    I haven’t had a history class since high school, but have made up for it reading as much historical fiction and non-fiction as I can. Now I know a very little bit about a lot of things, so just call me a life-long learner!

    Reply
  14. I constantly Google stuff when I come across something I didn’t know as I read…like Waghorn’s “quick trips” from India to England. A charming self-portrait of Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun in my National Gallery (London) mini-book compelled me to learn all about this unconventional female artist and make her an inspiration to my artist heroine.
    I am museum-mad (worked in a local historical society museum for three years–heaven except for the sneezing)and love the Victoria and Albert Museum in London above all else. It simply has everything. I’m also fond of historic houses that are open to the public in England and New England, where I live.
    I haven’t had a history class since high school, but have made up for it reading as much historical fiction and non-fiction as I can. Now I know a very little bit about a lot of things, so just call me a life-long learner!

    Reply
  15. I constantly Google stuff when I come across something I didn’t know as I read…like Waghorn’s “quick trips” from India to England. A charming self-portrait of Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun in my National Gallery (London) mini-book compelled me to learn all about this unconventional female artist and make her an inspiration to my artist heroine.
    I am museum-mad (worked in a local historical society museum for three years–heaven except for the sneezing)and love the Victoria and Albert Museum in London above all else. It simply has everything. I’m also fond of historic houses that are open to the public in England and New England, where I live.
    I haven’t had a history class since high school, but have made up for it reading as much historical fiction and non-fiction as I can. Now I know a very little bit about a lot of things, so just call me a life-long learner!

    Reply
  16. I constantly Google stuff when I come across something I didn’t know as I read…like Waghorn’s “quick trips” from India to England. A charming self-portrait of Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun in my National Gallery (London) mini-book compelled me to learn all about this unconventional female artist and make her an inspiration to my artist heroine.
    I am museum-mad (worked in a local historical society museum for three years–heaven except for the sneezing)and love the Victoria and Albert Museum in London above all else. It simply has everything. I’m also fond of historic houses that are open to the public in England and New England, where I live.
    I haven’t had a history class since high school, but have made up for it reading as much historical fiction and non-fiction as I can. Now I know a very little bit about a lot of things, so just call me a life-long learner!

    Reply
  17. Fabulous post, Loretta. It makes me yearn for my first love, archaeology and Egypt in particular. When I was a grad student in art history, I seriously considered switching over to an archaeology major to become an Egyptologist. At the time, a switch like that meant going to another school, as our main Egyptology prof was leaving. With husband and baby to consider, the change wasn’t feasible for me. Medieval it was….
    And I too have a lifelong love of museums and artifacts. My knees go weak in the British Museum. In fact, any museum….
    I loved Mr. Impossible for many reasons, and one of them was your wonderful, fresh use of the Egyptology stuff (I’m a big Amelia Peabody fan, but to be honest I haven’t been able to keep up with the series). You did a knock-out job with the archaeological details.
    It’s an added challenge to write about historical archaeological practices, as one has to ignore the exciting new stuff and dig around for the exciting older ideas and practices. I wrote about archaeology in Waking the Princess, where the Victorian heroine was an antiquarian and budding archaeologist searching for clues to solve the question of King Arthur in Scotland. I loved writing that book — such vicarious fun digging around in cold Scottish mud looking for Arthurian clues. 😉
    Susan Sarah

    Reply
  18. Fabulous post, Loretta. It makes me yearn for my first love, archaeology and Egypt in particular. When I was a grad student in art history, I seriously considered switching over to an archaeology major to become an Egyptologist. At the time, a switch like that meant going to another school, as our main Egyptology prof was leaving. With husband and baby to consider, the change wasn’t feasible for me. Medieval it was….
    And I too have a lifelong love of museums and artifacts. My knees go weak in the British Museum. In fact, any museum….
    I loved Mr. Impossible for many reasons, and one of them was your wonderful, fresh use of the Egyptology stuff (I’m a big Amelia Peabody fan, but to be honest I haven’t been able to keep up with the series). You did a knock-out job with the archaeological details.
    It’s an added challenge to write about historical archaeological practices, as one has to ignore the exciting new stuff and dig around for the exciting older ideas and practices. I wrote about archaeology in Waking the Princess, where the Victorian heroine was an antiquarian and budding archaeologist searching for clues to solve the question of King Arthur in Scotland. I loved writing that book — such vicarious fun digging around in cold Scottish mud looking for Arthurian clues. 😉
    Susan Sarah

    Reply
  19. Fabulous post, Loretta. It makes me yearn for my first love, archaeology and Egypt in particular. When I was a grad student in art history, I seriously considered switching over to an archaeology major to become an Egyptologist. At the time, a switch like that meant going to another school, as our main Egyptology prof was leaving. With husband and baby to consider, the change wasn’t feasible for me. Medieval it was….
    And I too have a lifelong love of museums and artifacts. My knees go weak in the British Museum. In fact, any museum….
    I loved Mr. Impossible for many reasons, and one of them was your wonderful, fresh use of the Egyptology stuff (I’m a big Amelia Peabody fan, but to be honest I haven’t been able to keep up with the series). You did a knock-out job with the archaeological details.
    It’s an added challenge to write about historical archaeological practices, as one has to ignore the exciting new stuff and dig around for the exciting older ideas and practices. I wrote about archaeology in Waking the Princess, where the Victorian heroine was an antiquarian and budding archaeologist searching for clues to solve the question of King Arthur in Scotland. I loved writing that book — such vicarious fun digging around in cold Scottish mud looking for Arthurian clues. 😉
    Susan Sarah

    Reply
  20. Fabulous post, Loretta. It makes me yearn for my first love, archaeology and Egypt in particular. When I was a grad student in art history, I seriously considered switching over to an archaeology major to become an Egyptologist. At the time, a switch like that meant going to another school, as our main Egyptology prof was leaving. With husband and baby to consider, the change wasn’t feasible for me. Medieval it was….
    And I too have a lifelong love of museums and artifacts. My knees go weak in the British Museum. In fact, any museum….
    I loved Mr. Impossible for many reasons, and one of them was your wonderful, fresh use of the Egyptology stuff (I’m a big Amelia Peabody fan, but to be honest I haven’t been able to keep up with the series). You did a knock-out job with the archaeological details.
    It’s an added challenge to write about historical archaeological practices, as one has to ignore the exciting new stuff and dig around for the exciting older ideas and practices. I wrote about archaeology in Waking the Princess, where the Victorian heroine was an antiquarian and budding archaeologist searching for clues to solve the question of King Arthur in Scotland. I loved writing that book — such vicarious fun digging around in cold Scottish mud looking for Arthurian clues. 😉
    Susan Sarah

    Reply
  21. I love museums. In fact I’m afraid I like museums displays almost more than the on-site, real-life artifacts (for example, the “white” Elgin marbles, rather than the apparently highly-colored “originals”). Very not-politically correct, I know. I love your books! MT

    Reply
  22. I love museums. In fact I’m afraid I like museums displays almost more than the on-site, real-life artifacts (for example, the “white” Elgin marbles, rather than the apparently highly-colored “originals”). Very not-politically correct, I know. I love your books! MT

    Reply
  23. I love museums. In fact I’m afraid I like museums displays almost more than the on-site, real-life artifacts (for example, the “white” Elgin marbles, rather than the apparently highly-colored “originals”). Very not-politically correct, I know. I love your books! MT

    Reply
  24. I love museums. In fact I’m afraid I like museums displays almost more than the on-site, real-life artifacts (for example, the “white” Elgin marbles, rather than the apparently highly-colored “originals”). Very not-politically correct, I know. I love your books! MT

    Reply
  25. Well, I thought I commented on the comments days ago but my comment seems to have vanished into cyberspace.
    Mary Jo, you know that exhibit is only a train ride away…and right on Madison Avenue, where there are many feasts for the eyes.
    AgTigress, I haven’t actually touched any artifacts except for some books from the Regency period, yet they do resonate for me. Thank you for the reminder about the British Museum. The website is very useful, and if I can think of articulate questions, I definitely will contact the experts there.
    Marg and Maggie, this is definitely one of the advantages of the cyber age. I love the library, but it certainly is a lot easier to find out more about more stuff on the internet.
    Susan/Sarah I am learning new things about my sister Wenches every day. I had no idea you had Egyptologist dreams. Do you think you would have become a novelist if your life had gone Egypt-wards?
    MT, thank you! In many cases, the museums are more comfortable than the real thing. I saw a wonderful recreation of a pharoah’s tomb in a Boston museum some hears ago. I suspect I was happier than I would have been in Egypt, since I don’t do heat very well.

    Reply
  26. Well, I thought I commented on the comments days ago but my comment seems to have vanished into cyberspace.
    Mary Jo, you know that exhibit is only a train ride away…and right on Madison Avenue, where there are many feasts for the eyes.
    AgTigress, I haven’t actually touched any artifacts except for some books from the Regency period, yet they do resonate for me. Thank you for the reminder about the British Museum. The website is very useful, and if I can think of articulate questions, I definitely will contact the experts there.
    Marg and Maggie, this is definitely one of the advantages of the cyber age. I love the library, but it certainly is a lot easier to find out more about more stuff on the internet.
    Susan/Sarah I am learning new things about my sister Wenches every day. I had no idea you had Egyptologist dreams. Do you think you would have become a novelist if your life had gone Egypt-wards?
    MT, thank you! In many cases, the museums are more comfortable than the real thing. I saw a wonderful recreation of a pharoah’s tomb in a Boston museum some hears ago. I suspect I was happier than I would have been in Egypt, since I don’t do heat very well.

    Reply
  27. Well, I thought I commented on the comments days ago but my comment seems to have vanished into cyberspace.
    Mary Jo, you know that exhibit is only a train ride away…and right on Madison Avenue, where there are many feasts for the eyes.
    AgTigress, I haven’t actually touched any artifacts except for some books from the Regency period, yet they do resonate for me. Thank you for the reminder about the British Museum. The website is very useful, and if I can think of articulate questions, I definitely will contact the experts there.
    Marg and Maggie, this is definitely one of the advantages of the cyber age. I love the library, but it certainly is a lot easier to find out more about more stuff on the internet.
    Susan/Sarah I am learning new things about my sister Wenches every day. I had no idea you had Egyptologist dreams. Do you think you would have become a novelist if your life had gone Egypt-wards?
    MT, thank you! In many cases, the museums are more comfortable than the real thing. I saw a wonderful recreation of a pharoah’s tomb in a Boston museum some hears ago. I suspect I was happier than I would have been in Egypt, since I don’t do heat very well.

    Reply
  28. Well, I thought I commented on the comments days ago but my comment seems to have vanished into cyberspace.
    Mary Jo, you know that exhibit is only a train ride away…and right on Madison Avenue, where there are many feasts for the eyes.
    AgTigress, I haven’t actually touched any artifacts except for some books from the Regency period, yet they do resonate for me. Thank you for the reminder about the British Museum. The website is very useful, and if I can think of articulate questions, I definitely will contact the experts there.
    Marg and Maggie, this is definitely one of the advantages of the cyber age. I love the library, but it certainly is a lot easier to find out more about more stuff on the internet.
    Susan/Sarah I am learning new things about my sister Wenches every day. I had no idea you had Egyptologist dreams. Do you think you would have become a novelist if your life had gone Egypt-wards?
    MT, thank you! In many cases, the museums are more comfortable than the real thing. I saw a wonderful recreation of a pharoah’s tomb in a Boston museum some hears ago. I suspect I was happier than I would have been in Egypt, since I don’t do heat very well.

    Reply
  29. Well, Mr Impossible did inspire me to visit the British Museum, but it is only round the corner from work so it is not as much of a compliment as all that! The eerie mummies and massive stone statues made it a favourite destination when I was a child too. The only improvement I can think of is to allow rollerskates so you can get round the whole thing in a day.

    Reply
  30. Well, Mr Impossible did inspire me to visit the British Museum, but it is only round the corner from work so it is not as much of a compliment as all that! The eerie mummies and massive stone statues made it a favourite destination when I was a child too. The only improvement I can think of is to allow rollerskates so you can get round the whole thing in a day.

    Reply
  31. Well, Mr Impossible did inspire me to visit the British Museum, but it is only round the corner from work so it is not as much of a compliment as all that! The eerie mummies and massive stone statues made it a favourite destination when I was a child too. The only improvement I can think of is to allow rollerskates so you can get round the whole thing in a day.

    Reply
  32. Well, Mr Impossible did inspire me to visit the British Museum, but it is only round the corner from work so it is not as much of a compliment as all that! The eerie mummies and massive stone statues made it a favourite destination when I was a child too. The only improvement I can think of is to allow rollerskates so you can get round the whole thing in a day.

    Reply
  33. Francois, even if it’s round the corner, I’m still taking the compliment. I can’t wait to go back and view those objects again, this time with a bit more understanding of how they came to be there.

    Reply
  34. Francois, even if it’s round the corner, I’m still taking the compliment. I can’t wait to go back and view those objects again, this time with a bit more understanding of how they came to be there.

    Reply
  35. Francois, even if it’s round the corner, I’m still taking the compliment. I can’t wait to go back and view those objects again, this time with a bit more understanding of how they came to be there.

    Reply
  36. Francois, even if it’s round the corner, I’m still taking the compliment. I can’t wait to go back and view those objects again, this time with a bit more understanding of how they came to be there.

    Reply

Leave a Comment