If so, please help me. I'm working on an assignment for my creative writing class and I've elected to set it in a French prison at some point after the 1839 uprising. My character was arrested for participation in the uprising and was sentenced to life in solitary confinement in Mont-Saint-Michel. While my professor won't know or care if my piece is historically accurate, I would like to make it as accurate as I can for personal satisfaction.
There isn't a very detailed description of the prison, but the conditions are mentioned. If you could post some info that would be absolutely wonderful. I've been searching and searching and searching but I haven't found anything conclusive. If you're interested, here's the piece I'm referring to. If you want to read it and tell me if my descriptions are atrociously inaccurate, I would love you forever! It hasn't been revised nearly enough times, so the writing isn't the greatest, but right now I'm more worried about whether or not it fits in the historical context.
Like Footprints in the Sand
He missed the sea. It was strange… Years ago, he would have told you he hated it. Imprisoned as he was in a fortress mostly surrounded by ocean, it had been a symbol of his isolation. In the beginning, he would look out into the vast expanse of blue and feel unbearably helpless. So he’d done everything he could not to look. It hadn’t been hard. In his cell there had been just a single, barred window and a grate had prevented him from getting too close. If he could get to the window he might have been able to speak to prisoners in other cells if he really tried. That wasn’t allowed. It was called solitary confinement for a reason. But enough time alone with just his thoughts and the water for company had slowly curbed his resentment. Just to hear the sound of a human voice, he would speak to the sea. He would tell the waves about his friends—they’d all died on the barricade, you know. He was the only who’d lived… The only one sent to Mont-Saint-Michel. He had talked about his family, too. And anything else he could think of, really. Sometimes if he tried hard enough he could hear the crashing of the waves against the rock and pretend it was another voice answering him.
That was why he’d been moved. The guards would say that he’d committed some offense to earn the punishment. But the truth was they saw that he’d found some sort of companionship, imaginary though it may have been. So they’d moved him to the dungeon. There, there was no ocean. Neither was there light or fresh air or much any sound other than the footsteps of the prison guards as they came and went. There was only the cold, stone walls, a bucket in the corner, and the occasional rat that would wander in. At first, he would babble to the rodents just as he had to the sea. But he quickly discovered that the rats couldn’t be bothered to listen. Their only interest was stealing the meager portions of bread and water provided to him at irregular intervals.
He curled into a ball in a vain effort to stave off the cold. He had done nothing to deserve such treatment. His only crime was being a young idealist... Believing he could make France a better place… The July Monarchy was corrupt at best and the country would have been well rid of them. Or, that was what he and his friends had thought when they’d joined The Society of Seasons. Apparently, though, not enough other people had been of the same mind… Otherwise they might have won. His friends might have been alive. He certainly wouldn’t have been left to waste away in some awful hellhole wondering whether he would die from starvation, cold, or disease. Which of the three didn’t really matter at that point. Any of them would have been by far better than life, such a chore as it had become. His friends were the lucky ones… They had died quickly. Mostly painlessly… But more importantly they had died still believing their cause had a chance.
They were dead before all hope was lost… Before they could have realized that their deaths meant nothing… That their names and faces would be forgotten by all but a select few in a matter of weeks… For him it was not so. He lived and saw himself change from Lucien to a nameless prisoner… From a nameless prisoner to a man so estranged from the world that the ocean had become his only companion… And he’d gone even further still. He had grown so used to silence that his own voice, when he dared use it, sounded foreign in his own ears… So used to hunger and thirst that the deprivation of food and drink no longer seemed so cruel… Rather being given any small scrap had become an act of supreme kindness. So acclimated was he to the darkness that even the insignificant light of the lanterns used by the prison guards burned his eyes.
If you asked him his name, he likely would not have remembered. If you tried coaxing him to speak you may have found that either his voice was so weak from disuse that you would have had to strain to hear him even in the deafening silence or that he simply didn’t remember how. What is certain is that while you may have pitied him and thought on his plight for a few days, ultimately you would have forgotten him. Because that was what happened to those locked away in the dungeons of Mont-Saint-Michel. They were forgotten by the world. Their names no longer mattered and in the darkness their faces could not be seen, much less remembered. While the same may have been said for the dead, they were by far more fortunate. The dead had no concept of self. They could not comprehend what it was to be forgotten. Their journey in this world was done and there was no need for them to do anything more than rest peacefully. For them, the pain was over.
He, on the other hand, was very keenly aware that his name, face, and everything he had once been was lost. Perhaps even his family had forgotten him, preferring to simply not remember rather than mourn for him. He thought about it often, reflecting on how very little his life mattered to anyone. His thoughts were all he had left in this world and that was perhaps the cruelest and most painful torture of all. If he could have seen anything—light, the sea, the sky, anything at all—he might have had a few precious moments of relief. But in the unending blackness there was no escape. And the physical suffering paled in comparison to the pain of realizing that while his friends were all blissfully unaware of the shameful insignificance of their lives the only thing he could see anymore was what very little meaning there had been to his life… How the passage of time had swept away his name, face, and identity just as easily and effectively as the waves on a beach would sweep away footprints in the sand.
Apparently a lot of people don't... I went to Barnes and Noble looking for books about 19th century France and was told they don't stock them because no one cares about 19th century France because nothing interesting was happening. T-T