I’ve just spent a second day in research for I-forget-what. Sunday this week I researched for several hours online, focusing on the Isle of Demons and Marguerite de la Rocque de Roberval. Apparently in parts of Newfoundland, Canada, this is a very known story, but I’d never heard it. (Or at least I thought I hadn’t, and then I had a momentary feeling of deja-vu later in the day.) The local fame reminds me of the small town in England that celebrates the Bisley boy replacing a dead Princess Elizabeth, and how he became Queen Elizabeth I. (And even looking up that link, I got very distracted by the vast quantities of information and conspiracy on the internet.)
Anyway, Marguerite de la Rocque was a French aristocrat in the 16th century who sailed to the new world with a relative (whether uncle, cousin, or brother, there are no records) and had a shipboard affair with someone presumably inappropriate. Her relative, Jean-François de la Rocque, Sieur de Roberval, the new Lieutenant Governor of Canada as designated by Francis I of France, set her, her lover, and a maid on an island off Newfoundland called the Isle of Demons and sailed on with the rest of his ships to an unsuccessful colonization attempt.
Marguerite managed to survive nearly two and a half years on the island, one of them alone as her lover, her maid, and the child she birthed on the island, died. This is pretty damn amazing (and sad) considering that while they had managed to bring some supplies, a noblewoman with a gun described as a small cannon and a limited supply of ammunition and gunpowder was unlikely to have military or survival training, and Canada is damn cold a good part of the year. She is rumored to have taken down at least one polar bear on her own. (Polar bears are only cute and cuddly in zoos and photographs and I would not sing to one in a pub in Churchill, even with Ewan McGregor.)
She finally was rescued by a fishing vessel and returned to France, where she ended up as a schoolmistress and living out her days in a castle built for the Queen of Navarre, who was Francis I’s sister.
The reasons I was so obsessed with finding out information? There was little to find out. Most of what is written about her is thinly veiled fiction, given that the family of her lover would not want the shameful exposure, her relative Roberval was a great favorite of the king, and she was a well-educated noblewoman who likely just wanted to live quietly after her ordeal. So not only do we not know her lover’s name, how old she was when this happened to her, when and where she died, how she was related to Roberval, we do not quite know any details of the story since contemporary accounts differ slightly. There are only a few enticing records that prove she existed at all, (a record of her declaring her fealty to the king, for one).
I found a few non-fiction books that were either about her or mentioned her, and ended up spending money on a novel someone wrote in the 70s instead. The Non-fiction one, called A Colony of One, was a tad more than I wanted to spend. By the time I happen upon one for a decent price, I will probably have long forgotten my interest.
How I landed on Marguerite’s story, I’m not sure. I came across Isle of Demons somewhere first, I am sure, but from what wiki link, I don’t know. There is inherent trouble in wiki-surfing. One link leads to another, and another, and you finally forget what you were looking for in the first place. Either way, the story I encountered was most definitely not what I thought I’d find.
Today, I was working on another blog project, and had to look up Dante’s Circles of Hell, (which is likely more similar to the topic I was expecting when I noted the Isle of Demons). That led to one thing and another and I was suddenly spending money on copies of Fredric Brown and Shirley Jackson collections.
Marguerite, however, will hopefully prove of some use. A short story I (mostly, partially)wrote in college had a ghostly character haunting a ship’s logbook. I had written in some vague things about a shipwreck and a lost baby and abandonment, but she really ought to be Marguerite. I think it solidifies stories, sometimes, to have a basis in fact. And since fact is often stranger than fiction, it puts my imagination at ease for a moment or two.
And now that I’ve wasted another long afternoon on a gloriously fun research project, I think I will have dinner and contemplate exactly how to rewrite the story so that it 1) makes sense, and 2) incorporates the changes that have taken place with the character and the world in general. (Grey Anastas, one of the characters in the story, has shown up in my NaNoWriMo novel from 2009, and Ethne, the other, has her own story in NaNoWriMo 2010, supplanting the vaguely-drawn Patrice).
So, with way too much said about that… I’d better think about actual work.