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Wednesday 15 September 2021

Wednesday Wanderings: To Paris - with Steve M. Gnatz my Coffee Pot Book Club Guest

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The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris

The setting for The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris – is in Paris, of course!

But what was Paris like in the late 1700’s?

Paris was a European hub of commerce and culture in 1776 when Benjamin Franklin arrived to enlist the aid of the French government in the upcoming war effort against Britain for American independence. It has been estimated that over half a million people lived in Paris near the end of the 1700’s. Some streets were cobblestoned like the one illustrated above, but many were not. There were no sewers yet. Wealthier people had access to private toilets and bathing facilities while the masses used public baths. 

Paris was home to many artists, musicians, and craftspeople. Grand statues and fountains were abundant. Many schools and universities attracted students from afar. Health care – while in its infancy as we think of it today – was state-of-art for the time. Specialty foods were brought in from distant lands – including coffee and spices from the east and tobacco from America. One could find almost anything in Paris.

Paris was the height of fashion then as now with Marie Antoinette as the Queen. Hair and dresses tended to be spectacular. Franklin once mused he expected that someday an unfortunate woman would topple over from the weight of her hairdo. The public gardens had been laid out in intricate detail over the prior century. Lovers strolled along the river Seine under lamplight at night. Sciences and arts flourished in the “enlightenment” of the late 1700’s.

Franklin was already well known to the French aristocracy from his published experiments with electricity. He was quickly adopted into Parisian high society and scientific circles. 

In early 1777 Ben took up residence in the stately home of an American sympathizer (Jacques Leray) and his wife in Passy (a suburb of Paris) where he had easy access to both the city and the royal palace at Versailles.

John Adams was reportedly aghast that Franklin “acted like a Parisian” in terms of his behaviors in France, but Franklin just seemed to fit right in. Franklin was a natural hedonist. He dined out often, socialized in all the right circles, drank plenty of excellent French wine, and openly flirted with the French ladies. It is a matter of historical debate as to whether his activities with these ladies ever actually resulted in a consummated relationship. But Franklin surely did like to flirt, and the French ladies reciprocated. He even asked at least one to marry him.

In the scene depicted above, described in more detail in The Wisdom of the Flock, Ben is crowned with a laurel wreath by Queen Marie Antoinette to celebrate the American war victories. Franklin, in return, presented the King and Queen with a commemorative gold medallion of his own design called Libertas Americana. It was clearly a time of grand gestures and elaborate hairstyles – other than Ben!

The location and setting of late 1700’s Paris can only be surpassed by the cast of historical characters present in The Wisdom of the Flock. In addition to Ben Franklin and Marie Antoinette, we have Dr Franz Mesmer (of mesmerism fame), Casanova, and naval hero John Paul Jones.  Even Amadeus Mozart makes a cameo appearance in the book.

I hope that you will enjoy the setting of Franklin’s time in Paris as illuminated in The Wisdom of the Flock.

Book Trailer:


1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician. 

Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magn├ętisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.

A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magn├ętisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim. 

The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.

(Mild sexual content)

Buy Links: 

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

About the Author

Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.

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1 comment:

  1. This is such an interesting post.
    Thank you for sharing and for hosting today's tour stop.

    Mary Anne
    The Coffee Pot Book Club


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