Interview: Beatrice Colin’s new view of the Eiffel Tower – Part 2

MyFrenchLife™ – - Eiffel Tower - To Capture What We Cannot Keep

When author Beatrice Colin looked up at the Eiffel Tower on a visit to Paris, she realized she didn’t know much about France’s revered monument. It didn’t take long for the British author (born in London but now living in Glasgow, Scotland) to start digging for information and subsequently writing a historical fiction around its beginnings. 

Colin’s novel, ‘To Capture What We Cannot Keep’ was published just before the 130th anniversary of the start of the tower’s construction, on 28 January 1887. In the second of two instalments, Colin tells Ronnie Hess how the book came about.

Discovering the history of the Eiffel TowerMyFrenchLife™ – - Eiffel Tower - Beatrice Colin - To Capture What We Cannot Keep

Could you tell us a bit about your research?

Apart from visiting Paris, I read a lot of books and looked at a lot of images. Especially useful were books about La Belle Époque written in the 1960s when the period was, for some, within living memory. ‘Gustave Eiffel’ by Henri Loyrette, is full of photographs and information.

I also read novels from the period as well as books about artists, writers and musicians. In Paris, the inspiration for the setting of a ball that takes place in the house of one of the characters was the Musée Nissim de Camondo beside the Parc Monceau.

I have an etching of the skating rink in the Bois de Boulogne from the period and used that for one specific scene in the book. Otherwise, it was costume archives, Baedeker travel guides, old maps and newspapers.

MyFrenchLife™ – - Eiffel Tower - Beatrice Colin - To Capture What We Cannot Keep

I thought Gustave Eiffel didn’t come off too well in the novel. What was your take on him?

I hope he didn’t come off too badly. I have huge respect for him. I think, judging by his career, he was wonderful at promoting himself and his work, and was hugely ambitious. He was advised not to get involved in the Panama Canal but couldn’t resist it – and to be fair, his plan for construction would have worked if the contractor had not gone bust.

French society in flux 

MyFrenchLife™ – - Eiffel Tower - Beatrice Colin - To Capture What We Cannot Keep

Women figure prominently in the book. Émile Nouguier, one of the tower’s chief engineers, falls in love with a Scottish woman, Caitriona Wallace.

And there’s Nouguier’s mother. Does she represent an old guard that didn’t believe in change?

She does represent the old guard, and shows how difficult it was for women in that period.

She married, but her husband had to support her unmarried sisters as there was only enough money for one dowry. She was unable to imagine a future that the tower so physically represents.

When did you first go up the Eiffel Tower?

I climbed it when I was inter-railing when I was about 18. I could only afford to walk to the first level and all I can remember is that it was quite tiring, but the view was worth it. I went to the top a few years ago in the name of research.

I have the classic ‘Eiffel Tower’ shot of me standing on the top level, taken by another tourist, blurry with my head chopped off.

Click here for the first part of Ronnie’s interview with author Beatrice Colin

Have you climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Did you wonder about its history, like Beatrice? Tell us about your French experiences in the comments.

Image credits:
1. Photographies tour Eiffel via Wikimedia Commons
2. Image courtesy of Beatrice Colin
3. Eiffel Tower 15.05.1888 via Wikimedia Commons
4. ‘To Capture What We Cannot Keep’ courtesy of Beatrice Colin

About the Contributor

Ronnie Hess

“I’ve had a long and passionate interest in France and especially French food. An American now based in Madison, WI, I’ve lived and worked in Paris as a reporter for CBS News and in Burgundy as a teacher. I’m the author of Eat Smart in France and Eat Smart in Portugal, both culinary travel guides. See my web page for further information.”

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