WeWriWa—Much different from an ordinary bomb

Happy International Left-Handed Awareness Day!


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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when 20-year-old Darya Koneva’s trip to an ice-cream parlor with her best friend’s younger sisters and godbrother became anything but routine. The other patrons told them Hiroshima was just bombed.

“This might mean the war will finally end,” a girl nursing a banana split says. “Your leave might be permanent, and you won’t have to go back into combat.”

Dmitriy gives a faint smile and nods, preferring to let her think he’s been in combat and isn’t just in the Navy College Training Program.

“I wish I could’ve dropped the bomb myself,” a boy in a corner booth says. “Serves them right for Pearl Harbor.”

“What’s an atomic bomb?” Darya asks. “Is it much different from an ordinary bomb?”

“You’d better believe it is,” the soda jerk says. “President Truman said it was more powerful than twenty thousand tons of TNT, and more than two thousand times powerful than the biggest bomb ever.”

“So that means it must’ve killed lots of civilians.”

**********************************

Darya and her friends’ concerns for the civilian victims don’t exactly go over well with the other people inside the ice-cream parlor. Darya herself survived a bombing raid in Germany towards the end of the war, when she and her friends were being evacuated from a rocket-making factory to which the front had become too close.

WeWriWa—The most powerful bomb ever

In memory of the estimated 135,000 people who lost their lives in Hiroshima 72 years ago

Warning: Contains racially-offensive but historically-accurate sentiments and language. Part of being a historical writer is depicting another time and place accurately, no matter how much I might disagree with certain aspects.


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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week I’m switching to my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest, in honor of the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. This scene comes from Part IV, “The Good It Is Their Hap to Find,” Chapter 88, “A Happy Ending…or Not?”

Twenty-year-old Darya Koneva returned to America in June 1945, with her best friend Oliivia and some new friends who are related to a family Darya’s youngest stepaunts are friends with. Darya and Oliivia were exchange students in Paris, but they were trapped by the Nazi occupation towards the end of their year abroad.

Darya doesn’t feel ready to face her parents and tell them what really happened to her after she and Oliivia were arrested for participating in an anti-Nazi demonstration in 1942, so she’s staying with Oliivia’s parents in New York. She’s now out with Oliivia’s younger sisters and their godbrother Dmitriy, who’s in a Naval training program. Oliivia is busy with her new beau, Darya’s young uncle Osyenka.

The clocks are striking eleven as they walk through the streets of the Upper West Side, and a number of people are clustered in groups and pairs, either talking quietly or loudly chattering a mile a minute.  At first Darya wonders if this means the war is over, though she’d expect people would be screaming it from the rooftops if that had happened.  She hopes it doesn’t mean President Truman has died, or that the Allies’ fortune has suddenly reversed.

“Did something important happen?” Dmitriy asks as they enter his favorite ice-cream parlor.

“I should say so,” one of the soda jerks says. “President Truman was just on the radio announcing we dropped an atomic bomb on some Jap city called Hiroshima.  It’s the most powerful bomb ever.  I hope we drop bombs all over their monstrous country and kill them all.  This should’ve happened a lot sooner.”

Monsieur Verdoux at 70, Part II (A comedy of murders)

Monsieur Verdoux opens with a shot of Henri Verdoux’s grave and a voiceover by Chaplin. Verdoux was an honest bank clerk for 30 years, until the world depression of 1930 left him unemployed and forced him to go into a different kind of business—murdering widows to support his home and family.

We then move to the home of the Couvaises, wine merchants in northern France. They quit their bickering when a letter comes, saying Thelma has closed all her accounts. Thelma also hasn’t been heard from since she married three months ago. The family is very worried, and wants to go to the cops.

Verdoux is introduced in the rose garden of his villa in southern France. Two neighbors complain among themselves about how his incinerator has been going for the last three days and making an awful stink. Verdoux’s humanity is shown when he picks up a caterpillar on the ground, talks to it, and puts it on a leaf.

A mailman arrives with a registered letter for Thelma, requiring her signature. Verdoux goes inside to pretend Thelma is signing from the bathtub. The letter contains the 60,000 francs Thelma requested from her bank account, which is now emptied and terminated. The letter also establishes the year as 1932.

Verdoux is visited by a woman named Louise, from an employment agency. He gives her orders for how to clean his villa, and while she’s occupied, he conducts some financial business over the phone.

We then move to the Couvaises in the office of a police judiciary. Though Lena accidentally threw his photo in the fireplace, they all swear they’d know him if they saw him.

After they leave, the police judiciary and his detective discuss how twelve women have mysteriously disappeared over the last three years, all under similar circumstances. Many  were middle-aged, with little or no means of support, and married the same type of man.

While Verdoux is in process of selling Thelma’s estate, along comes prospective buyer Marie Grosnay and her real estate agent. He makes up a story about how his wife passed away from a heart attack, and says he’s selling the house to get away from the memories.

Once Verdoux discovers Marie is a widow who never remarried, he begins pulling out all the stops to try to seduce her. Marie isn’t having any of it, but Verdoux remains undeterred over the ensuing weeks.

Verdoux discovers he needs 50,000 francs unless he wants to go bankrupt. He quickly thinks of one of his wives, Lydia, who knows him as Monsieur Floray. She’s quite annoyed to see him showing up all of a sudden, after months away.

Lydia, who thought he’d died during his pretended business in Indochina, is smart enough to understand he only shows up when he wants something from her. She stands her ground and refuses to believe the fish stories he’s spinning, but he finally manages to convince her all the country’s banks are about to go bankrupt.

After Lydia has withdrawn all her money, Verdoux murders her off-camera.

Verdoux visits his son Peter and his wheelchair-bound real wife, Mona, on their tenth anniversary. He surprises Mona with the deed to their house and garden, which ensures they’ll never be homeless or have to go back to living in a single room. It also means Verdoux will be able to retire in a few years.

During this visit, Verdoux lectures Peter about his habit of pulling the cat’s tail. He tells Peter it shows a cruel streak, and that violence begets violence.

Verdoux’s next stop is another of his wives, Annabella (Martha Raye), who knows him as Monsieur Bonheur, a sea captain. He’s really met his match in her, since every time he visits her, he keeps failing at his attempts to get her money and murder her. Annabella is possibly the best secondary character!

Verdoux develops an untraceable poison to improve his killing methods. However, he chickens out after he invites his first would-be victim to his flat. He grows to care too much about her as a human being, and is touched by her enduring belief in love. Verdoux sends her off with some money.

Marie Grosnay finally succumbs to Verdoux’s seduction campaign, but things get complicated when Annabella shows up by the wedding.

Verdoux loses everything after the European markets collapse, and the woman he decided not to poison repays Verdoux’s past kindness. But when the Couvaises recognize Verdoux, it’s the beginning of the end.

I think this is my favorite of Chaplin’s talkies. Not only does he excel at both comedic and serious acting, but he also shows his character’s humanity over and over again. Verdoux isn’t a black-hearted monster who enjoys murdering women and stealing their money, which makes his actions all the more disturbing. We can’t dismiss him as one-dimensionally evil.

Monsieur Verdoux at 70, Part I (General overview)

Released 11 April 1947, Monsieur Verdoux was not only Chaplin’s first film without either the Little Tramp or a Tramp-like character, but also his first true all-talking film. While The Great Dictator was his first actual talkie, that film uses sound rather selectively. A number of scenes have no dialogue, letting the pantomime do the talking.

This dark comedy didn’t go over so well in the U.S., due to the radical departure from Chaplin’s usual forte, and all the political controversies and personal scandals he’d weathered in recent years.

The story of bluebeard (serial wife-murderer) Henri Verdoux was inspired by Henri Désiré Landru (12 April 1869–25 February 1922). He served in the French Army from 1887–91, and upon his demobbing, began a relationship with his own cousin.

Though they had a daughter together, Landru married another woman two years later, with whom he had four kids. After a boss swindled him, he turned to the dark side.

Landru was convicted and sent to prison in 1900. He was estranged from his wife by 1914, and became a used furniture dealer. As WWI progressed, he took advantage of the ever-increasing pool of widows to prey upon fresh victims.

When a widow answered his personal ad and came to his villa, Landru would seduce her, gain access to all her assets, murder her, and burn her body in his oven. He murdered ten women from 1914–19, as well as the teen son of one of them. Since Landru used many aliases and left no bodies behind, it was impossible to catch him.

Finally, in 1919, the sister of victim Célestine Buisson convinced the cops to arrest him. Though she didn’t know his real name, she remembered his address and appearance.

Landru was initially only charged with embezzlement, since a thorough search which included digging up the garden yielded no bodies. He also refused to talk to the cops. However, cops eventually put together a trail of evidence proving what he’d done.

In November 1921, the trial began. Landru was convicted on all eleven counts of murder and sentenced to death. Three months later, he was guillotined in Versailles.

Over the years, he’s been referenced or depicted many times in popular culture.

Orson Welles wanted to cast Chaplin as a character based upon Landru. Chaplin claimed he backed out of the idea when Welles admitted the script hadn’t been written yet and that he wanted Chaplin’s help to write it.

Welles claimed the script already existed, and Chaplin bought the script from him and rewrote several important scenes. Because Welles desperately needed money, he signed away all his rights, in spite of feeling he would’ve been a better director.

Chaplin claimed he soon began thinking about what a great idea it would be to use Landru’s story as the basis of a dark comedy. Chaplin phoned Welles and offered $5,000. Welles eventually accepted screen credit for the idea.

The film was a poor match to the prevailing social, political, and cultural milieu in the U.S. in 1947, but it did rather well in Europe, particularly France. In spite of this, it was nominated for the 1947 Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

While promoting his film, Chaplin was subject to hostile press treatment. During the brief time it played in the U.S., several boycotts were staged. By one of his promotional press conferences, Chaplin followed his opening remarks by inviting the press to “Proceed with the butchering.”

Chaplin’s speech near the end of the film is brief but powerful. Along with the first season finale of The Boondocks, it almost, almost, almost made me reconsider my support of the death penalty.

The film opens with a shot of Verdoux’s grave and proceeds to a flashback explaining what lead up to that moment. The viewer knows going in what happened to him, but not the how and why.

Originally, the final speech was even more biting, but the Hays Office wasn’t pleased with these lines:

“To be shocked by the nature of my crime is nothing but a pretence… a sham! You wallow in murder… you legalize it… you adorn it with gold braid! You celebrate it and parade it! Killing is the enterprise by which your System prospers, upon which your industry thrives!”

WeWriWa— “Still standing tall”

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet immediately follows last week’s, and closes this section of this chapter. Soldiers from the U.S. Third Army have arrived at Buchenwald in response to several radio messages sent by the camp’s robust resistance, and two of them have given their chronograph watches to 15-year-old Kálmán and 14-year-old Móric.

Móric has just announced he doesn’t feel well enough to keep standing, and lowered himself onto the ground. As the youngest and most slightly-built member of their original group of twenty-four, he’s survived so long because the older boys took care of him. Kálmán surreptitiously carried Móric on his back during the homestretch of the march to Buchenwald, and when Móric became too sick and weak even for the boys’ brick-laying detail, their Communist Kapo hid him in the typhus ward.

Virdzsi (VEER-jee) is Kálmán’s brother Virgil, named after the great Roman poet. As it turns out, Virgil may have survived after all.

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“That’s okay.” Kálmán knelt beside him and put his arm around Móric. “You’re still standing tall and strong.  The Americans came in time to save us, and as soon as we’re well enough to travel, we can go home and start planning our immigration to Palestine.”

“It won’t be easy to go back into the world.  I don’t think we’ll ever be normal again.”

Kálmán put his other arm around Móric and rocked him back and forth. “It never is easy to go from one extreme to another.  Like Virdzsi’s namesake said, ‘The gates of Hell are open night and day; smooth the descent, and easy is the way; but to return, and view the cheerful skies, in this the task and mighty labor lies.’”

Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia, Jean-Baptiste Wicar, 1790–93

When Kálmán’s family was taken to the Abony ghetto last May, one of the items strewn across their front yard was his mother’s gold-leaf, illuminated Aeneid, fluttering open to a passage about how everyone’s final day is fixed. When Kálmán returns home, that book is one of the items given back to him by some Catholic friends who went around recovering and hiding as many things as possible from their Jewish neighbors before they were plundered by enemies.