Rebecca Rosenberg is the author of the new historical novel Champagne Widows, which is based on the life of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, the founder of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Rosenberg's other books include Gold Digger. She lives in Sonoma Valley, California.
Q: What inspired you to write a novel based on the life of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot?
A: We have traveled to the Champagne region of France many times and visited champagne houses. When I discovered Barbe-Nicole Clicquot was the first woman who made champagne, I started researching her story, which was not easy since she lived in the early 1800s!
I discovered a determined, ingenious woman who battled
pandemics, mental illness, sexist laws against women owning businesses, 15
years of Napoleon's wars to conquer Europe, and Napoleon himself to forge her
Q: What kind of research did you need to do to write the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: For research, I visited all of Barbe-Nicole's vineyards and wine-making facilities. I hired the historian Bruce Foucault to walk us through the town of Reims to reconstruct her father's will, factory, town life, her neighbors, and surroundings.
I researched fashion, tools, lifestyle, customs of 1800 France, including childbirth, mental illness, attitudes and laws about homosexuality, diseases, arsenic poisoning, etc, etc! Anything to fill in the story with juicy life!
Of course, I had to research Napoleon, the French kings, and
political attitudes of the time period. And I discovered a mysterious Red Man
legend which I used in the novel.
Q: What did you see as the right blend of fiction and history as you wrote the novel?
A: I first take all known facts and create the storyline structure. Then I bring the structure to life by writing scenes.
For example, history says Barbe-Nicole did not get along
with her mother, who was a socialite and very fashionable. That fact
indicates conflict between them, what was important to them, and
differences in the lives they choose. Barbe-Nicole's driving desire was to
create a champagne company, no matter what obstacles she had to face.
I also infuse facts about the historical time to illustrate what life was like. For example, Jean-Baptiste may or may not have been gay; some facts indicate he may have been. But gay men definitely existed and were killed or persecuted, so I wanted to show that.
Q: How well known was Clicquot in her lifetime, and what do you see as her legacy today?
A: Veuve Clicquot became famous in her life as the first woman champagne! An impossibility at the time! Veuve means widow, and many new champagne houses popped up using the Veuve title to copy her.
Today Veuve Clicquot is a world-famous brand. Barbe-Nicole
paved the way for all the women who followed her example in the wine business.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on the second draft of the next Champagne
Widow, Madame Pommery. Her story and personality and circumstance is entirely
different, so it's really fun to breathe life into her story! You can sign up
for my mailing list to get notice of Madame Pommery, due out in 2022! Www.rebecca-rosenberg.com
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Champagne Widows was awarded Editors Choice by the Historical Novel Society. It is available for order from any bookstore or online retailer.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb