5 Intriguing Facts About Bram Stoker


If you’ve noticed that my blog’s been a bit slow, I have a good reason. I said that I would be reading Dracula in September. Dracula has long been my favorite book, though it had been a while since my last read. I had forgotten a lot of the details that make it great.

I decided to reread it after almost a decade, and felt as if I were opening a new book. When a long time passes between rereads, you forget enough about a story for surprises become fresh as ever.

I finished two days ago and have been mulling over how well-written it is. ‘Composed’ in the form of letters and diary entries, it pulls you in. Being told from the viewpoint of the frightened heroes, it helps you share in the fright.

Here are five intriguing facts about Bram Stoker, creator of the most famous vampire in history.

He Wrote Other Books

I admit sheepishly to having been surprised when, surfing on Amazon, I found other books that Bram Stoker had written. Dracula overshadows them, but I am excited to explore some of his other titles.

These include The Jewel of Seven Stars, which is a book about a mummy’s curse, and The Lair of the White Worm, about a giant white worm that can turn itself into a woman.

Portrait of Bram Stoker

He Was A Sickly Child

Bram Stoker suffered from a mysterious illness when he was a child that left him bedridden for long periods of time. Not much is known about this illness, but it seemed to clear up when he was seven years old.

One has to wonder if some of the horror stories Bram Stoker came up with originated during these periods he spent bedbound.

He Worked At Dublin Castle

Bram Stoker worked at Dublin Castle as a clerk during his time at university. When I learned this, I wondered how much this job would have influenced his descriptions of Castle Dracula later on.

After all, is this not the writer’s dream? Especially a writer of Gothic fiction! I can’t imagine that time in a castle wouldn’t have molded the stories he would pen.

Dublin Castle (Source)

Dracula Was Inspired By A Dream

Any author knows that dreams can give us the most bizarre ideas for stories. Whatever we come up with in the waking hours doesn’t stand a chance against what we do in slumber.

Bram Stoker claimed that his most famous book, Dracula, was inspired by a blood-sucker in a dream. He blamed the dream on a ‘too-generous helping of dressed crab at supper.’ Fans of gothic and horror literature can be thankful that the crab supper was so generous!

He Was Walt Whitman’s Fan

Bram Stoker sent fan mail to Walt Whitman. He was impressed by Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which he came across during his college years. The collection of poetry was controversial for its experimental style; this seems to have been the reason why Stoker was impressed by it.

In 1872 he wrote Whitman a 2000-word letter expressing his enthusiasm for Leaves of Grass and hoping that one day the two of them could be friends. They met three times after this, forming a friendship based on common interest in philosophy, theater, and literature.


Bram Stoker was a fascinating man, just the person to write a novel enthralling as Dracula. There is much more to be known about him, so I will be doing my research—if I’m not lost in one of his other novels!

On a side note, I have been writing again! It’s a historical romance, and I wrote 11k in about 2 days without meaning to. If there are any more pauses between posts, the reason is that I am writing a work of my own that I hope will have fans one day.

Forgive these pauses; I hope that one day you’ll read Tessa’s story and enjoy it as much as I love writing it!

5 Inspiring Facts About Beatrix Potter


Peter Rabbit, the adorable bunny in the blue jacket, is a familiar character to us bookworms. You might have learned of his mishaps when Grandma read them to you; perhaps you got to know him better when reading to your children.

He brings to mind youth and innocence, reminding us of how it felt to be a child willing to think outside of the box. How much do we know about the woman behind the rabbit?

Beatrix Potter wrote many stories aside from The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Not only did she come up with charming animals and their adventures, she also illustrated them. The stories might have deprived her of some things, though. Potter didn’t have a conventional love story, but she had a happy ending.

Here are five inspiriing facts about Beatrix Potter.

Peter Was A Real Bunny

Have you ever written a story in which someone special made a cameo appearance as a character? Beatrix Potter did this with her bunny, Peter Piper! He was her close friend, traveling everywhere with her. Eventually he became famous as a protagonist in one of the most beloved childrens’ tales.

The first story featuring Peter Rabbit was written in a letter to the son of Potter’s former governess. The young boy was ill. She wanted to make him feel better, but suffered from writer’s block; she did not know what to say.

It is said that she was sitting in the yard with her bunny when composing this letter. Deciding to tell a story instead, she made up the adventure of Peter with his sisters Mopsy, Flopsy, and Cottontail. The rest is history.

She Fell In Love With Her Editor

Beatrix Potter had a tragic first romance. She had taken her stories to a publishing company called Bedford. The company was run by a father and his three sons—Harold, Fruing and Norman.

Norman was the editor. Some have described it as love at first sight: Beatrix, an intelligent woman, admired Norman for his mind. He must have enjoyed meeting a woman he could hold a real conversation with. It was not long before he had proposed to her.

Unfortunately, Norman became ill. Beatrix had gone on holiday with her family when he was diagnosed with leukemia and died. Beatrix did not find out until after her return. He refused to write of it because he did not want to distress her.

One must wonder if Beatrix’s parents were sad—they did not approve of the match.

She Had An Excellent Education

Beatrix Potter had an excellent mind and was able to hold conversations about science, history, and other subjects considered unladylike at the time. Where did she learn about the biology of a bunny? How did she draw such realistic pictures?

She was born into a wealthy family in which both parents were heirs to cotton fortunes (hence their disapproval of her match with Norman). Her father took great interest in painting and photography. He taught his daughter to draw, and they shared a love for art.

Beatrix had access to her father’s library of books, where she was free to learn about science, voyages, historical figures, and other unladylike topics. She later tried to enter the science circles of the time, but they were too superstitious to let a woman into their chambers.

The Science Book

It would be wrong not to elaborate on how gifted Beatrix Potter was on the subject of science. Her understanding of nature was so advanced that she was able to make remarkably detailed illustrations of fungi and insects for the time.

Though Beatrix also drew animals, she focused on wild fungi. She completed a book of illustrations and presented it to the male-dominated science circles. The drawings were outstanding, but she was a woman. She didn’t have much of a chance at becoming a scientist.

Now her images of fungi are lauded by modern science, but in her own time Beatrix Potter gave up that dream and moved on to storytelling. Perhaps we can be grateful for this—if she had become a scientist, Peter Rabbit might never have existed.

Happily Ever After

Beatrix Potter finally found found love at the age of 47. She married a solicitor named William Heelis in 1913, and they moved to the beautiful Lake District. She and William lived a comfortable life in their secluded house, where they grew old together.

Beatrix purchased a farm where she could interact with the animals. Though the Lake District had no shortage of inspiration, it seems that Potter had become tired of writing. When at last she married, she favored a peaceful life exploring the country.

When Beatrix Potter died, her body was cremated. She told a trusted groundskeeper to release her ashes at an unmarked spot in her beloved Lake District. To this day, no one knows the location of her remains. We can still find her in the stories she wrote.


My inspiration for writing about Beatrix Potter hinges largely on my sudden obsession with drawing mice and frogs. I don’t know where I’m going with this hobby; am I simply procrastinating writing? I do enjoy learning new things, and it’s good for the creative to try all sorts of mediums.

Beatrix Potter is one of my inspirations for my nature-based art. I have no illusions of drawing like she did, but Peter Rabbit is alive in all of us. I hope you have a good Friday!

As an added bonus, here’s an excerpt from my lately well-loved sketchbook!

5 Incredible Facts About Coco Chanel


Chanel is one of the most famous names in fashion. We have all seen the classic style of dress; we’ve heard of the famous perfume No. 5. It brings to mind thoughts of elegance and beauty.

How much do you know about the woman behind the name?

Coco Chanel was one of the most powerful women in the world. She worked her way out of a childhood steeped in poverty to create a fashion empire. Though her later life was darkened by controversy as war ravaged Europe, her determination and sense of dignity are things to be admired.

Normally I write blog posts about female authors, but my recent read of The Queen of Parisan excellent, though fictitious, novel by Pamela Binnings Ewen—inspired me to hunt out some facts that will shed some light on this iconic woman.

Coco Was Her Nickname

Though she was known by the world as Coco, the fashion designer was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France. Where did she get the nickname that was to become her identity throughout her life?

One theory is that it was inspired by a song she used to sing as a cabaret singer. Two songs became inseparably associated with her—Ko Ko Ri Ko and Qui qu’a vu Coco. She later said that Coco was a name her father gave her.

Wherever it is that she got the nickname, everybody knows it—this is the name that made her famous!

She Started With Hatmaking

Chanel is best known for her delicious perfume No. 5, but she did not begin her career as a fashion designer with perfume. In 1909 she opened a hat shop in Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris. Her hats were simple and notably lacking the fruits and flowers which had ornamented such accessories for years.

Her name became synonymous with simplicity and convenience. Her hats could match any color and style of dress; she upped her game by designing dresses that did not require corsets. These dresses were even so daring as to show the ankles!

Starting with the dignified, elegant hat, Chanel showed women that it is possible to achieve beauty in simplicity.

Pants For Women!

On the subject of useful fashion, we can’t forget Chanel’s trousers! Though she did not invent the idea of pants for women, she became a pioneer in the style after the first world war.

It started with her design for the hiking trousers that she made in order to get into gondolas in Venice. Soon followed her famous yachting pants which took the world by storm. Women could wear pants for their leisure activities and look as elegant as they would have in a skirt.

Chanel was not happy with unnecessary trifles that society forced into women’s fashion. She did more than make pants popular. She cut her hair into her famous black bob, which scandalized the world, encouraging her so-called ‘garçonne style.’

She Said What She Meant

The word bold describes Chanel in every imaginable way. Not only did she dress as she wished, but she was not afraid of stating her opinions on the competitors and critics who disdained her. This sometimes lost her friends, but never enough for her to sink into obscurity.

She accused Dior of dressing women like armchairs with all of the unneeded fabric that was hemmed onto his dresses. Balenciaga’s designs met her approval, but she did not like his ability to cut. Regarding Paul Poiret’s designs, she said they looked more like costumes than evening wear.

Designer Headstone

Coco Chanel designed everything in her life, so why would her headstone have been any different?

Her zodiac sign was Leo. She kept that powerful creature present in her designs throughout her life. Lions decorated her cigarette lighters and scissors. Lions were also engraved on the bottoms of her tweed suits. At the end of her life, she designed a headstone decorated with five lions.

Chanel did not have any known children. At her funeral, the front chairs were reserved for her models. She is buried in Lausanne, Switzerland.


Chanel was a woman with a strong personality who changed how the world looked. Her name remains synonymous with elegance and power. She inspired many leading ladies to carve their own ways with determination and creativity.

Next time you go out wearing No. 5 or cut your hair into an elegant bob, remember that these fashions are strong today because of this outspoken and fiery woman!

The Man Who Kidnapped MONA LISA


When Mona Lisa vanished from the Louvre Museum in 1911, she became a worldwide obsession. In reality, it is just another instance of art theft. This remains a common crime, though it has never again shaken the world like it did with Leonardo’s masterpiece.

Every year, more than 50,000 art pieces are stolen around the world. The annual black market value for art theft stands between 6 and 8 billion.

After months of frantic search, the world lost hope that she would be found. Bigger tragedies took place: the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic went down on her maiden voyage, giving reporters something new to focus on.

Fifteen months after her disappearance, France formally abandoned hope of La Gioconda returning. The case was closed, and life in Paris resumed its fast pace.

Letter From ‘Leonardo’

It was Winter in the year 1913. Florence art dealer Alfredo Geri was anticipating a busy Christmas season. He had placed an ad in many Italian newspapers, offering to pay generously for fine artwork.

Responses poured in; Geri looked over them every morning, sorting out replies that sounded promising. One of them stood out from the others.

It was postmarked Poste Restante, Place de la République, Paris. It was signed “Leonardo.” Geri first suspected it to be a prank, but followed his gut and read on:

The stolen work of Leonardo da Vinci is in my possession. It seems to belong to Italy since its painter was Italian. My dream is to give back this masterpiece to the land from which he came and to the country that inspired it.

Geri took the letter to Giovanni Poggi, director of the local Uffizi Gallery. Poggi was skeptical of the letter, thinking it would be at best a well-done copy; nonetheless, he told Geri there was no loss in writing back. They told the thief that they would have to see the painting before they made an offer.

“Leonardo” wrote back quickly. He invited Geri to visit him. Poggi agreed that, when the day was set, he would go with the art dealer to examine the piece and determine whether it was a fake.

On December 10, Geri’s shop had a great deal of customers. One of them stood out from the others; he lurked in the shadows, waiting until everyone else had gone before approaching the art dealer. He introduced himself as the Leonardo from the letters and said that he had brought Mona Lisa home to Florence.

Geri and Poggi followed ‘Leonardo’ to the hotel where he was staying. It was the Albergio Tripoli-Italia, located blocks away from the house where Lisa del Giocondo had posed for the real Leonardo da Vinci in the portrait.

As they walked, Geri mentioned the payment. ‘Leonardo’ admitted that he expected the Italian government to compensate him “for the great service rendered.” He said he hadn’t taken the painting to make money. He had intended to return it to the land from which it had been stolen.

An amount was proposed. Geri would agree to pay only if Poggi could confirm the painting’s legitimacy.

They went upstairs into the room where ‘Leonardo’ had been staying. He opened his medium-sized suitcase, emptied it of its meager contents, and opened a false bottom. Inside waited Mona Lisa, wrapped in silk and marvelously preserved. Poggi studied the painting and confirmed that this was Louvre property.

Geri and Poggi contained their excitement in front of the thief. They fled the hotel with the painting and called the police. ‘Leonardo’ was napping when Florence officers came to take him.

He did not struggle, convinced that the government would recognize him as a hero.

Vincenzo Peruggia, Mona Lisa’s thief

Knight In Shining Armor

‘Leonardo’ cooperated with the police. He identified himself as thirty-two year old Vincenzo Peruggia. He lived in Paris, where he worked painting houses. He had worked at the Louvre as a glazier for two years.

Peruggia described himself as a patriot. He had stolen the Mona Lisa to avenge all the art pieces that had been taken from Italy by Napoleon during his painting plunder. Peruggia did not seem to know that, while Napoleon did steal many pieces of art, Mona Lisa was not one of them. She had been in France delighting kings and aristocrats long before Napoleon was born.

It was arranged that Mona Lisa would be given to the French ambassador. France allowed her to stay in Italy for two weeks. During this visit, thousands of Italians came on pilgrimage to see Leonardo’s most famous painting. Peruggia’s prediction that he would be a hero wasn’t far off: many Italians believed that he had done a great service to their country.

Conquering Hero?

Vincenzo Peruggia was on the list of Louvre workers that French police had investigated when Mona Lisa vanished. How come he was not a suspect from the beginning?

Peruggia had been summoned at the beginning for questioning but never appeared. A detective went to his apartment, searched it, and asked questions. Peruggia said he had been at work the morning when Mona Lisa vanished; if they had checked his alibi, they would learn that he arrived several hours late.

What about fingerprinting? There had been a flaw in Alphonse Bertillon’s profiling. He only classified his criminal records with right thumbprints, and the print on Mona Lisa’s frame had been a left thumbprint. Peruggia was therefore never linked to it.

Peruggia was not brought to trial until June 4, 1914. France did not press for harsh treatment; Italy was not keen to punish the man who had brought Mona Lisa for a brief visit home. He managed to rouse the sympathy of his compatriots, which must have had an influence on his absurdly short prison sentence.

He was given a sentence of one year and fifteen days. On July 19, it was reduced to seven months and nine days. When this brief punishment ended, he went on to start a paint shop.


I have tried to cover the disappearance of Mona Lisa and do justice to the story over the month of August. It’s impossible to give all of the details in a series of little blog posts. If you want to know more about this insane event in history, I encourage you to read Vanished Smile by R.A. Scotti.

Everything about Mona Lisa has a story behind it. I will continue to read about her because few paintings have had such long, unique histories. I am wrapping up my August Mona Lisa Month with this post, but I am not done getting to know the Queen of the Louvre.

I hope my articles have been helpful to you; they were great fun to write!

Pablo Picasso on Trial


When I started my series of posts on the Mona Lisa, I wanted to tell the story of her disappearance in a manner that did it justice. I was captivated by Vanished Smile, a book that makes the painting come to life (more so than she reportedly does!)

In this post I will sum up for you an interesting chapter of the investigation which I learned of from R. A. Scotti. I have left out plenty of details; to enjoy the full scope of the madness, you’ll have to read the book.

History is stranger than fiction. In 1911 France’s most famous lady was stolen–practically from under the noses of guards. The world was left reeling from the brashness of this theft.

It was a time of change in the art world. Pablo Picasso had begun championing a new form of art, modern and daring, a far cry from the styles of the old masters. His style brought together a group of enthusiasts determined to challenge tradition and redefine beauty.

Many members of Picasso’s gang were known for being loud and sometimes rude. They were labeled romantic renegades by those who admired them, ne’er-do-wells by disapprovers. It wasn’t until La Gioconda’s disappearance that something happened to pull them into legal problems.

Pablo Picasso, Young Woman Drawing

During this interlude in the search for da Vinci’s painting, the police no longer saw these people as artists making a statement. Instead the police called them “foreign thieves and swindlers who have come to France to plunder its treasure.”

With dozens of theories but no clues about the painting’s whereabouts, Picasso’s gang gave police something to focus on. It all started with some badly timed letters, an apparent joke gone wrong.

The Statue

Following Mona Lisa‘s disappearance, an explosion of fake copies and ‘sightings’ sprang up worldwide. Louvre experts examined the false paintings turned in by people hoping for a reward. They did not fall for the scams, but were no closer to an answer.

On August 29, the day the Museum opened again, a strange correspondent wrote to the editors of the Paris-Journal. This newspaper had promised a reward as well as anonymity to thief if they should return La Gioconda.

His first letter did not speak of La Gioconda, but it didn’t arrive alone. With it was a small statue the writer claimed was from the Louvre. He wrote about a series of thefts, his story raising as many questions as it answered.

Most of all, it rubbed salt into the wound of the Museum’s lax security.

It was in March, 1907, that I entered the Louvre for the first time—a young man with time to kill and no money to spend … I suddenly realized how easy it would be to … take away almost any object of moderate size.

The mysterious author explained how he had chosen the head of a woman, concealed it under his vest, and walked out. He sold the statue to an unnamed painter-friend for fifty francs ($200.)

The very next day I took a man’s head with enormous ears. … And three days later, a plaster fragment covered in hieroglyphs. A friend gave me twenty francs for this last. … Now one of my colleagues has spoiled all of my plans for a collection by making this hullabaloo in the painting department!

The next day, August 30, the paper reported a second letter from the mysterious writer.

You will allow me a few words of protest against certain terms of abuse leveled at me in your issue of yesterday … A professional thief, lacking all moral sense, would remain unaffected by them; but I am not without sensitivity…

The letter was signed Baron Ignace d’Ormesan.

An examination by Louvre curators confirmed that the statue was property of the museum. It meant that the thief’s story was true: at least one statue had been stolen. The next day, ‘Baron d’Ormesan’ wrote another letter in the same mocking tone:

I do not want to leave France without once again sending you my thanks for the chivalrous manner in which you handled the little matter…

Then he finished:

I can only urge the person at present holding Vinci’s masterpiece to place himself entirely in your hands. He has a colleague’s word for it that your good faith is above all suspicion.

The morning paper had scarcely gone out before Prefect Lépine identified the so-called Baron d’Ormesan. It was a familiar name to Parisian literati belonging to a fictional character from L’Hérésiarque et cie, a collection of stories written by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.

Apollinaire was a part of Picasso’s crowd. Police were soon knocking at the poet’s door.

Pablo Picasso, Child with a Dove

Questions

Three days after Mona Lisa’s disappearance, Apollinaire had written in the paper L’Intrasigeant:

The pictures, even the smallest, are not padlocked on the walls, as they are in most museums abroad. Furthermore, it is a fact that the guards have never been drilled in how to rescue pictures in case of fire. The situation is one of carelessness, negligence, indifference.

Loosely known as la bande de Picasso, the group was famous for more than their loud opinions. They were outlaws of traditional art, set on breaking the rules to free art from art history.

Mona Lisa was the archetype of the dead masterpieces they rejected. If Picasso’s group had indeed taken her, no one would have been surprised. Prefect Lépine was convinced that la bande de Picasso was involved.

Apollinaire’s letters as the Baron placed him in the middle of the investigation–and in deep trouble.

Guillaume Apollinaire was transported in handcuffs to the Palais de Justice, where for hours he refused to provide any information. Only at the point of arrest did he confess that he was not the statue thief, but knew who was. He named Honoré Joseph Géry Pieret, a Belgian who had been living in his apartment as a secretary.

He admitted to knowing about Géry’s theft. He confessed to having bought Géry a train ticket to Marseilles on August 21, urging him to leave the country. Apollinaire thought that he would be released after giving the information.

Instead he was locked in a cell at Le Santé prison for being an accomplice.

La bande de Picasso was a guilty party to Prefect Lépine. He was confident that they were the gang of thieves he was after—and that they would be able to tell him Mona Lisa’s whereabouts.

It wasn’t long before he’d arrested the face of the movement, Picasso himself.

Betrayal

Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso, so often seen together as leaders of a band of rebels, faced one another in the courtroom. Their nerves caused them to trip on words, contradicting themselves and one another.

When asked about his friendship with Apollinaire, Picasso said, “I have never seen him before.”

Picasso confessed to having bought the stolen statues. He was released on his own recognizance and warned not to leave Paris. Apollinaire was returned to the Santé prison, but there was not enough evidence to link him to the theft of Mona Lisa. He was released on September 13.

The theft of Mona Lisa had found a likely culprit in la bande de Picasso, but it was a dead end. Géry’s theft of the statues was possible because of the poor security which enabled the theft of la Gioconda.

Unfortunately for detectives, this only proved that theft was easy at the Louvre, not that Picasso’s band had indeed taken the painting. The questions remained: who was the thief, and where was the painting? No closer to an answer, police began to lose spirit.

Pablo Picasso, Mediterranean Landscape

For years Picasso never spoke of the Mona Lisa ordeal. He continued being his larger-than-life self, leading the modern art movement with his bold colors and shapes.

It was 1959 when at last he mentioned Apollinaire during an interview:

When the judge asked me, ‘Do you know this gentleman?’ I was suddenly terribly frightened and without knowing what I was saying, I answered, ‘I have never seen this man.’ I saw Guillaume’s expression change. The blood ebbed from his face. I am still ashamed.

I wish I had read Vanished Smile before I went to the Louvre to see Mona Lisa. R. A. Scotti tells the story of her disappearance with more grace than I’ve been able to manage. If you like history, art, and true stories that sound insane, I encourage you to grab a copy and dig in.

Next week I’ll wrap up my Mona Lisa segment with her return to the Louvre–and the peculiar circumstances surrounding that. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this story as much as I did!

Mona Lisa’s Romantic Disappearance


Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti is a book that helps put Mona Lisa’s fame into perspective. Most people know her as Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.

We can get a better grasp of her fame after learning about the drama that took place in 1911.

In August 1911, the Louvre Museum was stirred from its routine by horrific news. Usually displayed in the Salon de Carré, where she was visited by artists and suitors, Mona Lisa had vanished. Under the spot where the portrait had hung was a plaque reading her name, but she was nowhere to be found.

Her empty frame was discovered in one of the corridors, as well as the glass case meant to protect her from outsiders. A broken doorknob indicated a route of escape that the thief might have taken.

1910 Map of the Louvre

Pre-Theft Louvre

How was this possible in a museum containing so many treasures? The ugly truth is that the Louvre Museum before Mona Lisa’s theft was lax in security. It was understaffed and too large for there to be guards everywhere.

The director of the museum was fired after Mona Lisa’s disappearance.

In 1911, the Louvre had more exits available for thieves to slip through. Visitors were allowed to grab paintings for photographs without written consent. Curators and guards were so busy that none of them noticed Mona Lisa’s disappearance for three days.

She was last known to have been in the Salon de Carré on Sunday evening; her absence was not discovered until Tuesday morning.

Parisians were outraged that it had been so easy for the painting to disappear under guards’ very noses. The greatest available detective would be required to solve such a mystery.

Alphonse Bertillon was called in the very Tuesday that Mona Lisa’s disappearance was noticed.

Alphonse Bertillon, detective. He pioneered in using photography to help solve crimes.

Sherlock Holmes’ Hero

Alphonse Bertillon was Chief of the Judicial Identity of the Paris Prefecture. He was the closest they could get to Sherlock Holmes in this most Holmesian of cases.

In a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of the Naval Treaty, Holmes tells Watson that he admires the French policeman Alphonse Bertillon. Naval Treaty was published in a collection of Holmesian short stories in 1893.

Sherlock uttered these words before the Mona Lisa disappeared. Was it a premonition?

Bertillon came with all of the tools of the trade. This included his magnifying glass, dusting powder, and a trail of assistants to photograph the scene. Photography of crime scenes was a new practice which Bertillon pioneered.

He examined Mona Lisa’s empty frame and the glass case that held her. Using his magnifying glass, he searched for evidence that could give a name to the heinous thief: fingerprints.

A perfect thumbprint was discovered on the glass case which had held Mona Lisa.

Paris, France: MONA LISA THEFT, 1911. The gap on the wall of the Carre Gallery of the Louvre Museum, Paris, where the Mona Lisa was exhibited before it was stolen 1911. ©Mary Evans Picture Library / The Image Works

Salon Full of Suspects

Louis Lepine, Prefect of the Seine, arranged for the theft to be repeated by two groups on a different painting of the same size.

The first group to recreate the theft was comprised of ordinary gendarmes. They struggled to remove the art from the frames and did a clumsy job of it. The second group was made up of Louvre workers–people familiar with the museum and comfortable handling art in their cases.

The Louvre workers removed the painting from its frame and case in moments. This provided clues for Bertillon—and a great deal of embarrassment for museum staff.

It suggested that the theft had been committed by someone who worked at the museum. He must have been familiar with the halls and glass cases, so that they wouldn’t be such obstacles.

Could a thief have been mingling with curators and guards long enough to plan a heist?

Seeking a Match

Lepine requested that a list be compiled naming everybody who’d had access to the museum between that Sunday and Tuesday.

The long window of time was discouraging. Whoever had stolen the painting could have escaped France by the time guards noticed her absence. He might be on a ship halfway across the world.

Proceedings continued, though officers began to doubt that Mona Lisa would ever be seen again.

Each Louvre custodian, curator, workman and photographer on Lepine’s list was fingerprinted and interrogated. One guard confessed that Mona Lisa had been left alone from eight to ten o’clock on Monday morning. He had been called away from the Salon de Carré to help move paintings in another part of the museum.

This gave the thief two hours’ free rein to remove the painting from its frame and flee.

Mona Lisa’s Lover

The guard then confessed an unnerving detail.

He had been seeing a young man pay weekly visits to the Mona Lisa. Sometimes this man would bring her flowers, as if they were lovers. Could this obsessed visitor have been alone with the object of his affections that Monday? Was he deranged enough to have stolen her?

This revelation provided the Louvre with a way to save face. The thief was not necessarily one of their staff; it could have been one of her unstable courtiers. While police continued to question museum workers, the public was told about Mona Lisa’s admirer.

It was the sort of story that the media cannot resist. Chicago Tribune commented wryly on the matter:

So, Mona Lisa has another lover! … Now, after four and a half centuries, Leonardo’s subtle lady wins another lover, and her tantalizing discretion quite forgot, she flees with her wooer. Ten thousand dollars for her return, cries Paris. … No one man should have exclusive right to feed on that mysterious loveliness.


This ends the first part of my series on Mona Lisa’s disappearance. After I’d read Vanished Smile, I struggled for a way to sum up the story for my blog.

When Mona Lisa disappeared, the world reacted in outrage. When newspapers and the French government offered rewards for her return, false paintings were provided by people hoping for money. Billionaires like J. P. Morgan and artists like Pablo Picasso were pulled into the matter.

To leave out one surreal detail does this story a disservice. There is more to the Mona Lisa than her mysterious smile; there’s a reason why she now has a bulletproof chamber at the museum.

Behind every great story is an even greater story; the Mona Lisa’s is no exception. I will post more about the investigation in a few days.

5 Myths About the Stars


Stars have aided us from the beginning. Before we settled on a common calendar, they told our ancestors when to plant crops. Navigators at sea used the stars to guide them on treacherous journeys. In uncertain times, humans sought messages from these celestial lights.

Though we have developed modern methods of navigation, the stars have not lost their significance. We yearn to see them, write songs about them, and study them from afar. They remind us of that which does not vanish; they remain above us, sources of wonder and romance.

It would be a shame if we did not learn what the stars meant to our ancestors. Here are five interesting myths about stars. These myths come from different parts of the world.

When you finish, go on to read mythology about butterflies.

The ‘Digging-Stars’

According to South African mythology, tribes anticipated the appearance of IsiLimela–the Pleiades–to warn them it was time to begin hoeing the ground. The Pleiades were called the ‘digging stars’ because of this specific role.

These were more than ‘digging-stars.’ Xhosa boys marked the beginning of their manhood from the Pleiades’ first June appearance. Their new lives depended on the appearance of IsiLimela.

Read more South African star myths here!

The Pleiades

Inca Constellations

The Inca culture in Peru also relied on the stars for agricultural purposes. Their belief was that everything in nature is sacred, so they worshiped various Gods such as Inti (the sun) and Chuqui Illa (the God of Thunder.)

Machu Picchu, the famous archaeological site, has long been a mystery. Who was it built for and why in that spectacular location? Recent studies suggest that, aside from being a ceremonial site, Machu Picchu was an astronomical observatory.

PeruforLess has a good article about Inca culture and their belief system.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Lost Viking Tales

Most of the known Norse mythology is found in the Eddas, though there’s little mention of stars specifically. If you’re interested in the Norse stories of creation, the Eddas provide a fascinating read. Find the Edda of Snorri Sturluson on Amazon.

I quote this excellent essay on Norse constellations by Jonas Persson:

In Völuspa the origin of the stars and planets are mentioned, as well as their end at Ragnarök. The world was created from the body of the giant Ymer. His skull forms the firmament and is held in place by four dwarves, where sparks from Muspellheim form the stars. Their place in the sky was determined by the gods and some were given paths they will roam.

Having depended on the night sky to guide their ships, it’s inevitable that the Norse people knew astronomy. They had their own constellations, though the names of most of these constellations have been lost.

Star Religion

As a writer I’m pleased to learn that, in Egyptian mythology, the stars were represented by the goddess of writing, Seshat. The Milky Way Galaxy represented the mother goddess Nut giving birth to the sun god, Ra.

We needn’t look farther than the Pyramids to understand the significance of stars to the ancient Egyptians. It is said that the Pyramids of Giza were built in alignment to Orion’s belt.

If this is true, it’s no surprise. According to their religious writings, they believed the gods to be descended from those three stars (read more).

Goddess of Falling Stars


Greek mythology is famous for the gods and goddesses who fought amongst themselves and caused trouble on earth. Among the lesser-known is Asteria, the goddess of dreams and of falling stars.

Asteria’s father was the Titan Coeus. He was the god of the northern axis of Heaven, around which revolve the constellations. From him Asteria gained abilities such as spelling messages in heaven with the stars.

Zeus could not resist Asteria’s beauty (nor can we expect him to, given his record). Once when he had caught her, she transformed into a quail to slip away. Refusing to be defeated, Zeus became a bird and gave chase.

Seeing that Zeus would never leave her be, Asteria dived into the sea and metamorphized into the Italian island now known as Ortigia. Learn more about Asteria.


Stars have captivated us from the beginning. Regardless of where in the world our ancestors lived, the stars did not escape their attention. Further research would reveal more stories about the cosmos from other ethnic groups.

I conclude this list with a beautiful quote:

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Learning to Teach History: Interview with Phillip Campbell


In recent years I have discovered a new interest in history. My motto for this blog is that behind every great story is an even greater story.

This refers to three things. First, it speaks of the effort going on behind the scenes when an author writes a book. Secondly, think of a painting. It’s easy to admire as an image, but often is so much more. If you’ve studied art, you know that very few immortal paintings exist for the sake of existing. Great works of art tend to have stories woven in between brushstrokes.

The third and broadest type of ‘story’ I refer to with my motto is history.

When we see the fireworks on Independence Day, we celebrate our freedom. How often do we set aside the hot dogs and ponder those men who, centuries ago, stood up in defense of their rights?

We idolize Vincent van Gogh for his story and his poignant art, make jokes about the ear incident. Do we know why he cut off his ear? Behind every great (and I mean great in the sense of huge, not always good, as in the case of van Gogh) story is a greater story.

We cannot let these stories become lost in time; they are relevant as the marble statues in front of the Capital building. Maybe we can’t see the stitches in that old quilt Grandma gave us; it doesn’t make the effort of perfecting those stitches less meaningful.

I believe history should be taught thoroughly, and so does my good friend Phillip Campbell. A history teacher, he’s published a book about how to teach history.

How do you present events with the dignity they deserve? How can you see the stitches in the quilt? What can we do to help those we are teaching to appreciate those stitches, too?


The Catholic Educator’s Guide to Teaching History, Phillip Campbell

I asked him a few questions about the past and its significance. I’m excited to read his book, The Catholic Educator’s Guide to Teaching History. My quest for this blog, digging up those small stitches and presenting them to you, will benefit from his wisdom.

It’s not only our duty to learn history–we must also pass it on. Purchase his book today.


Tell us your goal in writing this book. How will it change the way readers think of the past?

I wrote The Catholic Educator’s Guide to Teaching History to be a summary of my 15+ years experience teaching history in Catholic educational environments. This book is for parents or teachers who are trying to teach history in various settings: classroom, homeschool, or co-op. I’m hoping this book will help these people to teach history in a way that is engaging and memorable. 

Too many people complain that they found history classes in school to be boring and uninspiring. This is a true shame, as history is full of the greatest stories one will ever encounter. History is ultimately just the story of the human race! It’s unfortunate that it is often made dull by people who teach it poorly. Hopefully my book will contribute in some small way to turning that around.

There’s a lot to say about how to handle the past as a subject of study, but the crux of my method (at least when dealing with children) is capturing the narrative arc of history. In other words, returning the story to history. Everybody loves a good story, especially children. 

If we can really present our historical content as a story—complete with characters, plot, climax, and resolution—it becomes immensely more accessible. And the best part is we don’t have to create the story ourselves; it’s already there, we merely need to tailor our approach in such a way that the narrative structure of history is highlighted for young minds. This is what makes history “come alive” for people.  

Why is it important to teach and study history?

That is a very broad question, to which many answers have been given over the years. For most people, this question immediately brings to mind the famous quote of philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 

I have always disliked it as a comprehensive explanation of why we ought to study history. It takes a very pessimistic view of human civilization, essentially viewing history as nothing but an embarrassing burden we are “condemned” to deal with. Human nature is capable of great darkness, to be sure, but also great beauty. 

I, for one, prefer not to view history as something that only dooms us, something we must constantly be struggling to escape. But beyond this, we could also critique Santayana’s maxim for being too utilitarian. While building a more peaceful society for all humanity is certainly a worthy goal, doesn’t the study of history have some rationale more intrinsic to our own character development? Something more personal?

Traditionally, history has been a core part of the so-called “liberal arts” curriculum. The liberal arts are those studies whose purpose is to develop our own intellectual capacity and character (as opposed to professional or vocational skills). One does not study literature, poetry, or art because this knowledge keeps the electricity running or helps us make a buck. We study them because they form our character by ennobling our individual potential. They elevate our minds. They teach us to think. They make us more human. 

The ancients viewed history in this manner. Cicero said, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” Understanding the things that came before our own life experience is essential to understanding not only the world we live in, but our very selves. 

A person unfortunate enough to suffer complete amnesia loses their identity entirely, for a person who doesn’t know where they have been does not know who they are. Similarly, to the degree we live without knowledge of where we have been, to that degree we remain stunted in our understanding of ourselves. In the words of Cicero, we are still, in some sense, a “child.”

Did any authors or historical figures influence this book?

I was deeply influenced by the classical approach to history as exemplified by the Greeks and Romans. The Greeks assigned history its own muse, Clio, the “Proclaimer”, the inspirational goddess of history. That history should be numbered amongst the Nine Muses—with such subjects as poetry and dance—gives us profound insight into the real value of historical study. 

The Muses were goddesses of inspiration; that is, the arts of the Muses are those that inspire and require inspiration. They help us transcend the workaday world and find value in life in an existential manner, connecting with things bigger than ourselves. That was part of my vision, to enable people to be inspired by history in a way that helps them connect with their own existence in a more meaningful way.

I mentioned Cicero above. Another inspiration is Livy, the ancient Roman author who compiled a history of Rome from the founding of the city to his own day. Livy stressed the moral value of history as a lesson in human nature—we are edified by the deeds of the righteous and horrified by the evils of the wicked. I just think the ancients were so much more in tune with the character building aspect of history than modern people.

If a person decided to study history, which three books would you recommend to them?

It depends on what era of history you want to study, and one’s level of cognition. 

Assuming we are talking to adults, I have a few recommendations: an excellent book that gives a solid introduction to the Middle Ages is Norman Cantor’s book The Civilization of the Middle Ages. My go-to book for ancient Rome is Michael Grant’s 1978 masterpiece History of Rome. It gets so much more fragmented when you get into modern history, and American history especially. 

It’s challenging to recommend a single comprehensive book. I guess I will take the opportunity to make a shameless plug for my own two texts on modern Europe and American history: Story of Civilization Volume 3: The Making of the Modern World, and Story of Civilization Volume 4: The History of the United States. These books are meant for younger readers, but adults enjoy them as well because, as I said, everyone loves a story!

It’s important to read lots of books to obtain a well-rounded view of history. For example, no one would say, “If you want to appreciate literature, what three books would you read?” Because the reality is, we develop our literary taste by reading a great variety of books. 

Obviously we have to start somewhere, and I think that’s what your question is getting at. But ultimately if we want to be historically literate, we need to get our history from a diversity of sources as well. I don’t have just one book about a given period. Incidentally, this also helps inoculate you against historical bias, because the more history you read the more discerning your historical sense becomes.

END


Top Three Books – Week 1


This year I decided to start a reading journal and practice intentional reading–which involves taking note of character names and ages. I also record sentences that are powerful or elements that will shape my own writing.

This has helped give my blog renewed purpose–book reviews, thoughts on literature, and history. It’s also a journal as I explore genres such as mystery or thriller. Reading an average of ten books a month (I’m a fast reader) and not having reviewed them all, I’m going to have a weekly feature called Top Three Books.

Some posts will echo praise for titles I’ve written about; others will be special mention for novels I enjoyed but didn’t earn blog post glory. I’m excited to track my journey this way. I hope it will make me a better writer and thinker.

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

One of my greatest pet peeves is the claim that literature is somehow in danger.

It’s a complicated topic, but pinning the blame on eBooks or audiobooks simplifies the matter too much. We should not be afraid for the future of books, and Gottschall makes a fantastic argument as to why.

Story comes from the human mind. Humans were telling stories before there were ways to write them. Even if in another universe, paper books vanished–we will never be without story.

I love the smell of ink on paper, but isn’t story the most important aspect of a book?

The Seine by Elaine Sciolino

I love history. This explains my preference for classic novels–I often find more in an old book that was published as a serial than a hastily written novel penned to earn numbers on Amazon.

Elaine Sciolino went to extraordinary lengths to learn the history of the Seine river in Paris. The Seine is a diva, moody and vengeful. Sometimes she’ll save a life, but sometimes she’ll take it.

This quote from The Seine forever changed how I see Paris:

Without the Eiffel Tower, Paris would still exist; without the Seine, there would never have been a Paris.

If you want to learn French history without plunging into complicated details, Sciolino’s account is written in a language that’s easy to follow. It’s absolutely gripping.

You might not be able to travel this year, but let a book take you to Paris.

All The Good Girls by Willow Rose

I did not review All The Good Girls for the simple reason that it’s a quick read. I didn’t take many notes; it’s so fast-paced that I couldn’t have found the time to set it aside and jot down quotes.

It’s a murder mystery which in my humble opinion (I’m new to the mystery genre) was worth the time. As a writer, I thought some plot twists could have been handled better. The characters might have been written with more depth.

I liked All The Good Girls; I’ll read the rest of the series. There is a focus on God and prayer in this novel, so Christians would enjoy it. There are no “skippable” scenes, if you’re looking for a clean read.

I wonder if the focus on writing a clean book took away from what it could have been. All The Good Girls still deserves mention for its breakneck pace and the sheer fact that it was a page-turner.

Conclusion

Where I wrote blog posts reviewing a book, I linked to it in the title. Click on them and read for more thoughts.

This was a fun selection to make. Do you have comments on any of these books? I would love to hear your opinion!

River of Life: THE SEINE by Elaine Sciolino


If we made a list of the magical properties found in literature, we would have to include that of transporting us to a different place. When a person can’t afford vacation, a good book can take them to streets far away.

Before visiting Paris with my mother and brother, it was a dream of mine to know her streets. They are works of art; the city was designed over the centuries by her leaders to be aesthetically pleasing. You can call the Louvre a museum, but the streets are mesmerizing. Statues and bridges provide wonders to gaze upon.

When a visit to Paris was still but a dream, I satisfied my wanderlust reading books set in the City of Light. They were written in different time periods and different genres. It might have been ink on a page, but each time I finished a book set in Paris, I felt that I knew France a little better.

This was true in a way; I learned about Paris in the way you know a place after reading about it. If a book is well-written, it can be a powerful tour guide.

The reality is that you never know a country until you’ve been there. The vision of Paris I built in my head with each novel was lovely–but it cannot compare to the reality.

The City of Light is a marvel of human artistry. It’s a testament to development as a civilization as time passed. France boasts of a rich history that most never learn of. There’s more to France than the guillotine during the French Revolution.

I learned so much history in the pages of The Seine by reporter Elaine Sciolino. This book is not heavy like a textbook; Sciolino’s writing style is light and talkative. I never once felt that I was dragging through boring events or struggling with names I couldn’t pronounce. This is history that anyone can appreciate.

Sciolino paints a different perspective of Paris. This perspective is from the river, that ancient body of water pulsing through Paris like a vein. Sciolino has traveled far and wide in search of Seine lore, learning about the river goddess Sequana. She even lived on the Seine during a great flood, when water spilled over the banks.

Elaine Sciolino has witnessed many of the Seine’s moods.

I didn’t have enough time to see all of Paris; it’s bigger in person than you probably think! One thing I remember was the sparkling water of the Seine. I remember how the water shimmered as the sun set. The Seine was the first thing I saw when we arrived; before I had a clear view of the Eiffel Tower, I saw the Seine, dark and mysterious in the moonlight.

The Seine is a treat for the history lover and travel junkie. Sciolino has painted for us a panoramic view of this river. She hiked to its “origin,” a stream way up north. She visited places where the Impressionists painted their works of art, capturing the nature of France in all of her elegance.

The Seine takes us on a fascinating ride through the history of the country, following the course of her famous river. It ends with a sobering chapter about the fire which destroyed Notre Dame in 2019. Sciolino us how water from the Seine was used to help stop the fire.

I will continue to read books about Paris until I can visit her again. I hope that, when the time comes, I will know more about this city. The Seine is one of my favorite books; let it take you across oceans to the place where art and history was made.

Art is Magic


Art is something that comes alive and seeks to change us forever.

Wonder at how, so many years later, the Mona Lisa still has lines after lines of people impatient to see her smile. Think of how certain quotes from certain novels echo down through generations, while most of our own whispers vanish into oblivion.

Renoir, Young Girls at the Piano, close-up

Art is the only true form of magic and only art is immortal. It can thaw the frozen heart when nothing else could. It brings us centuries-old pain, and also relief from that pain.

Don’t cast a spell; a poem will do.

I’ve always held this view. I used to think my preference for classic works was a result of my personal desire to be the next Dickens—but art does not work that way. We all hold it differently.

There is no way I can be the next Jane Austen.

Now I think my fascination is a result of nostalgia, one we all feel for times past. We all have heroes long-gone that we would love one hour with. There always comes a moment when the present, fast-paced world is not enough.

So we take up art, this shapeless and fiery thing, to recreate what no longer is but still is close to our hearts. We write back into history. We conjure our heroes, create unicorns, slay dragons.

Art is magic, and art is alive.

Now I look at myself. My heart is in a place long-gone when grand balls were popular, women wore dresses of flowing silk, and carriages rattled. This is what I will recreate with the magic handed to me; it is a lifelong goal.

It requires much, though. To uncover gems of story, I have to do research. To make my characters feel real, I need to know where they would go, what they would eat, how they would dance. As I grow older researching, my heart will be more caught in that time than this one.

Come to my blog and learn with me. Our Elizabeth Bennetts might seem far away, but using the magic of art, we come closer with every step forward that we take.